Apple’s AirPods Could Be Pioneering a Whole New Product Category – Barron’s

As voice-controlled devices like the Apple AirPods get more popular, people may stop walking around with their phones in their hands all the time.

Apple has missed the boat on voice-controlled home assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. But the company is capturing some of the interest in hands-free communications through its (still) sold-out AirPod earphones. One analyst thinks Apple is popularizing a hot new category — call it the “hearable.”

Apple is not the only one making smart earphones, and, in fact, rivals’ offerings are arguably smarter. AirPods don’t (yet) have biometric-tracking capabilities, like Samsung’s IconX, which can measure your heart rate. But the AirPods do allow you to play music and dictate messages without tapping on a phone or even on the pods themselves, though, in practice, that capability needs some improvement.


“AirPods may not be perfect, but they’ll get better, smarter, and easier to use,” wrote Andrew Murphy, a former Piper Jaffray analyst who now works at venture-capital firm Loup Ventures. “They are just the beginning for hearables and a new wave of computing.”

Soon enough, Murphy says, people might end up keeping their phones in their pockets most of the time. They can use speech to give Siri commands, and check all their incoming notifications using an Apple Watch.

The problem with voice-controlled devices is they’re not always accurate. In Loup’s study of the Echo and Home, the firm found that the devices answered less than 40% of basic queries correctly.

Apple’s Siri, which powers AirPods’ listening skills, also often struggles to get things right. She’s learning Shanghainese, her 22nd language, but misunderstands us about half the time when we ask her, in English, to turn off the lights.

“We’re early in the transition to audio as a dominant input for computing,” Murphy wrote.

Big Picture: An industry analyst thinks that smart earphones like Apple’s AirPods is popularizing a new device category known as hearables.

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