Apple is working on a new kind of “audio hyperlink” technology (patent filing via AppleInsider) that would use audible or inaudible signals embedded in a music or other audio track to link out to other media, or to perform some function on the device when encountered. This would allow for devices like iPhones to perform a number of different functions upon encountering said hyperlinks, just like a user would when browsing the Internet and finding traditional ones.
Here’s a practical example: A podcast could embed said audio hyperlink, and then pause playback of the primary track when one hits, in order to either call back a specific segment from earlier in the podcast itself, or to open a second audio stream stored on the web and play that back, or even to open another app or call up a video or other website from the web. It could even be used to call up another application and activate a purchase activity, embedding ecommerce opportunities into audio, which would be perfect for deriving affiliate revenue from podcasts or for directing iTunes Radio users to app and music purchase opportunities.
Currently, Apple’s “enhanced podcast” format can do some of this, but it still requires that metadata be added and that the file be recorded in AAC format. This would put the relevant links directly into the audio stream itself, which would make it much more portable. The audio hyperlink can also be tied to some kind of input trigger, so that uses would have to tap their device, use voice input or otherwise activate a link before it actually works.
The invention has the potential to make audio files into something truly interactive, and better-suited to the multimedia-rich mobile platforms that exist today. Its obvious benefits would be for audio podcasts, but the tech could also be applied to things like music, video and even ringtones or other notifications.
This is one of those media format technologies that, even were it introduced tomorrow (unlikely, as it’s a fairly recent patent application from 2012), would take quite a while to gain wide adoption, and might face challenges become very popular unless it were made into an industry standard. But it’s also an exciting invention that could change the way we interact with our computing devices at a fundamental level, so it’s definitely an area worth watching for future developments.