The Case For Hearables

Priti Moudgill
Mar 26, 2018 · 3 min read

First came trackers. They started the clock on the wearable tech revolution. Then came smartwatches, catapulting the basic functionality of trackers to a whole new level. Especially with the recent introduction and almost immediate popularity of LTE watches, wearables have managed to insinuate and insert themselves, almost inextricably, into our daily lives.But even with smartwatches, as multitasking as they are, there is a delivery gap from the wrist to the wearer’s cognizance. For instance, your watch can play a podcast but if you have to hold your wrist to your ear to hear it, you might as well be holding a phone to your ear, undercutting the raison d’etre of the watch. Bluetooth® earphones were the obvious answer to fill this gap. And as these earphones/earbuds grew smart thanks to the incorporation of AI assistants, they evolved into a new category of wearables: hearables.

First came trackers. They started the clock on the wearable tech revolution. Then came smartwatches, catapulting the basic functionality of trackers to a whole new level. Especially with the recent introduction and almost immediate popularity of LTE watches, wearables have managed to insinuate and insert themselves, almost inextricably, into our daily lives.But even with smartwatches, as multitasking as they are, there is a delivery gap from the wrist to the wearer’s cognizance. For instance, your watch can play a podcast but if you have to hold your wrist to your ear to hear it, you might as well be holding a phone to your ear, undercutting the raison d’etre of the watch. Bluetooth® earphones were the obvious answer to fill this gap. And as these earphones/earbuds grew smart thanks to the incorporation of AI assistants, they evolved into a new category of wearables: hearables.Hearables also received a boost from the fact that smartwatches are screen-centric. While screens are usually a good thing, they can, unfortunately, also hijack our attention. It is obvious why driving-while-texting is dangerous: if your eyes, and therefore your attention, are on the screen, they are not on the road. Sound, in comparison, has a much lower cognitive load. We can be immersed in a podcast or an audiobook while working concurrently on an unrelated hands-on task, such as cooking or cleaning. What this means is that listening, as opposed to looking, can mean less distraction and better concentration on the task at hand. Hearables thus provide a way of being connected, minus the screen. Perhaps they are more efficient as well given that, as per assorted studies, auditory processing can be a lot faster than visual processing.

While these factors seem compelling in and of themselves, there are a host of other advantages to hearables as well. So if we are to make the case for ear-based wearables, here are the main talking points:

  1. Hearables are hands-free. They are at your ear, and you can listen to them even when your hands are occupied.
  2. As already stated above, hearables are eyes-free. Our obsession with screens is responsible for a host of problems. Aside from being just plain dangerous (texting while driving), it can be socially isolating, it can keep you from being in the moment, and can even cause physical aches and pains such as text-neck. Thankfully hearables are leading the way to the disappearing or at least the shrinking screen.
  3. Hearables are discreet in the sense that they can be used without any change of pace or distraction. In receiving mode, the wearer has to do nothing to hear a reminder or an alert whispered into his/her ear. Even when actively using a hearable, all one has to do really is speak a voice command.
  4. Hearables can be used for authentication based on otoacoustic emissions.
  5. Hearables are also well placed to measure pulse, temperature and heart rate. The position of the ear with respect to the heart stays constant unlike the wrist that can move around a fair bit. Also the ear has a strong blood flow. All of these factors make hearables the right wearables for monitoring vitals.
  6. The benefits of hearables as alternatives to traditional hearing aids are obvious. In fact the melding of the two devices is well underway.
  7. With the rise of AI assistants, voice has become the new UI bringing with it new efficiencies. Why, for instance, would one want to drill down menus to find a song when one could just speak naturally and ask for it!

Without a doubt hearables are finding their voice in the wearable world thus opening up new possibilities for ambient computing in an ask-and-ye-shall-receive lifestyle.

Authors: Priti Moudgill and Sonal Budhiraja, co-founders peripherii inc. https://www.peripherii.com


Originally published at medium.com on March 26, 2018.

Priti Moudgill

Written by

Engineer/designer/inventor of small things. Also co-founder @peripherii

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