The plan is to make headphones smarter. That's why the headphone jack is dying, and that's why fully wireless earbuds like Apple's AirPods are now a thing.
As the smartphone boom fades, a not-insignificant chunk of the tech world thinks augmented reality will be at least part of What Comes Next. This is why tech people keep talking about Microsoft's HoloLens, Snap's Spectacles, Magic Leap, and whatever it is Apple is hyping up, despite those gadgets affecting next to zero people you know.
All of those are visual, though. If the goal of AR is to make it so you wear the computer, not just hold it in your hands, then you need sound to go with sight. And that's where the smart headphones, or — hold your nose — "hearables," come in. They're headphones with computing power, the kind that can modify the world and access info through your ears. The AirPods, while not particularly smart, have shown what the shape (light, easy to wear all day) and interface (using an artificially intelligent assistant like Siri) of these things might look like.
The Doppler Labs Here One earphones — which started shipping on Tuesday to customers who preordered and will go on sale on Amazon and at other retailers in the spring — aren't full-on "in-ear computers" either. But they move the "augmented audio" concept further down the road than any pair to date. With a few taps and swipes in their companion app, they can make the world sound totally different. They are, without a doubt, the wildest pair of headphones I've used.
Yet, in many ways, they're just like any other AR or VR product released so far — a much better tech demo than a practical product worth buying. Here's what I mean.