March 19 Update: This story has been updated per news of Bose Frames' prescription lenses, details below.
AUSTIN, TX — About a year after Bose first showed me a prototype of its Bose Frames glasses and its audio-based Bose AR platform, the company has a major update. Not only have its first apps launched, they're even on the brand's best headphones. Oh, and I also got time with its upcoming apps, including a major tool for the visually impaired.
Specifically, Bose AR is landing on Quiet Comfort 35 II headphones made after Nov. 2018, and arrives via the Bose Connect app, just as it does for the Bose Frames glasses. Bose also announced a Rose Gold colorway of the QC 35 II's, due at the end of April.
At SXSW, Bose Frames director Mehul Trivedi also told me that prescription lenses news for Bose Frames will be coming "very soon," as he showed me that Bose is rolling out mirrored and polarized lenses for the Frames in May. A little over a week later, on March 19 GlassesUSA.com announced a plan that will allow you to buy prescription lenses you can pop into the Frames.
Enabling amazing experiences
The no-headphones nature of Bose Frames — the audio sunglasses that went on sale earlier this year — creates some great opportunities, including one that helps the blind navigate the world around them. That app is called Aira, which already exists as a way for blind people to allow trained technicians to help see the world around them, using the cameras in the smartphone attached to a lanyard on their chest.
While this service has existed prior to Bose Frames and AR, the integration with the glasses looks to amp up the experience significantly. Talking with Aira's head of AI and research Anirudh Koul and its director of product Greg Stilson (who is blind), I learned that putting headphones — even AirPods — in the ears of a blind person navigating the world is a major no-no, as the passive noise cancelling reduces their ability to hear the world around them.
So when you connect the Aira app to Bose Frames with Bose AR (the integration is coming soon), blind users will be able to hear the world around them and the instructions from the Aira representative at the same time. Also, the 9-axis directional IMU sensor in Bose Frames will rotate the Google Maps Street View that the Aira agent sees as they provide instructions.
I got to walk a quarter of a block in Greg's shoes with the assistance of an Aira agent talking to me from his Bose Frames, testing a preview experience of the integration. The rep read out the details of an event sign in front of me, described the restaurant behind it.
When I asked for help getting to the Half-Step, the restaurant where Bose had its booths set up, the agent knew which direction I had to walk, but needed me to take a few steps before he could confirm which side of the street I should be on. It turns out that since GPS details don't provide exactly perfect data, and the Frames' IMU sensor and Google Maps collected the remaining details.
Even with the loud noises of Downtown Austin's Rainey Street, where everyone from Netflix to Activision is set up, I could hear the agent loud and clear.
Bose AR apps for exercise, meditation and music
Other in-development Bose AR experiences I got to see included one with iHeart Radio, where rotating my head left and right — as I wore the Bose Frames — allowed me to select stations, as the glasses announced options. Looking at an iPhone screen (for visual clarification), I saw how moving your head is the gesture-equivalent of rotating the radio dial.
Another experience I tried was from New Balance, where its app will track jumping jacks and side bends. The only annoyance here was remembering to keep my head at the correct angle, for the motion to be tracked.
Bose AR on the QC 35 II headphones looks to be a solid experience, which I tested with a preview version of an upcoming integration with the Headspace app, which helps people mediate. This integration makes more sense in the over-ear cups of the headphones because unlike the Frames, these cans block out the world around you, as they instruct and track you as you perform a series of neck stretches, to get ready to compose yourself.
One app available for download now integrates the Bose Frames with the Golfshot app, which gives golfers tons of data and advice for which club to use and more, connected to 45,000 golf courses and support for 12 languages. One of its neatest tricks will advise you of the direction of the hole, which I got to test, and head its pinging noises increase, and peak, when I rotated my head in that direction.