The Google Pixel Buds will change your relationship with headphones.
Over the course of human existence, our relationship with technology has always evolved. Headphones are no different. I believe that we are entering an era where headphones are an instrument for information. Thanks to the newest innovations by Google, Pixel Buds are going to change our relationship with headphones.
Headphones were designed for more than just listening to music.
While most of us can’t remember a time when portable music wasn’t always available to our ears (starting in the 80s with the Sony Walkman), headphones have held a diverse role in history for over a century. They enabled telephone operators to stop slumping over receivers in the late 1800s. They allowed the U.S. Navy to listen to audio signals in 1910s. They helped professional musicians, producers, and composers to make fantastic music and films throughout the 20th Century. Through these examples, headphones always served as a facilitator for another experience. In other words, they have been an assistant.
The era of the assistant.
We are in no doubt in an era of the virtual assistant. After Apple’s release of Siri with the iPhone 4s in 2011, we’ve seen a host of other artificial intelligence products come to market. Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Bixby, to name a few. Now 6 years into the game, the iPhone X has introduced a more powerful and dynamic Siri, along with impressive advancements from the rest of the market.
[Siri is] kind of like having the unpaid intern of my dreams at my beck and call, organizing my life for me. I think Siri on the iPhone is a life changer, and this is only the beginning. — @brian chen, WIRED
The virtual assistant has worked its way into our everyday lives. Using it as a voice-controlled user-interface feels natural, but having a piece of technology in our ear or on our face still doesn’t feel right. We could only take the bluetooth ear piece seriously for so long. Likewise, Google Glass might have been ahead of it’s time with incorporating mixed reality, but it wasn’t the best approach physically.
The Apple AirPods were the beginning.
Apple has experimented with having Siri one tap away in our ears for about a year now. Many people loved the idea of the AirPods, but often got dragged down with Siri opting to show answers on the phone instead of something like Amazon Alexa which solely relies on a voice-controlled user-interface. Then folks said that the AirPods weren’t even that great at what headphones should be great at (sound quality anyone?), but they still kept using them.
I still don’t think AirPods sound very good, I still don’t think they look good, and a few of their features still drive me absolutely insane. And yet, I keep finding myself going back to the AirPods. — David Pierce, WIRED
So, why does anyone pay $160 for sub-par headphones? I believe the AirPods and Google Pixel Buds are the beginning of a new headphone relationship because they have become a portal of information in this data-rich world.
The Design Intent of the Google Pixel Buds
Ever since the Made by Google event in October, I’ve been obsessed with the Google Pixel Buds because of how they will change my relationship with my phone, headphones, and the world around me. It’s not only the power of the virtual assistant but also because of how well they’re designed.
The game-changing design for the Google Pixel Buds is the instantaneous access to the Google Assistant. Without any lag or waiting, you can press a finger to your ear and start asking questions. It’s your own personal Google, always ready to help right in your ear, at any time.
Noise-isolation (or lack thereof)
Much like the AirPods, the buds don’t have any noise-cancelling or isolation that often sells people on a traditional pair of headphones. And they don’t dig into a person’s ear like other buds might. I believe this is a purposeful design-decision by Apple and Google to allow people to still hear and experience the real world while being connected to their respective assistant (something Google Glass failed to achieve).
The wireless but corded buds
The connecting cord is probably the most divisive design decision of the Google Pixel Buds. Many find the cord to be taking a step back from the futuristic, completely wireless AirPods. Google has already warned people not to cut the fabric cord, knowing some have beef with it. But aside from the fact that it conducts power and audio signals, I think the cord was an intentional design decision. People can take them on and off with ease, resting them around their neck, without having to keep track of two tiny buds.
The evolving assistant
The Google Assistant is always changing, always getting better, and always releasing new features. One of the newest features is its integration with Google Translate, making communication in different languages possible in a really interesting way. And with regular updates from one of the most innovative companies in the world, Google Pixel Buds will probably stay relevant and exciting.
Tech reviewers are just starting to get their Google Pixel Buds in and many are still comparing them to traditional headphones. While I understand the validity of good audio quality, charge, and battery life, these are meant for much more. I can’t wait to get a pair of my own to see how my day-to-day life changes with my own personal Google, enabling me to access any sort of information without even looking at my phone.