Bose is, quite literally, a household name. Whether it's your home stereo or the speakers in your vehicle, almost everyone knows about Bose. What you may not know, however, is that the company has been making serious moves in the augmented reality space, leveraging their experience with quality sound to make some truly intriguing pieces of kit. I went hands-on with two Bose AR devices at Play NYC 2019 and what I experienced was pretty darn impressive.
VR is pretty impressive on its own, but AR — augmented reality — is a tech that's interesting for different reasons. Sure, it can be (and often is) used for games, but the applications for everyday usage are equally (if not more) interesting.
Bose AR — Noise-Canceling, AR-Equipped HeadphonesA massive kiosk served as the space where the best of Bose AR tech was demoed at Play NYC 2019, even though they were only showing off two products: the Bose Frames and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. These two devices are equipped with sensors like accelerometers and gyroscopes to measure direction and movement and then make use of it for applications, most often with your phone.
I tried on both devices before trying out some games with the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. I have only used noise-canceling headphones a handful of times in my life, so I honestly couldn't give you an informed opinion of how this stacks up against other devices of this type (at least for its noise-canceling properties). What I can say is that putting these things on was like flipping a switch; the din of the exhibition space was immediately shut off. I could barely hear the game developer speaking in front of me and had to take off the headphones to carry on our conversation.
And yes, I said "game developer." You see, Bose hasn't just created hardware — they've been working to get software developed that works with their devices. This is done through game jams, the winners of which are subsequently used to help promote their hardware platforms.
I played two games making use of the Bose AR headphones. The first had me navigating a maze completely in the dark (as it were); I could turn my head to listen for sounds to try to figure out where to go. After hearing "Ow I'm a wall" for the umpteenth collision with a solid face, I gave up at trying to make my way out of the darkened maze. I thought it was a very interesting application of the technology.
Moving one table over, I played another game that was for two players. Riding a horse, I had to gallop by headbanging and turn by looking to either direction. I wasn't allowed to see the screen and was guided by my partner in an effort to make it to a train and escape the level. This game was also conceptually interesting, but I got tired after a minute or two (especially after running around a gaming convention all day.)
The games I played were interesting, but I'm not sure if I could square them with the cost of the headphones just yet. I decided to move on to the sunglasses and go for a short walk around the block.
Bose Frames and the Mole PeopleAside from their massive kiosk, Bose and Playcrafting had this interesting event that leveraged the power of the Bose Shades augmented reality sunglasses. Essentially, you'd put the glasses on and go on a walking tour around the block, listening to a story that tells you about the general area and also provides an entertaining experience.
Let's get something about the Bose Shades (pictured in our header) out of the way: no, there is no heads-up display in the eye lenses. It would be amazing if there was, but Bose is a company that's all about sound and that's just not a part of this package. (I wouldn't be surprised, however, to find that they were working on figuring this bit out for some future iteration of the device.)
The walking tour was done in groups of three with a fourth person guiding us. We'd walk to a waypoint and play a sound file on a custom-made app that showed us the waypoints to play it. An old-timey radio show talked about New York City, its history, and urban legends like the mole people. Points of interest were highlighted; a blue door was said to be a gateway to the underworld. A water tower was said to be a prison for misbehaving people who wronged the mole people somehow.
Occasionally, conversation from what was later revealed to be the mole people would break into the broadcast, eventually culminating in the two narratives colliding. The radio host who talked about the mole people found himself imprisoned in said water tower and our audio tour concluded.
The speakers in the Bose AR sunglasses worked pretty well, especially considering that there was nothing actually over my ears. It was a little bit quiet, but it was certainly loud enough that I could clearly hear what was being said despite all of the background noise of lower Manhattan. There's also an integrated microphone, effectively allowing these to serve as a stylish replacement for your headset.
Are the Bose AR devices worth picking up?Having spent a bit of time with both the Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones 700 and the Bose Shades, I've since had time to think about these two devices and their merits. Are they worth picking up?
Let's talk about the bugbear in the room: the price. The Bose Shades are gonna run you $199.99, which isn't so bad for sunglasses with integrated speakers, a microphone, and (of course) UVA and UVB protection. Similarly, the $399.00 price tag for the Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones 700 seems somewhat reasonable considering the various sensors and microphones built into the device. (And yes, two of the eight microphones are used for picking up your voice, either for recording or talking on the phone.)
So, are these Bose AR devices worth the price? Well, it depends on what you're looking for.
If you're a tech nut who wants to be at the absolute forefront of the coolest augmented-reality technology, then either the sunglasses or the headset would be a good purchase for you to get. There are already a few interesting apps available via Bose's AR platform and more are coming in the future.
If you're an audiophile, the Bose Shades just won't cut it for you. The sound is serviceable, but it certainly does not compare to the Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones 700. Buy the headphones if you're looking for a great musical experience.
And lastly, for the regular joes: the sunglasses are worth it for the convenience and the headphones are worth it for the quality, but there may be cheaper options that you would be equally satisfied with.
The standout thing with these devices (aside from Bose's expertise in sound quality) are the sensors used for augmented reality tech, and I just can't see these as anything other than a novelty. Not without some kind of heads-up display, at least. There are very few things that I can think of where turning your head is somehow more useful or more revolutionary than simply turning your mobile device. I'm sure there will be uses for these sensors — software developers can get very creative! — but I personally haven't experienced anything that made me think I needed this tech right now.
If you'd like to pick up either of these devices anyway, you can get the Bose Shades at a price of $199.00 or your regional equivalent and the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 for $399.00. You can learn more about Bose AR on their website.
Disclosure: TechRaptor participates in an affiliate-linking program that Bose is a part of; TechRaptor earns a small commission off purchases made from some links in this article.
What do you think of the Bose AR devices? Are they the kind of thing you're interested in or do you need the price to come down some before you'll buy it? Let us know in the comments below! Check out what else we saw at Play NYC by going to our Play NYC 2019 Coverage Hub.