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Are hearables bringing about a paradigm shift in technology interfaces?

As battery life, comfort, size, and audio quality of hearables are improved further, talking could soon become the new paradigm of human interaction with technological gadgets

editorials Updated: Sep 07, 2018 21:38 IST
Hindustan Times
A Sony smart speaker with Google Assistant during the 2018 CES in Las Vegas, US, January 8, 2018. Sight-based augmented reality gadgets like Google Glass failed to take off as had been anticipated, but sound-activated voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant have grown ever more popular.(REUTERS)

The oldest example of wearables, or technological products that can be worn, as opposed to having to be carried, is the watch. From the 1500s, when watchmakers came up with the idea of wearing watches as necklaces, and then progressing to pocket watches with chains, and then to wristwatches, to the Fitbit that can monitor your heart rate, wearable technology has always been popular. The coolest new wearables on the market are what have come to be known as hearables. Not just devices that make it easy to hear music from your smartphone, but also enhanced wireless hearing aids, microphones, and cloud-based digital assistants — all-in-one tiny device — could be placed snugly in all our ears very soon.

As smart watches, fitness trackers, and wireless headphones become must-have fashion accessories, we may also be witnessing the Next Big Thing in technology interfaces. Apple’s iPhone made the touchscreen an inescapable interface, creating a world in which screens began to mediate almost every aspect of human life. The new hearables wave may just change our technology interface from touch to sound. While it seems pretty unlikely that the smartphone will go away anytime soon, there has been a steady shift in the way that people are accessing the device. Research conducted by digital analytics firms eMarketer and Juniper Research has estimated that almost 36 million monthly active users in the US have used a voice activated device in 2017, a 129% growth over 2016. It is projected that by 2022, over 175 million voice-activated digital assistants will have been installed in the US alone.

One of the other advantages of improvements in hearable technology is the possibility of smaller and better hearing aids for medical use. While there is little to no shame in sight aids such as spectacles, those with hearing impairments have often faced stigma, making the wearing of such aids more laced with social discrimination. Improved hearable technologies could go a long way in minimising this issue as well.

Sight-based augmented reality gadgets like Google Glass failed to take off as had been anticipated, but sound-activated voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant have grown ever more popular. It could even help minimise some of the risks that smartphones have posed, since speaking and listening are far less dangerous than looking into a screen while driving or crossing a road. As battery life, comfort, size, and audio quality of hearables are improved further, talking could soon become the new paradigm of human interaction with technological gadgets.

First Published: Sep 07, 2018 17:58 IST