Hearables No Longer Whispering Wearables

Mano ten Napel | @Mano10Napel

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Soon our wearables will be hearables. It is a inevitable reality that should not come as a surprise, because like a phoenix rising from the ashes, hearables are slowly but surely finding their way into the wearable tech market. Hearable technology’s growth will ignite a new era of convenience along with a new era of fashion within the context of the technology we wear.

Last July the funding of Doppler Labs’ $17 million Series B signaled to many that hearables could be a surge. Then again if one was to put it into context, a single investment in a particular company should not automatically mean that the whole hearable tech industry is suddenly accelerating. That could be a case of blowing one’s horns a little too loud. That being said, I do believe that the likelihood of wearables eventually ending up in our ear does make a lot of sense from various perspectives.

Wearables Hearables

Like with any device, hearables are currently at the mercy of design limitations. These limitations have baffled developers who are attempting to figure out how to go about measuring health data with precision. With FDA standards needing to be met, achieving accuracy is easier said than done. Overall accuracy still leaves a lot to wish for and rightfully this makes the FDA hesitant. It deserves to be said companies like Valencell are doing an tremendous job but in the end, I think that hearables are likely to end up as consumer devices as opposed to medical.

“The Rise of Hearables Will Ignite a New Era of Convenience Along With a New Era of Fashion Within the Context of the Technology we Wear.”

A New Era of Convenience

It’s apparent that wearables on a whole have the reputation of creating a solution to a problem that we did not know we had in the first place. With improvements in the science of artificial intelligence(AI) becoming better and more interesting, developers are integrating AI in wearables so as to ensure that the reason to wear a wearable device might be significantly more valid and more inviting for consumers. The hard thing is that it is these kind of features and others, like accuracy, that make up the design challenges for developers, because in the end for any consumers the key word is convenience.

So why in the ear? Well the ear has been proven to be a much better place to accurately measure the wearer’s temperature, heart-rate, the amount of calories burnt and other life saving key biometrics. Also, when it comes to putting tech in our ears, it all begun with the classical earbuds that came with our FM Walkman. Since then, I think its safe to assume that these ubiquitous devices have paved the way for today’s earbuds. Hearables also have the advantage of being more familiar, which means that when it comes to user experience of the product, consumers will not need to change their behavior in order to enjoy the benefits that hearable technology can provide.

Year-of-the-Hearable

I am confident that as hearables gain momentum, the available hearable features will grow. For instance the upsurge in signal processing, making it possible to pick out specific sounds in the ambient environment. This perk could have us having hearing abilities similar to those from our favourite heroes in marvel comic strips from back in the days. Imagine having on point voice command control or having your hearable device controlling all your smart home devices. This was a topic I wrote an article on which was published on Wired.com earlier this year. A recent development  I found such features to be fascinating, because these make you benefit from technology that creates or rather organizes your space so you can do more of what you love at the time when it matters most.

“The Hearable Tech Devices Will be Our Earrings of Tomorrow.”

When it comes to the improvements within the field of artificial intelligence functioning as a personal assistant by constantly freeing up cognitive space, the hearable device can become a useful tool that is able to suggest things to you because it has gained capability to correctly second guess your needs. It will be the kind of device that will discretely fitted in your ear and give you the right contextual advice at the right time . Another possible feature is that of an in-ear translator. It will give the wearer the power to break existing language barriers and make it possible for them to converse with anyone no matter the language they speak.

The most recent development in hearables comes courtesy of giant tech company Microsoft. Still in its early development stages, the Cortana device, known as Clip, has been targeted for release in 2016. This will be a wearable aimed at women on the go and could potentially be designed as a piece of jewelry. The prototype is whispered to be ready by end of 2015. Microsoft’s objective is to design a voice activated hearable device that will allow the wearer to hear messages and also interact with a virtual assistant. The good news is that this hearable will not be exclusively available to the Windows Phone device, it is being designed to also work with Siri, Google voice and will be compatible with iOS and Android. This is a great feature that will eliminate the limitations that consumers currently have and will most likely appeal to many more users even if they do not own a Windows Phone.

