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Will Wearable Tech Compete with Radio?


Wearable tech is all the rage, or at least discussing it is all the rage, since gadgets like Google Glass and the rumored iWatch are just over the horizon for the most part.

But does wearable tech have the potential to affect radio listening in its traditional form?

It might.

Case and point: “Smart earphones.”

In the near future, smart earphones could be used to enhance the world around you by providing supplemental information about the people you meet and the places you visit — without looking obnoxious. Bragi, which will make the Dash earbuds, skyrocketed past its Kickstarter goal of $260,000 by raising more than $3 million during its campaign in March. The $179 smart in-ear headphones are capable of functioning as a fitness tracker, heart-rate monitor, Bluetooth headset, music player (it has 4GB of storage space), and a standard headphone for streaming music. One example of a far-out idea is that a smart earbud like the Dash could tell you information about a long-lost acquaintance in your ear, which in turn would make it easier for you to strike up a conversation with that person.

And Dash only scratches the surface. Business Insider shares other examples:

At this year’s CES, Intel showed off a prototype smart earbud designed for fitness tracking that motivates you to work out. Not only does it recite motivational phrases into your ear but it can also switch songs on your playlist depending on the pace of your workout. LG also unveiled a pair of smart earbuds this year that are capable of monitoring your heart rate and cooperating with the company’s Lifeband Touch fitness wristband.

Piers Fawkes, president of PSFK Labs tells NPR:

It’s discreet in your ear and it’s helping in some way. There’s an opportunity for it to be a personal adviser … whispering going on, giving you directions, telling you that you’re late for a meeting.

In other words, smart earphones could be the kind of personal assistant that today’s mobile devices only wish they could be.

Now obviously folks could listen to radio (or any other content) while their personal assistant voices over the content, so it’s not as if radio is uninvited from the party. But anything that promotes a private listening experience will continue to be Nielsen-challenged, due to the dated, clunky technology associated with capturing mobile listening.

But it’s worse than that: Because when you take the “radio” into the ear and out of the mobile device (Dash bridges both) you have an “arms race” between makers of technology and those who measure usage of that technology. While Nielsen fights the smartphone war, the smart earphone war is just warming up.

This is not a problem at all, of course, for Triton Digital and others who measure digital streams. But for Nielsen it means a smaller fraction of total listening will be captured, smaller even than that fraction which is captured today.

But will “smart earphones” catch on? We’ll see, but the “smarter” they are, the more likely the answer is to be “yes.”

After all, the “smart” part is the part beyond radio. And if these gadgets sell at all, they will sell for their smart capabilities, not for their ability to substitute for the relatively cheap earbuds most of us use today. And the smarter the gadget, the more alternatives it will provide to the simple and familiar radio experience.

We are expecting ever more “smarts” from our devices and we are choosing smarter gadgets over those that are less smart, even if by “smarter” we also mean more expensive.

The evidence is in every category, from smart thermostats to smart scales to smart washer/dryers to smart cars. Consumers crave smarts.

The real question for radio broadcasters is how to make their own platforms smarter or how to piggyback off already smart platforms that feed on radio-type content.

And how to accurately measure it all.

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