Charged Up: With hearables on the rise, it’s time to put assistants in our ears

Or, why killing the headphone jack is actually a good thing for hearables
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When Apple killed the headphone jack, people were furious. When Google did the same thing on this year's Pixel phones, people were still kind of pissed off. But as the old saying goes, when one auxiliary port closes, a market opportunity opens, and this week Juniper Research published a report claiming the death of the headphone jack will cause the market for hearables - or smart earbuds, if you prefer - to grow much faster.

It makes sense when you think about it: as headphones go wireless they get more expensive, and as they reach the same price as hearables like the Bragi Dash Pro, it stands to reason that a) people will opt for more hearables, and b) some of these smart features will be absorbed into wireless headphones. The death of the headphone jack has caused a lot of headaches, but it's also going to do great things for hearables.

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There are many things that can make a hearable "smart", but to me, it's the personal assistants that device makers should be doubling down on at this very moment. You see, until recently I've had a very detached relationship with AI assistant like Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. I use Alexa a lot for controlling music on my Sonos One speaker, and occasionally I'll ask Google Assistant a question when I'm in the kitchen. But on my smartwatch? We haven't spoken in months.

That's because this process either requires me to talk directly into my watch - it's 2017 and it still feels weird - or that it's too clumsy when relaying it through hearables.

Then I spent a couple of weeks with the Google Pixel Buds and I did something I never thought I'd do: I spoke to Google Assistant outside the house. I asked it things I wanted to know. I became that guy talking to his robot friend on the subway, and I didn't care because, for once, it was fun to do.

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It was honestly a surprise; these assistants are usually hit-and-miss, especially on wearables, often ending with yet another sigh of frustration as I once again reach for my phone.

But Google made the headache go away. With just a simple tap required - no launch phrase - Google just presented me the best way of using Assistant outside of the smartphone, even the home. It didn't do anything revolutionary either, it just made the process fast and smooth to use. And it made me wonder why it's not always this good. As much as I love the new Samsung Gear IconX, talking to Bixby is too clumsy, as it was when I tried using Siri through the Bragi Dash Pro.

But it should be, and can be, better. Google has proven assistants work better in our ears, not on our wrists. Samsung said it's interested in putting Bixby in its smartwatches. I say don't bother. Just double down on making it work well with hearables, because I think people will actually use it when it's good.

It also feels more inherently natural to talk to something in your ear rather than barking into your smartwatch. There was a time when I thought voice assistants could be the killer app for smartwatches, but that hasn't played out. Maybe it will get better and there will be some use for them - with LTE on our wearables, it makes more sense. But hearables are picking up pace with no sign of slowing, and I think it's here that these assistants will find their natural home.

Do you agree? How do you use voice assistants right now? Let us know in the comments below.

TAGGED Hearables

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Hugh Langley


Now at Business Insider, Hugh originally joined Wareable from TechRadar where he’d been writing news, features, reviews and just about everything else you can think of for three years.

Hugh is now a correspondent at Business Insider.

Prior to Wareable, Hugh freelanced while studying, writing about bad indie bands and slightly better movies. He found his way into tech journalism at the beginning of the wearables boom, when everyone was talking about Google Glass and the Oculus Rift was merely a Kickstarter campaign - and has been fascinated ever since.

He’s particularly interested in VR and any fitness tech that will help him (eventually) get back into shape. Hugh has also written for T3, Wired, Total Film, Little White Lies and China Daily.

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