Most new features these days require a new device - see the Apple Watch for examples. Spatial Audio, however, will give you a full-on theater sound system for movies and TV with only a software update.Apple's Mary-Ann Ionascu explaining Spatial Audio at WWDC.
It's rare when a company offers up a significant step forward in features without asking you to buy a brand-new device to use it. Apple is no different, with many newly announced features requiring a new Apple Watch or iPhone to take full advantage of updated software additions. Now, though, Apple is bringing a whole new way to experience TV and movies on their devices via AirPod Pro: Spatial Audio.
Behind the scenes: Besides a slew of new OS updates across iOS, macOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and tvOS, Apple brought out Senior AirPods Firmware Engineer, Mary-Ann Ionascu, during WWDC to talk about the new audio feature. Basically, the Apple team worked out an algorithm to create the illusion that sound is coming at you from all directions: left, right, front, back, and even overhead. It will work, said Ionascu, with Dolby 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos, making it perfect for watching content encoded for that audio on your iPad or iPhone (or Apple TV, perhaps).
Advanced audio: Even if you move your head, she said, your AirPod Pros will track where your head ends up and place the audio as if it were still coming from the screen in front of you, instead of aiming it directly at your head. In addition, if you move your iPad around, for example, Spatial Audio will take that into account as well, and make sure you have a predictable sound field during your viewing.
Bottom line: Getting this sort of leapfrog upgrade to your sound system would usually mean you'd have to buy a new set of AirPods. Luckily for those of us who just bought those less-than-a-year-old earbuds, Apple is able to pass along this stunningly useful upgrade with a simple software update, contained in the new OS systems (which will be available to developers as a beta in July, and the rest of us most likely in the fall).