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Apple adds seamless handoff and ‘Spatial Audio’ to AirPods

As part of their WWDC 2020 announcements, Apple revealed that the AirPods line of products will be receiving new updates with significant upgrades to their intelligence across multiple devices, and improvements to their sound quality. AirPods will be able to jump from device to device without needing to create a new connection, and a new feature called Spatial Audio that will support digital immersive sound is coming.

Automatic Handoff

Apple’s AirPods —  including the new AirPods Pro — will be able to jump from device to device without having to be manually changed with a handoff feature. If, for example, you start listening to music on your iPhone, you’ll be able to jump to your iPad and the audio will easily jump with you. You can even move again from iPad to a Mac computer in the same manner. If after switching you were to receive a call, the AirPods will automatically link back to the phone so that you can answer it seamlessly.

Spatial Audio

Promising an immersive 360-degree audio experience, Apple’s new Spatial Audio technology makes AirPods provide what Apple described as a replicated “movie theater experience.” Since, obviously, it is not actually possible to have surround sound without multiple speakers, Apple got around that problem by using digital immersive surround sound technology that mimics the sound of multiple speakers into the two AirPods sources. Thanks to this technology, the audio will be compatible with 5.1, 7.1 and even Dolby Atmos.


But that’s not all: Apple factored in the movement of your head, the source device, and even if you might be riding in a car or banking in an airplane. Using the accelerometer and gyroscopes inside the Airpods to track the motion of your head, Apple is able to remap the sound fields so they stay anchored to the device even as your head moves. In this way, an actor’s voice will sound like it’s still coming from a specific actor in a specific location, rather than just coming from all around you the same way all the time. Additionally, the AirPods data constantly compares motion data from your head to your screen, so that sound stays in sync regardless of how you move, or where you are moving.

Optimized Battery Charging

Though not mentioned in their WWDC presentation, Apple is bringing optimized battery charging to the AirPods in their next update as noted by Cult of Mac. Already found in the iPhone, battery charging optimization allows a product to learn your habits and adjust how much and how quickly to charge the AirPods, as sitting at 100% while plugged into power can degrade them faster over time. This feature, somewhat strangely, is coming to the AirPods before the Apple Watch or the iPad which could also benefit from the optimized charging feature.

Updated June 23 with information about optimized battery charging.

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Jaron Schneider
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jaron Schneider is a former award-winning commercial filmmaker and long-time digital imaging expert across the field of both…
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