Apple has filed a patent in its Made-For-iPhone/iPad/iPod (MFi) program for headphones that can connect to iOS devices using a lightning connector, rather than the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Support for existing iOS devices will also be rolled out in a future software update.
According to the patent, the Lightning connector headphones will be capable of receiving lossless stereo 48 kHz digital audio output from Apple devices and sending mono 48 kHz digital audio input. The input means that the headphones will also support a microphone for audio input. Lightning cable headphones will be able to draw power from the Lightning port, or could even work the other way around, by providing power to an Apple device. Along with the usual headphone remote features like volume and playback controls, Lightning headphones could also include functionality for launching specific iOS apps.
Apple's patent states that there will be two configurations for the headphones. Standard Lightning Headphones are described by Apple as using minimum components when paired with a digital-to-analog converter supported by the Lightning Headphone Module. There will also be an Advanced Lightning Headphones specification that allows digital audio processing features like active noise cancellation and uses a digital signal processor and digital/analog converter.
This news comes just weeks after Apple's acquisition of Beats Electronics, and the release of Lightning Beats Headphones in the near future seems inevitable. Apple's marketing team is likely to capitalize on the high quality audio capabilities of the Lightning connector over the standard 3.5mm headphone port, similar to how Beats' markets its headphones as being higher fidelity than cheaper headphones - "letting you hear music the way it was meant to be heard."
It's worth noting that, contrary to the large number of Internet rumors and headlines proclaiming just that, Apple has not indicated in any way that it is abandoning the traditional 3.5mm headphone port. It will likely remain as an option on future iOS devices, with Lightning headphones as a premium alternative for those that want it.