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Apple is still considering screens for AirPods charging cases

Detail from the patent showing music controls on an AirPods charging case

It's the idea that just won't go away — Apple is again looking at adding screens to AirPods charging cases.

AirPods and AirPods Pro have always come in a case that's more than a holder to stop you losing them. It's not that much more, it specifically only recharges the AirPods, but it is more than a simple plastic container.

Only, Apple has plans to make even more use out of the AirPods charging case and it will not let the idea go. Apple keeps coming back to the notion of putting a touch screen on the case so that users can play, pause, and skip music.

There have been five wireless or wired charging cases since the first in 2016 (a sixth version switched Lightning to USB-C in 2023), and none of them have a screen. None of them have anything except that green/orange charging light.

But early in 2024, AppleInsider investigated fake AirPods that did include a screen. What's more, they were based on an old and presumably uncontested Apple patent.

Now Apple has been granted another patent for the same idea. It's detailed in the newly-revealed patent, "Devices, methods, and graphical user interfaces for interactions with a headphone case."

Apple doesn't go so far as to criticize its own AirPods with touch-sensitive controls. However, it does claim that "deficiencies associated with user control of wireless headphones [can be] reduced or eliminated."

The patent is actually a little vague about what those deficiencies are, but after stating that there are some, it does mention how they are used. It implies that not being able to see any visual information when, for instance, swiping on a AirPod, is an issue.

Then it extols the benefits of having a touch-sensitive display on a case. It says that such a display would have a graphical user interface, and be used with a stylus or by simple touch gestures.

Diagram showing a digital assistant being activated, with audio stream and commands communicated between wireless earbuds, a network-connected device, and a hardware device with a microphone icon.
Detail from the patent showing an AirPods charging case being used with Siri

Apple's patent includes 27 drawings with the most minuscule differences. They show an AirPods case with a Play button, an on-screen volume control, and a Music app icon meant to represent spatial audio.

There is one drawing that has the display showing the words "Transfer TV Audio to Headphones." And it also has one in which the display is being used as a separate, portable, Siri device.

Conceivably, then, Apple is even seeing the potential in the AirPods charging case to create a standalone Siri device. But what it's really doing is using the case to plug into its whole ecosystem, allowing the user to control music on their iPhone or Apple Watch.

That part is key, though. The patent does make three references to storage, but they are all regarding the running of an application to drive all of this. They are not about space to store music in the cases.

So any time a user could go to their AirPods charging case to skip a track, they could already do it faster on their iPhone. Or their Apple Watch.

Maybe it's this certainty that other devices will be around — if there's nothing playing music, there's no music to control — is why Apple hasn't implemented this yet.

This patent is credited to three inventors, including Darius A. Satongar. He works in Interaction Architecture for Apple, and has previously been credited on research for enhancing MacBook Pro audio.