When the path isn't clear, the advisor you turn to should be.

10-Year Archive

Humanizing Tech

"Roadmap of Fog for Apple’s AirPods" in Humanizing Tech

Ruminations and Predictions from a Product guy

I. Overview

As a product person, there are very few times in the tech world where you come across a product and don’t immediately see its obvious roadmap laid out in front of you. Sure, sometimes it can be cloudy just due to a business reason. For example, maybe you’re in a commodity business like pistachios, and therefore compete solely on brand and price. Other times, however, the fog of the future exists because a product you may have taken for granted as never having a real roadmap, finally does.

In this case, of course, I’m speaking of Apple’s new AirPods. While most consider it just some headphones with the wires chopped off, we know that because it has a chip in it, it has now become a computer.

And a wearable one at that.

II. The Obvious Roadmap

I wrote a post after Apple’s latest hardware announcements aggregating all of my previous analysis on where I think Apple’s entire product family is headed. The short answer is an accessory for each of our five senses, all to enable our future augmented virtual reality.

Most people think of augmented and virtual as two distinct, separate things. But the reality is that they’re more of a continuum with true reality on the far left side, a wide range of augmentation and overlays in the middle, and an entirely virtual world on the right side.

Pick your point on the line on a moment by moment basis. Humans will weave in and out of that continuum throughout the day as our needs and wants change:

  1. In the morning it’s all about things helping us start our day. Food, shower, commute.
  2. During the day it’s about being productive. Learning, communicating, getting things done.
  3. At the end of the day, it’s about relaxation. TV, chit-chat, reading.

Our needs weave us in and out of use cases along that continuum. I don’t want to virtually use the restroom when I have to go. I want to do that in reality. But maybe I want to watch a funny 10 second clip while I do it. Gross? Likely, but doesn’t mean it isn’t a real thing.

We are the human animal, after all.

So, as we think of our ears gaining superpowers, augmenting our normal reality across that continuum, where does it take us? The obvious place is things we normally use our ears for. Podcasts, music, videos, conference calls.

Podcasts are increasing in popularity, and will likely continue as people can now listen to them far easier during the day rather than just during their morning commute.

Music is the same.We have people in our office that keep ear buds in their ears during the day while they walk around and get things done. They’ve basically created background music for their everyday lives. Don’t just skip over this. I think it’s an important use case that we will see more of.

I previously wrote about how people split their headphones with one another to listen to the same song at the same time while riding the train. There’s an app for that now. People in Manhattan listen to music while they walk to work, ride the train, or head out to run errands with their coffee. Again with the same use case.

AirPods enable a soundtrack for your life.

Coupled with Apple Music and even the Apple Watch, you can set up a playlist that runs for 18 hours, or have Apple’s curators do it for you. When you wake up in the morning, you pop in your AirPods and don’t take them off until you go to bed at night. The entire day turns into a movie. Maybe on your commute you’re “working hard for a livin” and maybe after work you’re running from the sound of zombies chasing you (there’s an app for that too).

The roadmap then? Making the AirPods as water resistant as the watch so they can go in the shower with you, not break from in-ear sweat during a workout, and are comfortable enough to wear all day long.

Conference calling is, of course, the bain of businessmen and women everywhere. We spend our days on calls and our evenings on emails. And what does everyone do while on a call? They multi-task. They’re emailing in the background, working on a PowerPoint deck, editing something in Photoshop, or preparing notes for the next call that they just didn’t have time to get to until now.

Distant voice: “Hey Mary, what do you think?”

Mary: “Uhh…can you repeat that?”

Crap, they caught you not listening. Now what? You have to fess up or try to meander around the topic you thought you heard them speaking about, even though everyone knows you completely lost the point.

Wouldn’t it be great if Siri chimed right in immediately after hearing your name on the call and gave you a few-word topic summary. Back to our example, something more like:

Distant voice: “Hey Mary, what do you think?”

Siri: “August cash flow”

Mary: “Well August’s cash flow dipped because we had a great CAPEX spend for that hardware product wanted to test.”

Everyone else thinks, Damn Mary knows her stuff, cold as ice.

You’re damn right she does. Thanks Siri. So what’s on the AirPods roadmap to enable that? It’s a feature we would push towards the Siri services team. Voice-to-text-to-summary engine-to-text-to-voice.

