Apple researching how to make a 'Star Trek' communicator badge

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Apple has been researching how to make a small, wearable loudspeaker that would use beamformed audio to make it clearly audible to the wearer, yet not disturb anyone else.

Apple calls a newly-revealed patent application by the name, "Wearable Device with Directional Audio," but it's really "Star Trek: The Next Generation." At heart, this is how to solve the problem of your entire Away Team plus enemy aliens hearing when your mother calls to ask if you remembered your coat.

"A wearable device can provide an audio module that is operable to provide audio output from a distance away from the ears of the user," says Apple. "For example, the wearable device can be worn on clothing of the user and direct audio waves to the ears of the user."

All of the patent application's illustrations about wearing such a device, show a speaker clipped to the collar around someone's neck. But the descriptions specify only that "the wearable device can be worn on clothing of the user."

Apple's research focus for the possible new hardware is on how a wearable device can direct sound to the wearer, and not disrupt anyone else.

"Such audio waves can be focused by a parametric array of speakers that limit audibility by others," continues Apple. "Thus, the privacy of the audio directed to the user can be maintained without requiring the user to wear audio headsets on, over, or in the ears of the user."

Detail from the patent showing a speaker on a collar, which isn't half as much fun
Detail from the patent showing a speaker on a collar, which isn't half as much fun

Apple's objection to headphones is that they can be, "somewhat obtrusive to wear and can inhibit the user's ability to hear ambient sounds or simultaneously interact with others near the user."

The patent application is definitely not just for allowing you to listen to your Apple Music Favorites Mix on the go. It is also for communication.

"The wearable device can further include microphones and/or connections to other devices that facilitate calibration of the audio module of the wearable device," says Apple.

The patent application does then go on to add that such a wearable device could include sensors, "that are configured to detect, measure, and/or track one or more properties of the user."