Intel on Thursday unveiled a new partnership with SMS Audio, the headphone company owned by rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, and revealed the companies' first collaboration: a set of fitness-focused headphones called BioSport In-Ear Headphones.
The device, which can track a user's heart rate during exercise, is part of Intel's continued push into wearables. The chipmaker in March acquired fitness-band maker Basis Science and on Wednesday said it has partnered with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research to try to improve research and treatment of the neurodegenerative disease using wearable technology.
"This is not a hobby for us at Intel," Mike Bell, general manager of Intel's New Devices Group, said in an interview Thursday. "We really believe that wearable technology is going to be a large segment."
The headphones also are part of a broader trend in the tech industry to provide fitness-based products, such as the water- and dust-resistant Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport and a multitude of wearable wristbands that can track steps walked and hours slept.
Bell added that the new headphones help illustrate part of the chipmaker's strategy in wearables, saying Intel seeks to add new features into devices but still make that technology essentially "invisible." In the case of the headphones, Bell said Intel was able to make the device battery-free, with its power source coming from a smartphone's audio jack. That feature means the device looks generally the same as another set of headphones and doesn't need a separate rechargeable battery, like with LG's Heart Rate Monitor Earphone.
Intel in January mentioned its was developing earbuds with biometric capabilities that can charge through an audio jack.
The BioSport In-Ear uses optical sensors that can look at blood flow through the skin to provide users with an accurate but noninvasive heart-rate reading, Bell said. The sensors are developed by a third-party company, which SMS Audio and Intel declined to name.
Users are able to track that data using the app RunKeeper, developed by Boston-based FitnessKeeper. Combined with the app, users will be able to track their heart rate through the headphones, as well as their distance and speed using RunKeeper, which tracks movement using a smartphone's GPS system.
The headphones are also sweat- and water-resistant, and have a patented ear-hook design to help provide a comfortable fit.
For SMS Audio, which also has NBA star Carmelo Anthony as an investor, the device provides another offering in its growing lineup of sports- and fitness-related headphones. SMS President Brian Nohe said that focus helps the company differentiate itself from other high-end headphone makers such as Bose and Apple's Beats, which were co-founded by rapper Dr. Dre.
Nohe said that he expects Intel and SMS to come out with more collaborations in the future. The partnership with Intel only involves product development, he said, so the chipmaker won't be sharing in sales proceeds of the device.
The BioSport In-Ear will go on sale sometime in the fourth quarter and pricing for the headphones will be announced later this year. As a comparison, the LG heart-rate headphones have a suggested price of $180 on its website.