IF YOU’RE a fan of Mission: Impossible, you’ll like the idea of glasses that talk to you as you walk down the street. Technology once available only to Tom Cruise’s fictional special agent is about to go on general sale, in the form of sunglasses or prescription spectacles that connect to your phone via Bluetooth. They can tell you which way to go, or play music without blocking the street noise you need to hear to stay safe.
I’ve been testing sunglasses that have bone-conduction pads on their arms to transmit sound without it having to travel via the ear canal. They are made by the start-up Voxos (£199, voxos.co). Another option is the Viper 2, coming soon from Zungle (Zungleinc.com), a more established American rival.
I’d cautiously suggest this may be the start of a new big thing, and may end the faintly ridiculous sight of people walking around in oversized headphones. Of course, we’ve been here before with “smart” glasses. Remember the ill-fated Google Glass? The problem was that Google overcooked the idea by including a head-up display and a built-in camera. This made them expensive and gave early adopters the pariah status of “glassholes” after an outcry from people who objected to being secretly filmed. The concept was quickly canned.
But these new, and decidedly cheaper, versions mean there is no longer a need to walk zombie-style while staring at your phone trying to navigate — alerting pickpockets to the fact you’re a tourist. Instead, you can enjoy GPS directions or an audio guide as you amble round, say, Las Ramblas in Barcelona. It’s also a safer way to pump out Born to Run while jogging, or to keep tabs on the Test score while at a wedding. Don’t throw away your over-the-ear cans just yet, though: the sound from these shades is light on the bass and they don’t block external sound, so they won’t be much use on the train, say.
Bone conduction is not new. Beethoven is said to have overcome his deafness while composing by clenching in his teeth a wooden or metal rod held against the piano. Hearing implants rely on the principle, and the military has used these headsets for years. But now a number of established names, including Oakley, are said to be flirting with the concept. So these glasses could — dare I say it? — offer a sneaky glimpse of the future.
By Alex Pell