Truly wireless earbuds are coming for your headphones

One of the dominant trends of IFA 2017 was the sheer volume of companies, both known and not-so known, that launched Bluetooth earbuds. The “truly wireless” revolution that was kickstarted by Bragi and embraced by Samsung and Apple is now a bandwagon that everyone is jumping on.

A recent Wirecutter roundup listed more than 20 companies making truly wireless earbuds, and we can expect that number to increase exponentially soon. At the show we took a closer look at offerings from mid-lower-end players like Philips and higher-end ones like B&O Play.

Speaking with representatives at the show, it’s clear that the advent of the Bragi, back in 2014, sparked a flurry of internal discussions at many audio companies. But many didn’t begin working on their own product until the launch of AirPods and the iPhone 7, which did away with the headphone port.

The slow (and contentious) demise of the smartphone’s headphone jack is prompting a wave of interest in wireless audio. And that, as consumers are gently encouraged to ditch the wire connecting them to their phones, they might as well abandon the ones that you’ll find in traditional Bluetooth headphones.

The numbers back it up, too, analysts NPD believe that around 900,000 pairs of wireless earbuds have been sold in the US since the start of the year. Of that figure, however, it’s thought that 85 percent of them were sold by Apple, with the rest fighting for the remaining 15 percent.

One of the smartest things that Bragi did was to embrace what could have been the fatal flaws in its design. These earbuds are super small, with limited battery space and it’s far, far too easy to lose them — all points that would dissuade plenty of wary customers from purchasing them. But by offering a charging case, supplied alongside the earbuds, Bragi solved both problems by forcing users to develop a habit of only ever moving their earbuds from their skulls to the dock.

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The case is just as important as the earbuds, which is why B&O made a big deal of making theirs look like a scaled-down sunglass case. You could easily plonk it down on the table in a restaurant and no-one would bat an eyelid.

There’s also the issue of sound quality, which requires some elegant audio engineering to get around how cramped these devices are. By and large, most of them that we tried at the show didn’t sound too bad, although it’s clear that — for now — they’ll never be as expressive as a pair of larger cans.

But being good enough, especially if users are only listening to low-resolution Spotify streams while they navigate a crowded subway station or office, will probably suffice. And the convenience of wire-free listening is probably enough to allay concerns from all but the snootiest audio snob.

What’s likely, however, is that as more companies build their own entrants to the market, that we’ll see prices crater. And since there still seems to be some room for innovation, expect to see plenty of nuanced takes on the form — and yeah, a million and one copycats as well.

Follow all the latest news from IFA 2017 here!

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Alexa support coming to BMW’s ‘Connected’ assistant app

BMW first revealed its revamped “Connected” assistant app in March, and it will finally be available this month. As a reminder, it does a lot more than sync your phone and car, acting more like the love-child of Waze and Google Now. It can scan your device’s calendar and address book, then calculate the drive time to an appointment based on your route and real-time traffic data. After factoring the vehicle’s fuel or battery level, it will send a “time to leave” notification to your iPhone or Apple Watch.

All of that information, including addresses and arrival times, is automatically synced to your car when you get in, assuming it’s a ConnectedDrive BMW, Rolls Royce or Mini. Yes, other apps including Android Auto, Waze and others let you do most of those functions. But Connected, being integrated with the vehicle, also lets you lock and unlock your vehicle, flash the headlights to help find it, and turn on the AC before you get in, among other functions. Once you arrive, it’ll give you “last mile” walking or transit directions.

Later this year, BMW will join Ford as one of the few automakers with Alexa support. That’ll let you shout commands at an Echo to remotely execute door locking and other functions, or get info like your vehicle’s fuel or battery levels. BMW says that the app will arrive on iOS sometime in August, with the Alexa update coming later in the year. There’s no word yet on Android support.

Source: BMW

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PS Vita slasher ‘Severed’ is coming to iOS, 3DS and Wii U

Back in April developer Drinkbox Studios, best known for the colorful platformer Guacamelee!, launched a little game called Severed on the PlayStation Vita. As much as we love Sony’s handheld, it’s not a popular system, so we’re not surprised to hear that the game is headed to other platforms. Specifically, the Nintendo 3DS, Wii U and iOS. If you need a quick recap, Severed is a first-person dungeon crawler starring a one-armed warrior named Sasha. The touch-based controls have you fighting monsters and solving puzzles to overcome its bright but creepy world.

The game, which was well received by the press, has been tweaked a little for the new systems. On the Wii U, for instance, you’ll be playing with the chunky GamePad and, most likely, its slide-out stylus. Drinkbox is promising some graphical improvements and support for “Off-TV Play,” meaning you can continue adventuring while someone else is hogging the TV. The studio will also support cross-buy, meaning you can purchase the game once and play it on both your Wii U and 3DS. The App Store version will, of course, be a separate purchase for iPhone and iPad owners.

All three ports are slated for “this summer” and there’s no word yet on pricing. But as a frame of reference, it’s currently $ 14.99 on PSN.



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