If you’re like me, most “wireless” earbuds make you want to pick up the nearest desk and toss it out the window — because they’re not actually wireless.
The standard issue wireless earbuds for sale on places like Amazon have a dorky wire that connects the right and left buds. And it drives me crazy.
I get it. They are called “wireless” because there is no wire connected to your phone. But there are still wires involved, and it’s still disappointing.
But a new company called Alpha Audiotronics has launched a Kickstarter campaign for “truly wireless” earbuds called Skybuds. And the company has already raised over $US60,000 in a few hours, in addition to a substantial seed round from venture capitalists.
So how did Skybuds ditch the wire? Cofounder Jamie Seltzer tells Business Insider that his team sidestepped the limitations of Bluetooth by adapting hearing aid technology.
But let’s start at the beginning: the downsides of current Bluetooth technology. The reason why most headphones on the market have that ugly connecting wire is because you can only connect one device over Bluetooth with audio at once. That means your phone can’t connect to both earbuds separately, so you have to push the signal from one to the other.
Now, there is a way to do that without any wires, and other headphones companies do it. But this comes with its own set of problems.
The main problem is that Bluetooth is a radio frequency, and as such can’t travel through your body from one earbud to the next. This is fine when you are in an environment with a lot of objects, say inside an office, because the signal can just bounce off the walls to your other earbud. But in other environments, and with things like wet hair (which is can’t go through), it can get tricky.
Seltzer decided to bypass these issues altogether by using “Near Field Magnetic Induction,” a technology used only in hearing aids, to push the signal to both headphones.
Why hasn’t this been used before in headphones?
There are two main reasons. First, the technology so far hasn’t been good enough to carry music. In terms of data, voices are significantly easier to transmit than music — or at least we don’t care if they don’t sound quite as crisp. Second, this technology can only travel a short distance, perhaps twice the length of your head, whereas Bluetooth can travel over 30 feet. This means that magnetic induction is only useful in a small set of circumstances, one of which is wireless headphones, so it hasn’t been developed to the same extent.
The exact form of the Skybuds is largely the brainchild of Gregor Berkowitz, a seasoned industrial designer who used to run consumer products at Cisco. And the first iteration will set you back $US299 on Kickstarter.
Seltzer says he thinks that established players in the headphones industry will wise up to this technology quickly. And what he says will set his company apart for the long term is a patented cell phone case that lets you charge your earbuds at the same time as your phone.
Separately charging your headphones is a pain point Seltzer doesn’t think consumers are going to want to deal with. We’ll see if this can help the company hold its edge if the market becomes more crowded.
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