Listen up: Our interaction with sound has changed
When Apple announced the iPhone 7 would not have a 3.5 mm headphone jack, my immediate reaction, much like yours, was WTF? I stream music off my phone more than I do on any device, often through a pair of chunky, traditional, over-the-ear studio headphones. How could the company that revolutionized the way people consume music literally cut the chord between users and their devices?
As it turns out, there are smarter ways to stream audio.
A 3.5 mm headphone jack serves very little purpose other than sending out audio. Headphone jacks take up a lot of space, you can’t send power through it, you can’t connect other devices through it, you can’t operate the phone through it, and you can’t waterproof it. In other words, in the eyes of the world’s most innovative tech company, 3.5 mm jacks are obsolete.
One of the biggest consumer complaints that come with any new device like the iPhone 7 is that upgrading often forces you to update your companion devices as well. After spending hundreds of dollars on a new phone you must also upgrade your chargers, cases and headphones in order to take advantage of the new device’s technology. That’s a luxury that many people struggle to afford, but if you are able to do it, the new wave of wireless artificially intelligent audio headphones available to consumers is nothing short of a revelation.
First, let’s start with Apple’s AirPods, the wireless companion earbuds to the iPhone 7. It’s clear from Apple’s new line of products that they firmly believe in a wireless future and also a future where multiple devices sync and communicate with each other.
Yes, the AirPods are earbuds, but they do much more than just playback audio. AirPods recognize the user’s voice, allowing you to talk to Siri, Apple’s built-in, AI assistant, without taking your phone out of your pocket or fidgeting with the Apple Watch. With AirPods you can make calls, launch a music playlist, adjust the volume and get directions all through the sound of your voice.
Third-party hardware developers are also brining AI headphone systems to the market with some very cool features. Bragi Dash wireless earbuds will learn your body’s gestures and respond accordingly. For example, nod yes to accept a call, shake your head no to decline it. They are also waterproof and can track your activity level, making them a nice accessory for athletes.
Most impressive is Doppler Labs’ Here One headphone system. At face value Here One gives users much of the same function as Apple’s AirPods. Users can make calls, talk to a device’s AI assistant and stream audio, but the big differences are that Here One can sync with a variety of operating systems and, most importantly, it allow users to tune the audio world around them.
What does that mean exactly? Well, think about the last time you were on an airplane. How badly did you want to tune out the overwhelming white noise of air travel and the crying baby one row back? Using Here One’s accompanying app you can literally choose what you want to hear. Remove the chaos around you with a quick adjustment and focus solely on your streaming music. It’s noise cancelation done smartly.
Here One also allows users to EQ the world around them. For example, if you were at a loud concert and felt the snare hits from the drum kit were too loud, using their app you could EQ that frequency out and make a personal audio mix much more tolerable and enjoyable to listen to.
These new wireless headphones are meant to be functional, wearable technology that allows us to interface and fine-tune our relationship with technology in a very personal way. As someone who spends the bulk of their day streaming audio, often on the go, shaping sound to fit my needs is enticing. If this kind of technology is available now, I can only image what advancements we will see in the near future.
Regardless, useful wearable technology is here and the way we interact with audio will never be the same.