Qualcomm’s mobile headphones will know when you put them on

There’s been much ado lately about tech companies monitoring our activities, but the newest tracking feature from Qualcomm is one that most people probably won’t mind. A patent filing published earlier this month reveals its plans to equip headsets with a sensor that will be able to tell whether you’re listening to music and change the acoustics accordingly.

The mobile giant is interested in knowing not so much when or how you’re is using its hardware but rather when you’re not, so that sound levels can be lowered to reduce power consumption. That never was much of a consideration in the era of personal computers, but battery life is at the top of the agenda for the phones and tablets at the heart of Qualcomm’s business.

Here’s how the system determines if the user is wearing their headset (note the use of a pre-programmed acoustic pattern as a reference) :


There are three different ways in which Qualcomm plans to implement the power conservation function listed in that last box. The first approach is simply cutting off the signal, which is also most straightforward from a technical standpoint. Where it gets interesting is the second option, which instead places the emphasis on  convenience.

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Qualcomm’s filing describes it simply as a pause function that allow users to resume music from where they left off. That could make the entire headset experience more compelling in addition to just saving power, but at the expense of more work for the company’s engineers, who will likely need to provide integration with streaming clients like Spotify and iTunes to enable that.

Rounding out the three energy conservation options is a mechanism for lowering the sound volume when you take off the headset. Different models will presumably offer different combinations of power management functions, but the pausing feature may very well become a universal expectation in time if history is anything to go by.

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