Listen up. To your phone.
How do you do that today? Probably the same way you did ten years ago. Apple's earbuds form the "White Y"As handset manufacturers continue to improve screen size and resolution, they have done nothing to innovate how we get the sound from the phones to our ears. It’s time for another revolution - one that everyone will hear.
Yes, I’m talking about headphones and headsets.
The best option right now is the earbuds that Apple provides with the iPhone. I call it the “White Y”, based on the shape they make from a person’s ears to their body. The last real advancement in headphones was when Apple merged the microphone/call/answer button with the play/pause button on the White Y. It allowed us to use stereo headphones to both listen to music and as our phone headset. How fantastic was the first time you heard a call in both ears? That was “thinking different.” It’s time to think different again.
While the White Y is the best option today, it is still far from perfect. As anyone who keeps their earbuds in their pants pocket knows, trying to untangle a massive knot of wire into the White Y is a very imperfect experience.
We also need the White Y to grow up.
The White Y is Apple’s version of a Scarlett Letter, only in this incarnation, the “Y” stands for young. No one looks adult and mature with the white Y on his or her chest. It’s a sign of casualness usually associated with kids. A man in a three-piece suit wearing the White Y will never be taken seriously. And no matter how successful a businesswoman may be, wearing the White Y makes her look like she is either going to the gym or to math class.
Because of its design, wearing the White Y is also perceived as rude. If I have earbuds in my ears, others assume I’m on a call or listening to music, and therefore I cannot hear what they are saying. No one thinks the buds are sitting silently in my ear canals, quietly waiting to burst into action when needed. I wouldn’t feel so rude leaving the earbuds in my ears if there was a visible sign on the White Y that sound was (or wasn’t) coming out of them. Could the white cord turn blue when audio is traveling through the wires? That would both wicked cool and wicked polite.
(Full discloser: Sometimes I intentionally wear the White Y in complete silence, specifically so I don’t have to make small talk with you. I’m willing to lose this self-imposed isolation in the face of progress.)
So I look to Apple to revolutionize again. We need the company to completely rethink the White Y as our best, most convenient audio option in a form factor that is considered culturally cool, even in professional situations. We need this because as technology progresses, audio is getting left behind. But what we hear is just as important as what we see. After all, aren't these devices suppoosed to be primarily portable telephones and personal music players? We need high quality audio for everything the devices can do. We need it easy for us to get the sound to our ears. We need something easy to put on and easy to take off. We need it personal, private and respectful of others.
Who knows what the next Apple form factor could be? Sticky transmitters that sit behind our ears? Audio frequencies that can only be heard by our unique DNA? High fidelity earrings? Earlobe tattoos with nano-technology ink? I don’t know the answer, but I know it’s the right question to ask. If anyone has any crazy ideas, I’m listening. And I’m sure Apple is too…