The company that put noise-cancelling headphones on the map was my most notable discovery at SXSW Interactive so far. Bose is using the Austin event to demonstrate Bose AR, an emerging product line that puts an audio layer onto what you see and hear. Whereas most augmented reality applications to date put a visual element on the screen of your mobile device with your real time surroundings showing through your camera lens, Bose AR simply adds audio to your physical surroundings. Not only does the experience allow you to be hands free, it allows you to be eyes free, creating a wide variety of AR possibilities.
The initial prototype is in the form of an inoffensive pair of sunglasses, with headphone speakers built into the arms of the glasses. Your ears are left uncovered, allowing you to hear your surroundings as normal, with the tiny speakers just in front of your ears. The device can project audio at different volume levels, with different levels of noise cancellation as well. Imagine these music-related applications:
Scrolling through music tracks or playlists with shakes, nods, and swipes of your head (Bose calls this the “audio carousel”).
Music recommendations based on where you are located, both on the street or in your house, and based on where your head is pointing.
Audio preferences — including level of noise cancellation — based on whether you are in the kitchen or in your office.
Music is only a fragment of what Bose AR hopes to see take hold. The platform has implications for:
Restaurant Recommendation — Imagine Yelp recommendations that pop into your ears when you move your head towards a passing restaurant; simply nod and you can find out what they serve, their hours, and any tips for getting in or what to order.
Language Learning — Translate a conversation in real time without pulling out your phone.
Walking Tours — What if everywhere you go you could have a museum-style audio tour of the history and events surrounding you, bringing the past to life in your ears as you are looking at buildings, monuments, and other surroundings?
Customized Directions — Traffic and direction updates based on where you point your head.
However, if these other applications of Bose AR are successful (and Bose has committed to investing $50 million in startup partners), music listening will blend into these everyday experiences, increasing listen time, instead of music being treated as a separate activity from other experiences.
I am not sure audio AR will reach smart speaker status and pass the “mother-in-law test,” but it could come close to reaching smartwatch status. Additional form factors, such as bike helmets, headbands, or baseball caps, will give additional opportunities to connect with different consumer niches. And now that the world is getting used to always-on microphones, Bose AR might have timed their launch better than Google Glass by letting society catch up with a new world of always-on. Plus: Bose AR’s sunglasses prototype simply look cool enough for anyone to wear.
Get a demo of Bose AR at SXSW by heading to Half Step, 75 1/2 Rainey St., Austin, TX. Ask if you can get the music demo.