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Apple interested in dual-mode wireless, wired headset for iPhone

Apple has filed for a patent on an iPhone headset accessory that would operate wirelessly via Bluetooth and could connect to the handset to charge or switch to use as a wired handset.

AppleInsider uncovered the application early on Thursday after it was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The application hints at Apple's renewed interest in building its own Bluetooth headset, though, it should be pointed out that the company frequently patents inventions that never make it to production.

Apple sees the invention as solving a problem with the battery life and charging in wireless headsets. Though the application deals primarily with a Bluetooth headset, the inventors made sure to clarify that it could apply to "other types of wireless headsets and telephonic communication devices."

"The relatively small form factor of Bluetooth headsets often entails a relatively short battery life, which requires relatively frequent recharging, often using a power adapter that is plugged into an electrical wall outlet," Apple wrote in the background section of the application. "The necessity to recharge headsets in such a manner can make Bluetooth headsets relatively impractical to use for extended conversations."

The headset described in Apple's filing includes a "headset connector assembly" with at least one cable contact for a connector. The connection could be used to transfer power and audio data from the handset back to the accessory.

"As such, a user can use a wireless communication headset of the invention to transfer audio data to and from a telephone using both a wireless mode (e.g., via Bluetooth communication) and a wired mode. When the wireless communication headset is coupled to a cable and the cable is connected to a telephone, audio input from the user can be transmitted from the headset to the telephone through the cable," Apple wrote.

Particular embodiments of the invention include the use of an "acoustic tunnel" in the cable to carry audio input and a cable connector with a microphone built onto it.

The patent application was filed on December 29, 2011. John Tang and Brett Alten are listed as the inventors.

In its Apple Online Store, the Cupertino, Calif., iPhone maker currently sells a pair of earphones with a remote and mic for $29.00 and a set of in-ear headphones with remote and mic for $79.00. The company also offers a selection mono and stereo bluetooth headsets from third-party makers such as Jawbone and Jabra.

Apple previously sold an iPhone Bluetooth headset as the first accessory to its handset. The single-button headset was discontinued in 2009

Apple iPhone Bluetooth Headset

Apple has filed several patents related to Bluetooth in recent years. In May, the USPTO published a patent application from the company detailing a method for making Bluetooth more power efficient.

Last year, the company joined the board of directors of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. Apple is expected to ensure the group's "smooth growth trajectory of Bluetooth v4.0." The MacBook air and the Mac mini became the first Apple products to support Bluetooth 4.0 last July. The iPhone 4S, the new iPad and the MacBook Pro also now include support for the standard.