Ear-worn devices: A new category of wearable tech

Ear-worn devices are emerging as a new category of wearable technology. Chinese firm Huawei hinted at it last year with its combi wristband and Bluetooth headset, now Sony has come out with a new in-ear wearable – the Smart B-Trainer.

[adblockingdetector id=”2″]Just when you thought Sony could never again match the brilliance of its Walkman, it comes up with the prototype Smart B-Trainer – potentially a market-changing product … hiding behind a terrible name.

"I've never had it in the ear before" ... new wearable from Sony

“I’ve never had it in the ear before” … new wearable from Sony. Photo: PR

Miniaturized Walkman for the 21st Century
The Sony Smart B-Trainer is a miniaturized Walkman bristling with trendy technology. B stands for beat – in the singular. Presumably spelling it out and say “beat” or “beats” would attract the unwanted attention of Beats owner Apple’s lawyers.

The Sony Smart B-Trainer device includes a heartbeat monitor, GPS for tracking your location, and of course an accelerometer, the core component of any fitness tracker. Oh, and it even plays music, either from a smartphone via Bluetooth, or via limited on-board memory.

According to media reports from CES in Las Vegas, where Sony unveiled the prototype device this week, the Smart B-Trainer can provide audio cues via a robotized voice, to help motivate or guide during a workout routine.

What’s more is that via a real-time phone sync, users can track their heartbeat while they work out – a good reason not to leave their phone behind while working out. An associated Sony app for smartphones will help people to keep their heart-rate “in the zone” during workouts, which is apparently the most efficient way of burning fat – so using wearable tech to optimize a fitness regime.

The “shall I take my phone or leave it behind” topic will be hotly-debated in 2015, with the arrival of the Apple Watch – a device that requires tethering to a smartphone for its data feed.

The era of the ear?
With only limited space on the wrist, and smartwatches duking it out with smart wristbands for superiority, the ear is the obvious place to turn. With headphone sales continuing to break new records, and number-crunching companies predicting a continued year-on-year rise in headphone sales, Sony needed to find a way of leapfrogging over Apple-owned Beats with new headphone technology.

The Smart B-Trainer is that device, and a nifty idea: ear-worn devices are more accurate in tracking steps than wrist-based devices, and the ear is a good place for a heart-rate tracker. According to wearable component supplier Valencell, maker of the PerformTek sensor, this is “because of the unique physiology of the ear”.

As a consequence, Valencell says “wearers can get more accurate health and fitness metrics with earbuds than with other devices, especially when moving around and/or engaging in physical activity.” And if you’d like to get into even more detail on the science of in-ear trackers, company CEO Dr Steven LeBoeuf explains everything in this short YouTube video…

Back to Sony, and the Smart B-Trainer. So far there’s no planned general availability date or pricing. The company did say the prototype is: “a waterproof all-in-one headset style device with multi-sensor capability specifically designed for runners”.

It was a busy CES for Sony, which also announced its SmartWatch 3, a belt from Swedish fashion brand ALTEWAISAOME with a built-in SmartBand, and overall enhancements to the Lifelog software that supports its SmartBand and smartwatches, as well as promising connections to the Internet of Things (IoT) via IFTTT.




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