Brian Hall, a 22-year Microsoft veteran who helped lead the Surface tablet through its earliest days, has signed on with Doppler Labs, the startup behind the absolutely insane Here One wireless earbuds, as its first-ever Chief Operating Officer.
When Doppler Labs’ Here One earpods launch on February 21 for $299, a date we can exclusively confirm, they will look much like the smash-hit Apple AirPods.
Unlike the AirPods, though, Here Ones can take the sound around you and transform it as it reaches your ear. If you’re at a concert, the Here Ones can raise the bass. If you’re on a plane, they can drown out the engine. If you’re in a crowded bar, they can filter out the background noise so you can hear your friend across the table.
Business Insider even got a demo of a possible future iteration of the Here One, still in development, that can translate languages in real-time, as you’re having a conversation. They talk to you in Spanish, you hear English in your ear. It really works, and Doppler has raised over $50 million to build this out.
Superpowers for everybody
From Hall’s perspective, he says he was enticed away from Microsoft by “the chance to give everyone in the world superhuman hearing.” Here One is already a cool enough concept on its own, but Hall points out that for people with hearing loss or other disabilities, it could be life-changing.
And as Doppler Labs CEO and cofounder Noah Kraft tells it, Hall is signing on at the right time, just about a month before the full and formal launch of the Here One after three years of development. Like the Microsoft Surface before it, the Here One is a new kind of product. And also as with the Surface, its main competitor will be Apple, too, as the world’s most valuable company makes its own big bet on wireless audio and intelligence.
Hall is confident about Doppler Labs’ chances to make a dent in the market: The best parts of the Here One are “pretty easily sold,” he says. Kraft is less subtle, and says that Doppler Labs’ internal product development mantra is “everything else is just a headphone.”
Still, though, Hall is clear that the Here One isn’t for everybody, at least not at first. After launch, Doppler Labs is really looking for the early adopters who will give feedback and generate the real-world data the company needs to make it better and more useful, as the company works towards its master plan.
A new kind of computer
Right now, the job is to get the Here One out the door and into people’s hands. And that means that “we’re going to have to teach customers” what it is the Here One can do, and how it’s so different than anything before it, Hall says.
And Kraft has never been shy about his ultimate ambitions for Doppler Labs, aiming to turn it into a “hearable computer.” As it is, the tiny Here One headphones boast more processing power than your average PC from the mid-nineties.
In his new role, a big part of Hall’s job will be to form the partnerships and alliances necessary to bring that future about. Hall and Kraft are keeping mum on what that means, but say that they’re exploring all kinds of things. Maybe Doppler Labs will licence its tech to other companies, or integrate with virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa. Maybe they will open their app store, or maybe they will integrate with existing Android apps.
“We are not foreclosing on any options yet,” Hall says.
Still, Kraft says that the relatively small size of Doppler Labs, sitting at 75 employees, is actually an asset here. Right now, Doppler Labs can focus on the hardware, and see where the market takes it. That’s unlike Apple, which has its strategy set in stone and investors watching its every move. It also means that whatever Doppler Labs does now could reverberate through a new category of computing, as the first to market.
“That’s what’s fun about the space,” Hall says.