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Her Mobile World Congress

Earables: the next big thing from MWC?

By David Skerrett



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March 2, 2016 | 5 min read

Now in it’s 13th year GSMA’s Mobile World Congress 2016 was bigger, badder and better than ever. Sporting a shiny new and very apt tagline: “Mobile is Everything” this show was dominated by Zuckerberg, Samsung, new tech and of course VR. With 8 gigantic halls of the Fira Barcelona Gran Via it really is a monster. And with nearly 100,000 conference visitors and over 2,000 exhibitors the sheer scale and magnitude of the show is mind boggling. I had the pleasure of being at MWC for the fourth time, and for me one product announcement stood out above all others: The Sony Xperia Ear – a smart wearable for the ear – aka an Earable.

David Skerrett is managing director at Nimbletank

That’s right another ‘able’ trend to get our heads around, from the makers of nearables, driveables and wearables. An earable is defined by me as: wearable worn in ear for a specific use case.

I’ve been fascinated about Earable technology since I heard a rumour Apple had hired someone from THX to predict a heart attack from smart ear buds – based on listening to your blood through your ears, whilst you listen to music. I know its wild, right? Probably completely untrue but what technology can now help enable can be really inspiring.

The Sony Xperia Ear is a great bit of kit, it works with any Android smartphone, not just Sony’s, and uses Google Now or Sony’s own AI tech to inform users about the weather, traffic, news and their schedule. It is voice powered so people can tell it to make calls, respond to texts/emails, search the internet or navigate to a location with the directions delivered directly to your ear.

When mobile’s first hit the scene it was about reducing the size of a brick down to a chocolate bar. Now mobile is at the centre of our connected world, acting as our remote control for life and for the relationship we have with brands. As a mobile first agency we are seeing the interface evolve and transform at a rapid pace. You cannot wireframe an audio interface. There is a lot of client interest in voice interfaces. The Amazon Alexa, is very cool, plus the JIbo coming soon. Brands are curious about this stuff.

The first interface was/is the keyboard and mouse, then came the mobile revolution with touch being today’s dominant interface. Now we are entering an interface world of gesture, voice, haptics and soon maybe even mind control.

Applying the earable opportunity to every day life right now is interesting. Take cooking – how about getting instructions in ear as you prepare ingredients and have your hands covered in whatever. Or exploration- you are cycling and are lost on holiday. You are given turn by turn directions to get back to your hotel. Handy.

It won’t be long before you can hail an Uber, or order on Amazon via a solution such as this (perhaps we’ll call this one ear-commerce?) It points to a potentially screen-less future that is voice activated. So you can tell Amazon Prime Now to order you a new tooth brush. Delivered by Drone naturally. You can tell Uber to pick up your dry cleaning. You can tell Audi to book in your car for a service. Things that you want to happen, can do, as if by magic.

For me the buzz around the Xperia Ear, is telling. Could the future of the mobile move beyond screen size, sensor or the phone itself – to become about mobility and communication in the purest sense, that of listening and speaking? Of relationships? If you've seen the film 'Her' you'll remember the Joaquin Phoenix’s character Theodore spent his time with a smart AI assistant (OS) via an earpiece. At MWC I found it inspiring to see ‘Her’ coming to life in front of me at the impressive Sony stand.

This type of device is sure to begin an interface revolution and change consumer behavior as we know it, presenting new opportunities for brands to interacts and provide value to consumers in new and interesting, almost unthinkable ways. Earables; maybe you heard it here first.

Her Mobile World Congress

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