“Our vision of the headphone is more to become the central management interface for the Internet of Things where voice-enabled devices get the commands and the user gets all the feedback, controls and directions on the other end.” This is Sennheiser Electronics CEO Andreas Sennheiser’s vision of how personal audio devices will transform in the coming years.
But do we know what those devices will look like? Well, maybe not. “The form factor that exists today, isn’t the form factor of the future. So we have to miniaturise even more, we have to work on battery life, we have to work on all the hardware related things while making sure that we extend the functionality through software,” he told indianexpress.com.
But this is not an easy path. “The number one challenge is batteries. If I could make a wish, I would want a battery that is as small as my fingernail and last for a week,” Sennheiser explains on how batteries are still coming in the way of achieving the form factors needed for audio devices of the future. “I say it’s not a problem per se, but it’s just a compromise to be made.”
Sennheiser says this central man-machine interface would be much more than just a listening device in the future. “We see this convergence already. In the past, we had headphones with no intelligence built in and all the intelligence had to come from somewhere else. We now have headphones which have shared intelligence, some in the device itself and some in an app on another device,” he says, adding how it is only a matter of time before we see more independence from handheld devices and more intelligence being built into the ‘hearable’ itself.
The hearable will also help correct and even augment hearing capabilities, he says, also opening up the possibility of cloud functionalities like “simultaneous translation” which will enable users to understand foreign languages and interact effectively. With a hearable, “a car mechanic can get advice on how much a screw that he’s looking at must be tightened,” he says, elaborating how these new devices could be effective in almost every segment “being a helpful guide to compliment your abilities”.
The scion of the Germany-based audio giant also talks of a future where these headphones connect “directly to the clouds without any intermediate device”. Sennheiser is convinced that the customisation for users will come more from software in the coming days. “We focus so much on the software-enabled functionalities and features that we can cover a lot of the different demands, by having a technology platform in which you can say have hearing augmentation on one side or noise cancellation on the other side, or just tuning to your personal preferences on a third product,” he explains. “It’s a highly individualised experience, app-enabled, and cloud-based. We can simplify the technology by using software.”
As these devices that can hear become smarter, Sennheiser says, it would be most important that the user is in control. “If the user wants to use the product, as seamlessly as possible, the user may agree that no keywords (wake words) are needed and the devices can constantly be listening. Or if there is a high privacy concern, the user may want to completely switch off any listening functionality. The user must be full control of what the product does.”