Innovation

I put my finger in my ear to hear the future of phone calls

By Oliver Smith 11 September 2017
Summary

Don’t worry, I washed my hands afterwards.

“Now stick your finger in your ear…”

It’s not the kind of instruction you’d expect to find with a cutting-edge piece of technology, but that’s exactly what I’m being told to do.

To explain, Sgnl is a bone-conduction wrist-strap, one that essentially turns your fingertip into a vibrating speaker.

We first spotted Sgnl when it launched as a Kickstarter project last year, and this month I got the opportunity to try a near-final prototype at the IFA technology conference in Berlin, ahead of Sgnl (finally) shipping to backers next month.

Read more: Next year, start taking phone calls on your finger

But anyway, back to my finger-ear situation.

Finding Sgnl

Sgnl is a wrist-strap that can be attached to either a smartwatch, like Apple Watch, or a plain old regular wristwatch.

Through the wonders of Bluetooth it’ll connect to your smartphone and when your phone rings, rather than piping the audio out of your phone, a pad on the inside of Sgnl will feverishly start vibrating sending the audio to your fingertip while a microphone in the wristband will pick up your voice.

Press said fingertip in your ear or, more accurately, on your ear and you’re off.

But the most important question, and why you’re probably here, is, how does it sound?

Not great

Yeah, not great.

Admittedly I was in a busy convention centre, but the audio that I ‘heard’ was still very muffled, distant and distorted enough as to make one word in every five almost inaudible.

I also had to press very hard, and very precisely, against certain parts of my ear (the more boney bits), which quickly became uncomfortable – you wouldn’t want to be taking any long calls on this.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Vibration and liberation

Taking a call with Sgnl is, yes, quite liberating. It paints a vision of the future where your Apple Watch buzzes with a call, and you simply finger-ear to discreetly answer.

It’s a future I like the sound of.

Sadly Sgnl isn’t there yet, and I’m not sure if it ever will be.

Today their wrist-strap is an expensive ($149) demo of what could be. It’s a technology that will likely be swooped on by tech giants like Apple and Samsung, developed, improved and then built into millions of devices around the world. None made by Sgnl.

The company might be remembered as the groundbreaking innovator which put us on the path to a bone-conduction future. But, more likely than not, it won’t be.