At its event this week, Google took the opportunity to unveil an array of new gadgets — from the Google Home Mini to a new Google Daydream View.
Also in the mix were the Google Pixel Buds which might just have stolen the show. And these aren't just your regular, tacked-on earphones that come in the box with the smartphone, they're sold separately and offer real-time language translation.
Read this: Google Pixel Buds review
It's an unexpected splash from the company, but also one that could stir up the translation earbud market. Let's explore.
Hold up, what exactly do language translation earbuds do?
Well, at its core, these devices do exactly what they say on the tin. Generally, a pair of wireless buds will be worn by one user while another uses a smartphone translation system, or a set is shared between two users and offer wireless translation while connected to a phone via Bluetooth. You speak, wait for the earbud to pick it up, and then listen to the translated sentence. Voila.
And how do the Pixel Buds work?
All you have to do is touch and hold the right headphone and it'll activate Translate on your Pixel smartphone - the Buds are only compatible with the Google phone for now. To translate a conversation, one person needs to wear the Buds while the other speaks through the phone.
Is Google bringing anything new to the mix?
Well, no, nothing groundbreaking, but the reason the move is significant is because it represents the first legitimate dip into the translation hearable space by a major brand.
Sure, Apple's AirPods have Siri involved and Samsung's upcoming Icon X 2018 earbuds rock Bixby, but Pixel Buds' ability to harness Google Translate takes this a step further. And the fact it had its Translate platform already set up is no doubt a significant factor in this coming to life. Not to mention the Pixel Buds can access years of Googlers' work in making real time voice translation more and more accurate and it will translate 40 languages from launch.
What other companies are involved?
So, while Google is the first big boy to enter this translation hearable spot, it's by no means the first. You might remember Waverly Labs' Pilot (shown below), which took Kickstarter by storm last year, as well as other startups — MyManu, TimeKettle, Bragi and Doppler — all doing things their own way.
Waverly Labs certainly pushed this into the wider tech consciousness, but is still yet to launch Pilot. The UK based MyManu, meanwhile, fresh off becoming a winner of Marriott's TestBED programme, is set to launch this month after several years of testing.
Then you have the app for Bragi's Dash hearables, which works in a similar manner to the Pixel Buds, and Doppler Labs, which didn't launch translation with its Here One smart earbuds but is working on providing the feature down the line.
But these rivals work with more smartphones, right?
As we said, Google's Pixel Buds only work with its Pixel smartphones. That isn't entirely surprising, but it does mean the door is left open for smaller startups to provide language support for those with an iPhone or another device from the Android crop. That could prove crucial, since its unlikely to be an area Apple wades into.
When can we expect these to hit the mainstream?
It's important to understand that building a hearable is goddamn difficult, which is why many of these devices haven't launched or have done so without truly realising the capabilities of translation devices.
Potential buyers will have a sizeable crop to choose from come the end of the year, though, with no doubt more options hitting the market in 2018. These new technologies do take time to reach audiences, but making translation easier is something which will no doubt appeal to travellers around the world.
Last thing: what about the future?
The truth is, we're at the precipice here — this is the first generation of translation hearables. That means there's plenty more features and design refinements to come. Google's Pixel Buds are tethered (to each other) by a wire, for example, but the standard is for these earpieces to be wireless.
The next big step, really, is for these devices to work offline. It's something MyManu and Waverly Labs have both indicated to us they're working on, and could truly add another layer to how people travel. It's also the kind of thing the smaller startups will have to truly nail in order to avoid being muscled out further down the line by Google or other potential major brands exploring the space. There's little room to fail now.
And one thing's for sure, you can expect plenty more movement in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned.
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