Social media videos are a bit more straightforward. You know how 85% of all Facebook videos have the sound off? And how most people when getting a YouTube link over text or view Snapchat keep the volume really low or off? Well, with AirPods we’re going to see the resurgence of sound. As as one of my favorite story tellers says, “sound is 51% of any movie”.

III. The Non-Obvious Roadmap

There’s something funny about the way Apple’s website is marketing the AirPods. It’s not something you may have noticed right off the bat. But if you compare the Apple Watch portion of the site with the AirPods portion, you’ll probably pick it up.

Apple hasn’t given any use cases for the AirPods or treated it as a computer with a chip inside. They’re still marketing it as simply a “wireless headphone” where you can talk to Siri.

They don’t give any hint for use cases that I’ve outlined above. Why do you think that is, especially when the Watch is so focused on Fitness and Health use cases?

The site talks about crystal clear voice quality, easy connection to all devices, and of course, no wires. It’s not really marketing anything that another headphone company offers except the wires. Even most of the “wireless” market has that little cable that connects the left ear bud to the right. And of course that’s incredibly annoying.

I tried the Beats version a year or so ago and it broke immediately. Replaced it and that broke immediately so I was done. Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen with Apple’s true wireless version.

Last but not least, Apple talks about the battery life with and without the charging case. These are all first order product “survival” issues. If you don’t have these things, the product can’t exist:

  • It needs no wires (otherwise it can’t be truly wireless :)
  • It needs to stay powered on (battery and charging)
  • It needs clear sound (speakers)
  • It needs some type of interface to connect to the iPhone’s main computer (Siri)

Beyond those first features, I think the second order features might be something along the following lines.

Luxury. Women, and some men, wear earrings. It’s a fashion statement that highlights the ear. Sure you might first jump to thinking of something in the current form factor heavily bedazzled but as the product shrinks over time and moves further into the ear, you could imagine a diamond “stud” that sits in the ear canal. Much like some people decorated their headphone jack with a diamond tipped accessory or toy, you could see the same type of aftermarket accessories attach to a port on the ear bud.

Hearing Aid. Accessibility is a major focus of all Apple products. Even the new Apple Watch OS 3 has wheelchair mode for tracking movement. And when you look at the abysmal state of hearing aid products, it’s an embarrasing thing to have to wear one. Remember how glasses used to be nerdy when you were in grade school and now people buy Warby Parkers without vision correction like candy because they like the look? The same thing could happen “hear”.

One-to-One Walkie Talkie. A hearing aid isn’t just for disabled individuals. When you can get superhuman hearing that automatically focuses on a certain voice across a crowded room, wouldn’t you choose to? Remember the old Sprint “more chirp” commercials? In essence, you can enable an always-on, real-time voice conversation to talk to your wife or best friend as they make their way across the bar, go to a different store in the mall, or while they go walk the dog. It’s an open channel to continue to a conversation or make sure they’re safe.

IV. My Prediction

The most compelling use case by far, for me, is one I’ve been craving for almost two decades, before MP3 players were even on the market. It was the ability to listen to music just using two tiny little headphones in my ear.

My original MP3 player was the size and shape of a deck of cards. It held about 14 songs, and with the flash card I inserted into the side, it would hold about 28 or 30 songs.

We will return to that same level inside the Apple AirPods. There will be storage inside the device that lets you upload maybe a single playlist containing 30 songs that you can listen to during your workout without a Watch or an iPhone. It should even have activity tracking, heart rate monitoring and other sensors embedded in the product so I don’t need my Watch.

Eventually the AirPods will have a cellular chip in them so you can stream your music from anywhere in the world and continue to get notifications, talk to Siri, and take calls without any other device.

At the end of the day, I just want to pop two buds into my ear, step out my front door, and go for a 30-minute run without anything else on my body.

From MacBook only to iPhone only to Watch only to AirPods only. It is the next step in a single product vision containing features to do everything you want.

— Sean

Read More

The Secret Product the iPhone 7 Enables

Roadmap of Fog for Apple’s AirPods was originally published in Humanizing Tech on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Read the responses to this story on Medium.

from Stories by Sean Everett on Medium http://ift.tt/2cqQxSv