The next big revolution is gathering pace. No, not Virtual Reality – that’s the current revolution, the next battle for digital supremacy will take place in your ears. Say hello to Hearables.
OK, I admit I could have written about this last year, before everyone else, got in with the scoop and taken all the glory for shouting about the next digital platform. I chose not to because everyone wants me to have an opinion on VR. That’s no bad thing, with #StereocastVR about to launch and enough virtual reality projects to last us years at Brandwidth, but I’ve been speaking about IoT, Connected Cities, Wearables, FashTech, Movie Innovation, Retail and much more at events around the world. I’ll just stop briefly to add Hearables to that list…
I’m not going to review the current contenders, you can find that elsewhere but I will comment on the potential for this platform. I’ve just spent the last week in San Francisco, Sunnyvale, Cupertino and Santa Clara and you can count on all the big players to join in with this audio revolution.
Hearables aren’t really standalone items (much like headphones are pretty useless without an input device), they offer an information layer on top of existing apps and operating systems. Push notifications, emails, Tweets and text messages read aloud and sat nav directions straight into your head. Hearables could allow you to leapfrog an entire platform, making smartwatches irrelevant and offering a more useful 1-2-1 voice communication with the smartphones in our pockets.
AI assistants such as Siri, Cortana and Google Now will make this process as seamless and friendly as possible, if we can all get over the social stigma of seemingly shouting at ourselves in public. This was never a good look for estate agents and city traders in the era of bluetooth headsets. Swipe gestures and heart rate monitors are likely to add extra hardware value but software is the main driving force.
I have a confession to make, I don’t like wearing headphones. This means adopting Hearables is a bigger leap for me than anyone already happy to plug themselves in on a daily basis. A smartwatch was an easier step as I’ve aways worn a ‘regular’ wristwatch – it’s just a shame most are crap at being watches.
I was one of the first to test a set of Here headphones and I was keen to realise their potential. Accurate audio selection, digital filtering and app control - sounds good, right? Actually I switched on the oversized in-ear wireless devices, pushed them in, blocking out all audio, then dialled up various preset filters via the app. The novelty of slightly quieter street or office noise or reverb added to voices or music wore off very quickly for me and I was relieved to remove the devices. It certainly made me appreciate ‘real’ sound, using my own ears rather than a bionic pair.
If you fancy a genuine glimpse into the future, put your money down for a pair of Pilot Hearables - a Smart Earpiece Language Translator on Indiegogo. They will translate a selection of languages live in-ear, fulfilling your secret agent fantasy, or just making you the ultimate global traveller - for business or pleasure. Now that will be genuinely useful, when they launch next year… probably.
With the growing popularity of VR and AR headsets, headphones are more useful than ever when attempting to add 3D audio to the 3D imaging. Unfortunately, we face a real problem when demonstrating the tech. It’s hard enough knowing what someone is viewing in a VR demo - try it with headphones, especially in-ear. Who wants to share someone else’s ear wax?
You want my advice? Forget early adoption as the current crop of Hearables are expensive and attention is on features rather than audio quality. If you need new headphones right now, buy the best you can afford. If you don’t? Wait a little longer and the audio revolution will happen anyway.