It would be nice to tune into the world without taking off my headphones. That’s the premise behind Auracast, a new broadcasting feature coming to Bluetooth. Not only can the headphones and earbuds you use now tap into the capability, but so can hearing aids. I got to try out the technology at CES 2024, and I can already imagine how it will improve my long convention days and help me avoid overstimulation.
Auracast has been around for a couple of years, but it’s about to take off significantly. More manufacturers are on board with the ability, including the ones you’re already sticking in your ear. For instance, I updated the Galaxy Buds Pro 2 with Auracast capability last week. And just a few days ago, JBL announced an Auracast-compatible speaker, so you can broadcast tunes to your friends at the park without bothering those around you.
As an almost middle-aged person who gets annoyed with any noise she doesn’t invite in, I love the concept of being able to tune into a dance party without inciting a glaring eye.
Auracast can broadcast up to 100 meters, or around 300 feet, in its current implementation, and that’s for one-way connections. (Regular Bluetooth is limited to about 10 meters or over 30 feet.) Auracast gave me a controlled demonstration of the capability at their CES meeting room.
The walkthrough was structured as a “Day in the Life” of a traveling Auracast user. We started at the airport bar, figuratively speaking, where I listened to football on one TV and futbol on the other by simply tapping the TV name inside the Auracast app. Each TV had an Auracast transmitter.
Then we went to the airport Gate. I could tune in to the Gate agent to listen in for any pertinent boarding announcements. I also met up with my “co-workers”—stylishly dressed mannequins—who listened to their own thing. I tapped into one colleague’s iPhone, where she was streaming music while the other colleague was nose down in a conference call. I couldn’t tap into the latter successfully, but we were at the next station when I thought of trying again.
Here’s where Auracast makes my dreams come true for conferences: Your speaker, should they choose to accept the new protocol, can broadcast their keynote to your earbuds if you’d rather listen in that way rather than through external speakers. I like this idea because it means I can be on the outskirts of a crowd, where there are fewer people and more accessible exit strategies. I also like it because I can hear clearly what the speaker is saying without my easily distracted brain catching on to another type of sound that takes me away from what is happening on stage.
Auracast is seamless. It feels as native as tapping into any app on your smartphone. But this was a closed demonstration, and I’m curious how outside variables will affect Auracast’s capability. In the example with the Gate agent, I asked if there’s a way you could be interrupted on your earbuds while you’re listening to music.
Auracast said that in the future, the capability will be able to route through a notification akin to how your music might pause when you receive a phone call or your Maps app is calling out a new directive. Fortunately, Auracast is an optional capability, so you don’t have to use it if you don’t care for it. Still, I worry about how it could be exploited to mess with a mass of folks.
Auracast-enabled dongles and streaming devices will be coming to market this year, as well as plug-ins for available commercial broadcasting systems. Overall, it seems like an option that will bother people less, which is my kind of technology.
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