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AirPods to gain Find My function, and possible respiratory monitoring

Apple’s iconic white true wireless earbuds are slated to get several new functions with the upcoming general release of iOS 15. But the most important of these — at least from the perspective of folks who have a tendency to forget where they left their earbuds — is the ability to connect a set of AirPods to your Apple ID, which could give you the same ability to locate them that Apple users currently enjoy with their iPhones, iMacs, MacBooks, and iPads.

First spotted in the code for an iOS 15 beta release by 9to5Mac, it looks like you’ll be able to register AirPods Pro and AirPods Max to your Apple ID (sorry regular AirPods owners). You’ll then be able to leverage Apple’s enormous Find My network to locate your missing earbuds or headphones. Unfortunately, the same beta code also suggests that, unlike the locking/remote wipe feature that Apple offers for its computing devices, there’s no way to prevent someone who finds your audio gear from removing the Apple ID association and making it their own.

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In other AirPods news, it looks like Apple is gearing up for a significant health-related announcement, possibly at its upcoming annual iPhone event that typically takes place in September. MyHealthyApple has spotted a study published by Apple’s Machine Learning Research team that shows how a set of true wireless earbuds can be used to analyze someone’s respiratory rate by recording the sound of their breathing through the built-in microphones. Naturally, the true wireless earbuds used in the study were AirPods.

Why would you want to have your breathing analyzed by Apple (or anyone else)? According to the published paper:

Breathlessness, or dyspnea, is a common symptom in many acute and chronic clinical conditions. Acute breathlessness often occurs during an asthmatic episode or heart attack, while chronic breathlessness is frequently a symptom of low cardiovascular fitness and obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and congestive heart failure (CHF). Breathlessness on exertion is also a strong independent predictor of mortality and is a commonly-used clinical metric for assessing and monitoring disease progression.

In other words, when accurately measured, your breathing can be a pretty good indicator of a whole host of conditions — some life-threatening — and your overall level of fitness. And the study concludes that not only is the audio of our breathing  “a viable signal for approximating RR [respiratory rate],” but that using devices like AirPods to do it is a far more acceptable and convenient way to do it when compared to the usual technique of going to a doctor’s office or lab.

Given that rumors have been swirling for months that Apple could announce a variety of health-related functions for its second-generation AirPods Pro, this study seems perfectly timed to get developers, healthcare professionals, and those of us who are in the market for new earbuds, to start thinking about the many ways these devices could be used.

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