It’s been a while since I finished my first public project, the smart headphones. Many things have happened since. I continue working on two different projects that I will eventually share with you here. But today I want to follow up on the smart headphones approach and how ideas look silly… until Apple makes them.
As you probably know if you like technology, the Apple Airpods were released last September. Leaving aside the jokes about how fast you can lose them, the feature that captured my attention was that the pause/play music when you take one earbud off. Well, that sounds familiar to me… They used a proximity sensor to detect the earbud in or out the ear, one approach that I had tried and explained in my smart headphones articles. Basically it works for earbuds because, due to its shape, while laying down on a table, the sensor would not detect the table as close as the ear when you have them on. Additionally, unlike the headphones, you can’t lay them down on your neck (well, you can, but them you lose them faster than anyone else…)
I am mentioning the airpods as an example of how, a single developer can create a prototype of a product that was proven to be useful. The prototype impact wasn’t big enough. Manufacturers did not want to develop something similar to my prototype, even though the feedback from the users was always positive.
Well, now Apple has introduced it in the market, and guess what?… every single headphone manufacturer is going to have to follow up. They will need to make their headphones play/pause music automatically, and that is the problem with many current R&D companies. They “drive innovation” by being reactive, not proactive. Sure, some Sony headphones in the near future will include the feature, will that be innovative? Absolutely not, but they will be forced to do it. They will need to catch up on the hype of Apple pioneering again on something that they did not invent, and that a single engineer can create in less than a year in his spare time… I am still curious on when will Apple introduce the feature of playing/pausing video, or mute phone calls.
Are the headphones manufacturing companies too big to innovate? I do believe so. The small boat steers faster than the big cruise ship. The problem is that, at the end, they will still need to spend money on “catching up” with someone else’s innovation, and be sure that development “in a rush” is much more expensive than allocating small teams to prototype innovations.
I had mixed feelings when I read about the auto-play feature on the Airpods. On one hand, I felt bad because I couldn’t drive the prototype further. On the other, it was a confirmation that the feature is very handy and it will become a default on headphones/earbuds in the near future.