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kottke.org posts about AirPods

AirPods, an Augmented-Reality Wearable Computer

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2019

For Real Life magazine, Drew Austin writes about wireless headphones and their potential effect on the public sphere if many people start wearing them. The bit that particularly caught my eye was the subtitle of the piece:

Wireless headphones are augmented reality devices.

And further down the page:

Much as phones have enabled and concretized the always-on nature of everyday life, introducing the constant interpenetration of physical and digital space to individual experience, wireless earbuds facilitate a deeper integration, an “always in” existence that we need never interrupt by looking down at a screen. Their aural interface means we don’t have to awkwardly switch attention back and forth between IRL and a screen as though the two are starkly separated. Instead, we can seem to occupy both seamlessly, an experience that other augmented-reality devices, like Google Glass, have promised with varying degrees of success.

I bought some AirPods several months ago thinking I was getting wireless headphones, but very quickly realized they were actually an augmented-reality wearable computer. In my media diet post from May, I called them “the first real VR/AR device that feels seamless”. Like regular wired earbuds or even over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones, AirPods provide an audio track layered over the real world, but they’re so light and let just the right amount of ambient sound in that you barely notice you’re wearing them — it just sounds like whatever you’re listening to is playing in your head, automagically. It feels, at least to me, like a totally different and far more immersive experience. Wearable computing still seems like a futuristic thing a few years away, but with AirPods and the Apple Watch, it’s solidly here right now.

P.S. In Dan Hon’s latest newsletter, he writes:

Given current phone/camera trends (or, I should say, current camera/phone trends), the Star Trek: TNG combadge is unrealistic because by the 24th century it’d be more like 99.9998% camera and 0.0002% phone.

The natural ancestor of the combadge seems more like AirPods than the iPhone. But the likelihood of AirPods 6.0 having a tiny camera embedded in it for, say, the facial recognition of whoever you’re speaking with (a la Miranda Priestly’s assistants in The Devil Wears Prada) or text-to-speech for whatever you’re looking at (signs, books, menus) seems quite high.