CES is a hopeful place.
For one week in January, companies from far and wide gather to share the excitement they feel as innovators with the excitement we feel as journalists and consumers. That excitement often requires a healthy dose of hope and imagination, because sometimes these demonstrations are limited to ideas, prototypes, and yes, dreams. These are tricky waters, and in order to navigate them safely, we need to temper our expectations without losing sight of the seemingly limitless possibilities that make CES such an important event in the first place.
The Bragi Dash Wireless Smart Headphones are quintessentially CES in this regard. After an immensely successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $3.3 million spread across 15,998 backers, the project pushed forward—slowly.
The industry had good reason to be excited, both then and now. The Bragi Dash headphones (or "hearables," as the company calls them) are the first of their kind: equal parts headphones and wearables, they're wireless, Bluetooth-enabled earbuds that also track your vitals, monitor your performance, and manage your fitness goals.
In addition to their sleek profile and biometric wizardry, The Dash earbuds receive incoming calls and charge themselves in their own carrying case. And if that's not enough to wet your aural whistle, the company's founder, Nikolaj Hviid, was once the head of design at harmon/kardon. Did I mention they're waterproof?
By all accounts, the Bragi Dash headphones have a bright future as the wearable standard-bearer: the first landmark product in a still nascent industry.
So why did I leave the Bragi booth feeling duped?
Shortly after reciting an enthusiastic and infectious State of the Union address concerning the Bragi philosophy, General Manager Marijo Sarac carefully removed an earbud from a pouch and helped me fit it into my ear.
The fit was snug but secure. They didn't feel at risk of falling out of my ear, which is critical, given the nature of these particular earbuds.
Sarac pulled out his iPhone and opened a sleek, colorful app that would (I thought) ultimately serve as the starting point for my analysis.
As he scrolled through the various menus—Idle, Running, Cycling, Swimming—it became clear that this app wasn't built for functionality, but demonstration. The menus and options were rendered, yes, but very few of the GUI elements actually worked.
Listed in a submenu were the customization options for gesture macros. The earbuds contain accelerometer sensors that allow the user to perform commands with their head. If a call comes in, for example, you can nod your head or look up to answer the call.
But this feature wasn't available for testing. And, as it turned out, none of the features were available. When I asked if I could at the very least listen to music, I was told that the only prototype equipped with that functionality wasn't available.
Based on other hands-on impressions I've read, there is a prototype out there that plays music. What I can't find, however, are reactions to any of the other features mentioned in the press release. No gesture controls, no heart rate monitor, no biometrics at all. At least not on display this week.
After I spent enough time with the earbud, I leaned in with my camera for a product shot and heard the encouragement of a Bragi representative. He told me to be sure I got their CES Innovation Award in the background.
None of this skepticism should be confused with cynical pooh-poohing. I would love nothing more than for all of these functions, features, and facets to coalesce into an amazing product. Bragi says the Dash, which costs $299, will ship this spring, and I sincerely hope it's everything it's cracked up to be.
But I didn't put a Bragi Dash earbud into my ear today—I put a rubber prototype into my ear. And although it fit comfortably and provided ample isolation from the bustling Sands Expo floor, it could do nothing to block out the voice in my head.
The ultimate irony of the innovators at Bragi is that they don't speak exclusively in promises, but in the tone of braggadocios: Howard Hughes-esque dreamers that see a future the rest of us can only imagine.
Take, for instance, the Bragi website, where the word "imagine" appears rather frequently.
"Imagine The Dash as a live fitness coach," one infographic reads. "Imagine The Dash as a wireless navigation assistant," says another.
"Imagine being able to identify infections or injuries in combination with 3rd party sensors by using sensor fusions."
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