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AirPods might get a creepy new feature: Infrared cameras

Apple plans to mass-produce AirPods with infrared cameras by 2026, enhancing spatial audio and potentially enabling gesture controls.

Close-up of white wireless earphones against a purple grid background.
Image: KnowTechie

According to a report from Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is planning to start mass-producing AirPods with infrared cameras by 2026. But what’s the point of putting cameras in your ears?

9to5Mac reports that these new buds will apparently work with Apple’s Vision Pro headset to enhance the spatial audio experience.

For example, if you’re watching a video with Vision Pro and turn your head, the sound from that direction will get louder to match your gaze. If you’re having a hard time putting that to paper, imagine having your own personal 3D audio engineer built into your headphones.

But the infrared cameras might do more than just tweak your tunes. TechRadar suggests they could detect changes in your surroundings, potentially enabling gesture controls. So instead of tapping your AirPods to pause your music – just waggle your hand in front of your ear instead.

Mashable notes that the cameras will be similar to the ones used in Face ID, which raises some privacy concerns. Will Apple be storing infrared scans of your face and surroundings? The company will need to address these issues before launch.

Kuo believes that Foxconn will be the main infrared camera supplier, with plans to produce 18-20 million units per year. That’s a lot of camera-equipped AirPods.

But here’s the million-dollar question: Will anyone actually buy them? Apple’s Vision Pro headset hasn’t exactly been a hit, with reports of production cuts due to low demand.

Still, 9to5Mac thinks there’s more to this story than just Vision Pro integration. They speculate that Apple has bigger plans for these camera-toting AirPods, potentially involving “powerful multi-modal voice-and-image AI systems.”

Maybe these AirPods will be the key to unlocking a whole new world of augmented reality audio experiences. Or maybe they’ll just be a weird, overpriced gimmick that nobody wants.

Either way, we’ve got a few years to speculate before these things hit the market.

Have any thoughts on this? Drop us a line below in the comments, or carry the discussion to our Twitter or Facebook.

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Kevin is KnowTechie's founder and executive editor. With over 15 years of blogging experience in the tech industry, Kevin has transformed what was once a passion project into a full-blown tech news publication. Shoot him an email at kevin@knowtechie.com or find him on Mastodon or Post.

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