Apple's AirPods could deliver audio with multiple wireless protocols

Apple is possibly using a handful of technologies to pair the AirPod with iPhone 7 as a way to retain high-quality audio

Amazing technology crammed in Apple's AirPods may have made the so-called courageous plan to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 much easier.

The earphones haven't shipped yet. It's still unclear whether buyers will want to invest US $159 in AirPods, which are being forced on iPhone 7 buyers, according to critics.

Many wireless earphones are already available, but according to one analyst, AirPods are the most advanced. They have unique technologies not found in other earphones, all of which combine to deliver a continuous stream of high-quality audio from the iPhone 7.

[Related: Apple iPhone 7 Plus review: including Portrait Mode]

AirPods may support multiple wireless protocols to ensure there is no degradation in audio quality, Mike Demler, an analyst at Linley Group, said in a research note this week.

The glue in the AirPods' operation is its W1 wireless chip, which includes the radios to transfer music from the iPhone to the AirPods. The chip can process AirPods’ audio codecs, provide stereo synchronization, and handle user controls.

"By actively controlling the synchronized operation of the left/right earphones, the W1 delivers more accurate stereo reproduction, and it reduces power consumption relative to commodity multichip solutions," Demler wrote.

Apple has shared only a few tidbits on the W1's inner workings. The chip has optical sensors and accelerometers to determine when the wireless headset is in the ears, automatically triggering music playback and pausing when the earbuds are out. The AirPods can also detect when a person speaks, which helps with phone calls.

The W1 is Apple's first wireless chip. It is most likely based on technology Apple got from Passif Semiconductor, a small wireless chip maker it acquired in 2013.

Apple likely has implemented technology so audio can be streamed from the iPhone via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or a proprietary protocol, Demler said. Passif registered a patent called "un-tethered wireless stereo speaker system" for transfer of audio wirelessly over multiple channels, and it's "consistent with the AirPods specifications," he said.

Another Passif patent addresses limitations in the Bluetooth-Special Interest Group’s A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) specification. The patent resolved issues Apple faced when it was developing the AirPods, Demler said. It describes technology for better surround sound by carrying audio reliably over wireless for the left and right ears. It also provides ways to improve battery life.

Apple has also filed patents to transfer data reliably using Bluetooth Low Energy and a earphone design that looks much like AirPods.

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Agam Shah

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