I personally would love to have my own personal assistant in my ear telling me to count to ten when I am having a stressful moment. They will be my very own AIPA, also known as Artificial Intelligence Personal Assistant (coined that one…) In the long term this is what technology is meant to do, add real value to our lives, in an very unobtrusive way.

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A New Era of Fashion

Fashion will play a key role. It offers great potential when it comes to the design of hearables. The chip industry has announced that there will be more processing power per square millimeter soon, which means that the above features could fit nicely into our ears. This could mean more freedom for designers to make hearables look more fashionable whilst paving the way for the creation of a device that can make a positive fashion statement. Now I am not sure whether I would live to see the day that piercing a hole in the ear will be a thing of the past but I do not challenge the idea that it wont be long now before we no longer need to pierce a hole in our ear because the hearable tech devices will be our earrings of tomorrow.

Ownphones-the-World-First-3D-Printed-Wireless-Earphones

An area that is often overlooked is the hearing aid industry. This is one industry that should make wearables blush because they have been around far too long and are yet to offer wearers the next generation of hearing aids.  Since the introduction of digital hearing aids in the 1980s, the hearing aid device has always been a straight forward solution to a huge problem. With 80% of adults aged 55–74 years with hearing impairment choosing to not wear such an obvious device, its only downfall is its failure to mask the wearer’s disability. This is a problem that can be solved by the technology used to develop hearables. Developers can play a significant role in designing a natural sounding device that is not only less obtrusive but will also give the wearer access to features that can go beyond the basic hearing aid.

Although the designing of more advanced hearing aids is a worthy cause, I have a feeling that we are headed towards a future where we will all be adorning hearables regardless of whether we have a hearing problem or not. They are going to be devices that will not only be about our convenience, they will also have the kind of fashion swagger currently eluding the majority of wearables today.

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SOURCEImage Credit: Universal Pictures
FashionTech Consultant, Freethinking Opportunist Hero, Aspiring to Inspire. Wearobot Groupie with a Tech for Passion. Contributed to Wired.com. Founder of WearableGuru.com Founding Managing Editor FashNerd.com
  • Chris Benedict

    This was a solid read, Mano! Crazy to imagine where fashion tech is going. At Felix Gray, we employ the latest in lens tech, but stick to timeless styles with our acetate frames to strike a balance for tech pros! shopfelixgray.com IG@felixgrays

  • VoxTalks

    Mano, thanks for the broad view of the different use-cases. You may be interested in Maven Machines. They created a ‘smart’ headset for truck drivers that monitors fatigue & distraction in real-time and can provide early warning alerts. @mavenmachines http://www.mavenmachines.com

  • Katharine Seay

    Maybe you did it later in the article, but I’m unfamiliar with what a hearable is. Would have loved an explanation. I would have felt compelled to keep reading had I had a clear understanding of what was being discussed.

  • Katharine Seay

    Maybe you did it later in the article, but I’m unfamiliar with what a hearable is. Would have loved an explanation. I would have felt compelled to keep reading had I had a clear understanding of what was being discussed.

    • Mano10Napel

      Thanks for bringing this up Katharine. Please allow me to define what a hearable tech device is. The first version came out decades ago and they are the familiar hearing aids. But today, as technology shrinks, these ‘Hearables’ (derived from the word ‘Wearables’) are stacking up more and more features which is leading to become part of everyday fashion.

    • Mano10Napel

      Thanks for bringing this up Katharine. Please allow me to define what a hearable tech device is. The first version came out decades ago and they are the familiar hearing aids. But today, as technology shrinks, these ‘Hearables’ (derived from the word ‘Wearables’) are stacking up more and more features which is leading to become part of everyday fashion.