Today, headphones are typically used to temporarily shut out your surroundings.
In the near future, however, devices such as the Dash smart earphones could be used to enhance the world around you by providing supplemental information about the people you meet and the places you visit — without looking obnoxious.
The $US179 smart in-ear headphones are capable of functioning as a fitness tracker, heart-rate monitor, Bluetooth headset, music player (it has 4GB of storage space), and a standard headphone for streaming music.
But what’s more interesting than the device itself is the potential it opens up for the next generation of wearable gadgets.
One example of a far-out idea is that a smart earbud like the Dash could tell you information about a long-lost acquaintance in your ear, which in turn would make it easier for you to strike up a conversation with that person, as NPR’s Jessica Glazer notes.
Solving Wearable Tech’s Big Problem
This type of interaction could solve one of the biggest problems wearable devices have faced so far.
In addition to technical barriers such as battery-life challenges, wearables have yet to go mainstream because they can sometimes be awkward to use. They don’t fit seamlessly enough into our everyday lives.
For example, a gadget such as Google Glass can be distracting during a conversation.
People may be concerned that you’re looking at whatever is on the screen rather than paying attention to what they’re saying, as Chris Jones, VP principal analyst with Canalys Insight, pointed out in an interview with Business Insider in March.
“They’re still not socially acceptable,” Jones said in reference in Glass.
Smartwatches feel more natural since they’re more discreet than Glass, but using a smartwatch still involves glancing away from your current conversation or activity to peek at a screen.
Smart earbuds, however, take away that need to look down (or up if you’re wearing Glass) at a screen, whether it’s on a smartwatch, smartphone, or wearable display.
The Rise Of Hearables
Smart earbuds aren’t very common in today’s market, but the Dash isn’t the only device of its kind. At this year’s CES, Intel showed off a prototype smart earbud designed for fitness tracking that motivates you to work out. Not only does it recite motivational phrases into your ear but it can also switch songs on your playlist depending on the pace of your workout.
LG also unveiled a pair of smart earbuds this year that are capable of monitoring your heart rate and cooperating with the company’s Lifeband Touch fitness wristband.
“It’s discreet in your ear and it’s helping in some way,” Piers Fawkes, president of PSFK Labs, said to NPR. “There’s an opportunity for it to be a personal adviser … whispering going on, giving you directions, telling you that you’re late for a meeting.”
There will still be social challenges with smart earbuds of course. It’s awkward talking to someone wearing headphones because you’re not sure if they’re listening to you. But in places like New York City a lot of people are walking around with earbuds, so it’s getting to be normal to talk to someone with headphones on.
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