In the days when I was reviewing and playing with all of the tech under the sun, one of my favourite things to do on my morning commute was headphone spotting - looking for headphones I'd tried. And it always surprised me how the white Apple earphone domination was no longer the norm.
Now I have a new game and it's called hearable spotting. So far I've seen a couple of pairs of Jabra Elite Sport buds, and I recently spied my first Bragi Dash in the wild as well. Oh, and there's been a fair few AirPods, but here at Wareable we like to think of those as hearables in the making. It reminds me a lot like when you first started seeing fitness trackers and smartwatches. Hearables are next to go mainstream.
Get ready for hearables
This week a report from analytics firm Gartner revealed that half of the total wearable shipments were Bluetooth audio devices. Now that report does include what we would consider 'dumb' headphones, but it also represents proper hearables as well. In our annual Wareable 50 list last year we said hearables was going to the biggest wearable tech trend in 2017 and we still stand firm on that. Like our US editor argued recently, it's only a matter of time before earphones become hearables. Why? Because of new sensors, miniaturisation and AI for starters. It's where some of the biggest innovation is happening in the wearable space right now. Fitness tracking, language translating, augmented audio. These are all available in hearables you can buy now and this is just the first wave. Expect big things in 2018.
Big review of the week: Augmenting audio with Nuheara IQBuds
One company's that's still pushing forward with hearables is Samsung who we are expecting to launch not one but four new wearables, likely at IFA next week. Along with new Gear IconX smart earbuds, we can expect Samsung's worst kept secret, the Gear Fit2 Pro, the Gear Sport and a new Gear VR headset. All eyes will inevitably be on Samsung's smartwatch, especially when there's a Fitbit smartwatch and a new Apple Watch incoming. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing the Gear Fit2 Pro up close. There's a growing sense that fitness trackers are dying off, but Samsung has got a lot right with the Fit in the past and clearly it sees a future where dedicated fitness trackers are still part of the wearable landscape.
Fitbit's hearty ambitions
I don't know if you've heard, but there's a Fitbit smartwatch on the way. It's being billed as the make or break device for the wearable tech heavyweight, but like all successful companies, Fitbit is already working on what comes next. That next step it appears is about getting really serious about health monitoring, and having already promised to tackle sleep apnea it's now turning its attention to heart health. Fitbit is using its existing heart rate sensors to help detect irregular heart beats, which could help prevent strokes or heart failure. It still doesn't know how this tech will take shape just yet, but what's more intriguing is whether it truly believes its existing tech can be relied on where there's no margin for error. A couple of BPMs over during a HIIT session is one thing, but when you start talking about the heart in health monitoring terms, it's an entirely different ball game.
Tapping into the brain
I'm not the biggest fan of eSports but news that researchers are working on using brain stimulating tech to improve performance is something we are going to see a lot more of. Marriott Hotels also announced this week that Melomind, a brain training headset uses neuroscience could be given to guests to help de-stress and relax. I've already tried something similar with a device called Kortex, which aims to trick the brain into feeling more relaxed, while Wareable contributor Kieran Alger tried something similar to improve his running performances. More companies are dabbling in this space, and while there's the science to support that it's safe, the idea that we will all be zapping our brains in the privacy of our own home is still quite a daunting prospect.
I'm going to finish this week in wearable with a story that I wish I didn't have to write, but sadly it seems that we still have a colour issue when it comes to testing wearables. I'm referring to the issues I encountered using Polar's M430 running watch, which didn't want to give me my HR data while I was testing it. Thankfully, Polar is addressing the issue, but it also raises questions once again about the testing process for these wearables and sensors packed inside of them. I've written enough about optical sensors now to know that these setups are not without their faults, but it's time that devices are fit for all when they are available - and shouldn't leave the testing labs until they are.
How we test