And lo, they spake in many tongues. And verily, some of them even began to ship.
So beginneth the first chapter in the Book of Hearables. We have reached the point where you can buy a device that you put in your ear, which can translate what someone is saying to you in another language in real time. After several years of marketing and hype, consumers are suddenly spoilt for choice, with Waverly’s Pilot, Mymanu’s Clik and Google’s Pixel Buds all appearing within a few weeks of each other. It’s Google recent announcement which has caught the public imagination, but that’s mainly a result of the scale of their marketing machine. With less media attention, other startup companies have been quietly beavering away, mostly in the crowdfunded arena.
Anyone who’s been following the evolution of earbuds over the last few years will have been aware of the trend. After Bragi invented the hearable category with their Dash earbuds, others started to experiment with different features and applications, looking for ways to make the things we stick in our ears do more exciting things than just play music. A startup called Waverly Labs was the first to concentrate on translation, back in June 2016, when they launched a campaign on Indiegogo for their Pilot earpieces, which promised to translate between five languages – English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. Others weren’t far behind, with Doppler (sadly deceased), Mymanu, Human, Inspear, Bragi, Lingmo, TimeKettle and a host of others joining in the race to wean us off Spotify and Pandora and start us talking to our fellow mortals. (Although if we’d rather listen to music than talk to people who speak the same language, it’s questionable whether there’s a massive market in wanting to talk to those who don’t.)