Wireless earbuds are still in their infancy, and there still seem to be some tough issues left to nail when it comes to mass production.
Doppler Labs CEO Noah Kraft tells me that because of manufacturing issues, the company will be delaying the release of their Here One smart earbuds until February 2017. Kraft tells TechCrunch that the company has received nearly 10,000 pre-orders for the $299 earbuds. Those users are going to have to wait a bit longer to get their hands on the earbuds, as they will now begin shipping in February and arrive in retail in March.
The Here Ones join the Apple AirPods in what has been a bit of a holiday season limbo for wireless earbuds. Apple’s wireless headphones were originally supposed to launch in October but have been delayed without any subsequent updates to availability.
Kraft tells me the difficulty is ensuring consistent quality when manufacturing the product at scale. The difficulty is coming in the relationship between the wireless technologies at the heart of the new product, namely the bluetooth, BLE (Bluetooth low energy) and NFMI (near-field magnetic induction) technologies that allow the wireless earbuds to operate.
Though the company has already produced several finished devices by way of a design verification build, Kraft told me the the issue now lies in ensuring that each of the Here One models that comes off the manufacturing line and arrives in consumers’ hands is at the same high level of quality. Because of this, they’ve decided to do a final validation build before moving to mass manufacturing.
Doppler Labs has been aiming to shape how people think of wearable computing. Their first product, Here Active Listening, raised over $600 thousand on Kickstarter with the premise of allowing users to filter out certain noises and shape the way they hear the world around them. The product largely served as a proof of concept for the company in establishing that there was a market for ear-centric computing.
The Here Ones take the layered listening technology of the Here Active Listening and adds a headphone. The form factor has increased 1mm in size, but the Here Ones have also added the NFMI tech that allows the headphones to sync seamlessly with each other as well as a bluetooth chip that enables music bluetooth playback. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen so far.
In addition to the company’s announcement regarding the delays, Doppler Labs sought to soften the blow by also announcing some pretty cool partnerships with entities including the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the New York Philharmonic, JetBlue and others. These partnerships allow the company to develop custom layered listening experiences based on user locations. If a Here One user is at a Cavs game, they can use the device to tune out excess audience noise or add live commentary without losing the sounds around them.
These experiences will prove valuable and ultimately highlight the most critical feature that the Here Ones are going to have to nail, contextual awareness. The ability to walk into a room or venue and have the Here Ones shift their performance and features will give the earbuds a level of utility that moves beyond their headphone feature.
It’s really a bummer that these are are being delayed past the Holidays, but given the wireless issues that I’ve experienced with other early earbuds in this space, hopefully Doppler Labs is taking its time to deliver something that just works.