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Why wearables will replace your smartphone

Mike Elgan | July 5, 2016
Smartphones are about to change completely, then fade away. Here comes the distributed, invisible user interface

The next iPhone won't have a headphone jack, if the leaks and rumors are true.

Some say: Good! The 3.5mm audio jack system is literally Victorian-era technology, a small version of the 6.35mm jack invented in 1878 for telephone operators. Removing the jack would make iPhones slimmer, simpler and more waterproof.

Others say: Bad! Killing the audio jack harms users, making decades of earbuds, headphones and other devices unusable without a klunky converter dongle. Plus, switching from analog headphone jacks to digital audio could lead to stricter DRM (digital rights management) and theoretically empower Apple to block unauthorized headphones.

Without the 3.5mm audio jack, iPhones will probably ship with either wireless, Bluetooth-connected earbuds (the company has trademarked "Airpods" via a shell company) or iPhones will come with earbuds that use the Lightning port. Or maybe both.

Apple wouldn't be the first mover. Motorola’s flagship Moto Z phone has no headphone jack. Some small Chinese companies are also getting rid of it. But when Apple ditches the jack, you can bet the rest of the industry will follow.

While we tech journalists bicker over audio jacks, something truly important is happening: Our smartphone user interfaces (UI) are becoming distributed and invisible. These trends will make the smartphone itself obsolete.

Just look at what's happening to earbuds.

The earbud revolution

A company called Doppler Labs last week announced a new product called the Here One. (I first told you about Doppler Labs in this space last year.)

doppler labs here one earbuds
Doppler Labs

Doppler Labs' Here One earbuds paired with an iPhone.

Doppler calls the Here One "the world's first in-ear computing platform," technologically closer to the iPhone than to the iPhone earbuds.

Like your existing earbuds, Here One earbuds play music and podcasts from your smartphone, and let you make and take calls.

But unlike your regular earbuds, Hear One buds contain special audio processing technology in the form of multiple multicore processors and several microphones. They are controlled with a smartphone app.

While your current earbuds aren't much more sophisticated than two cans connected by a string, Here One earbuds are more powerful than your PC was a few years ago.

You can use the app to customize what you hear. You can turn off the sound of a baby crying -- you'll hear everything except the baby. If you're in a noisy restaurant and trying to have a conversation, you can turn off the noise of background chatter. You can listen to music without blocking the sounds around you, or you can hear both at the same time, if you want to.


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