[Weekender] Earphones becoming standalone, convenient and smarter

By Shin Ji-hye
  • Published : Sept 1, 2017 - 18:22
  • Updated : Sept 1, 2017 - 18:22

In the premium earphone market traditionally dominated by high-end audio producers, smartphone giants have jumped into the race by integrating with their advanced handset technologies.

Global smartphone makers Apple, Sony, Samsung and LG are luring music lovers with more standalone, convenient and smarter earphones, moving beyond sound quality by removing wires, adopting ergonomically designed headsets and integrating with software in their smartphones.

Bundled, high-end earphones for smartphones were first introduced by Apple for its iPhone series years ago to set itself apart from others. 

LG Electronics TONE+ (LG Electronics)

Since then, other smartphone makers have followed suit, with Korean smartphone makers Samsung and LG unveiling bundled earphones with more innovative features.

At the ongoing IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin, Samsung Electronics unveiled Thursday its new earphones, Gear IconX: wireless, cord-free earbuds like Apple’s AirPods.

The standalone Gear IconX has 4 gigabytes of internal storage so that users can enjoy music by transferring songs from their smartphones or PCs. 

Samsung Electronics Gear IconX (Samsung Electronics)

The earbuds can also connect to Galaxy’s artificial intelligence voice assistant Bixby. With a simple tap and hold of the earbud, users can use their voice to control music or the phone -- without touching the actual phone.

For the fitness enthusiast, the earbuds also tracks running routines and features the standalone Running Coach function, which can be activated by tapping the earbud to provide in-ear audio exercise status updates -- in real-time and without phone.

Cord-free earbuds were first introduced by Apple, which launched its AirPods in September last year. With its somewhat ridiculous design, AirPods were initially subject to criticism from online commenters.

One year on, the earbuds are now difficult to find in stores due to their popularity. According to a recent survey released by Silicon Valley-based Creative Strategies, 82 percent of 942 AirPods users said they were “very satisfied” with the device, with another 16 percent of users “satisfied.” 

Samsung Electronics U Flex (Samsung Electronics)

The AirPods have Apple’s own W1 chipset, designed to connect with the iPhone and Apple Watch. The earbuds can also be integrated with Apple TVs, other Bluetooth devices and Apple’s AI-powered voice assistant Siri.

LG Electronics, known to be a step ahead of its local rival Samsung in smartphone audio, recently unveiled TONE+ Free. The product is an around-the-neck headset with the earbuds detached, an upgraded version of its predecessor TONE+, which has wired earbuds that pull out from the headset.

The latest headset from LG is a voice-activated device with wireless earbuds. It is charged when docked in an accompanying neckband. The band also vibrates to alert wearers of incoming calls and texts and calls can be answered, or ignored, using voice commands.

Industry watchers have predicted advances in earphones by smartphone makers will continue in the future, as they aim to improve the brand value of their smartphones.

“Handset makers will continue to innovate designs and functions of smartphone accessories as they are now facing difficulty in further innovating hardware of their smartphones,” said Kim Jong-ki, a researcher specializing in the mobile industry at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade.

Just like Samsung added new value to its Galaxy Note series with its stylus, LG is known for specializing in audio by focusing on its bundled earphones, Kim added.

By Shin Ji-hye (