Wearable Technology: Balancing Innovation & Culture

When I set out to start what became Doppler Labs, I didn’t know anything about technology or product. However, my background in the music industry led me to discover a new opportunity for wearable technology. Specifically, we focused on the ears – which represent a unique product opportunity because they’re always on. For example, we probably would not have survived as a species if our ears turned off – as we needed to hear if a bear was entering our early caves.

In addition, the ear is incredibly sensitive and any form of technology built for the ears can essentially melt into the background. Conversely, wearable technology that relies on the eyes (like Google Glass), you are still aware that you’re wearing a tech-based product to give you information. With in-ear technology, you simply walk around and you can forget that it’s even in your ear. As a result, Doppler Labs sought to put a computer in every person’s ear. In other words, we followed the same motivation as Microsoft (computer at every desk) and Apple (computer in every pocket).

Today, we’re living in a wearable technology boom. For example, you’re seeing “always on” tech with the success of Apple Airpods and other wearables. That said, when I started Doppler Labs, there were limiting factors that prevented wearables from really taking off. While it’s true that the technology available to our team in 2013 is nowhere near what it is today, wearables faced a bigger problem.

Wearable technology did not have a product-centric approach driving how the products were being made.

Instead, engineers were ultimately responsible for setting the product strategy and were missing the bigger picture. For example, the tech side of products like Google Glass was fundamentally sound. However, the device was cumbersome and far from culturally acceptable. Simply put, people didn’t want to “wear” the technology because it wasn’t fashionable or comfortable. At Doppler Labs, we set out to invent a brand-new category for wearables – which represented more than just a great piece of technology.

In summary, our mission was to go beyond the tech and make something that would be embraced culturally. In the end, wearable technology has to be something indispensable that you can’t leave home without. For example, we saw our product as a fashion accessory in the same way that you would use a Louis Vuitton bag. Ultimately, the key to making great products does not end with tech innovation. Simply put, great technology must be combined with cultural innovation in order to create compelling products.

About the speaker
Noah Kraft Member

Noah Kraft is the former co-founder and CEO of Doppler Labs - which developed the first in-ear computer that harnessed the power of voice-driven commands and audio technology. Named as a Forbes 30 under 30 honoree in 2017, Noah led an 80-person team across all product functions at Doppler Labs. Earlier in Noah’s career, he worked for a number of startups in the tech and music industries in New York City.