Someday we may see a future similar to the one depicted in the movie "Her" in which people wear "hearable" devices that truly contain an in-ear computing platform with an advanced AI presence.
Alas, Doppler Labs won't be the company to do it: The upstart headphone company announced today that was ceasing operations.
This morning a few of us here at CNET received the following message from Doppler Labs' founder Noah Kraft:
"I'm sorry to have to write you to tell you that Doppler is going out of business," Kraft wrote. "If you are on this email, it means you are someone who has covered us from the beginning, I can't thank you enough for your time as we tried to build an in-ear computing platform and give people better access to hearing health solutions."
You can read more about Doppler's demise in a Wired article by David Pierce, who got to witness the end firsthand.
Fellow CNET editor Scott Stein and I did cover two-year-old Doppler from the beginning. There was a lot of hype surrounding the company. David Geffen and Henry Kravis were investors. The company raised a total of $50 million, with $24 million of that coming in a Series B round in the summer of 2016 (per the aforementioned Wired article).
In the the fall of 2016, it looked like Doppler would beat Apple to market with the, a set of totally wireless earphones that promised to be smarter than the . And a few months later -- in January of 2017 -- CNET's Brian Tong was blown away by the Here One demo at CES.
Things were looking good, even as product's launch slipped to the end of February. While the reviews were mostly positive, many noted that the earphones were expensive ($300), had mediocre battery life and were not quite fully baked (additional features were due to be added).
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, Kraft was busy trying to save the company.
Personally, I was somewhat skeptical about the Here One and told Kraft as much when I met with him (multiple times). Sure, the product was interesting, performed pretty well and showed promise. But I didn't know exactly who it was for. By that I meant that I didn't know who they were marketing it to. Was it for people with hearing problems or garden-variety digital nomads? The earphones were sweat-resistant, but were they sports headphones? And with all the built-in microphones, were they a business-class headset for making calls?
One issue was they were both noise-canceling headphones and headphones that allowed you to hear the outside world better (they have an augmented pass-through listening feature). That's not so easy for the average person to understand. And while they sound good for this type of totally wireless headphone, the company probably wasn't emphasizing that enough. It was just one feature among several.
All that said, the company's biggest problem was probably Apple's AirPods. They cost less, are simple to use and easy for people to understand, and are backed by the Apple brand and multimillion dollar ad campaigns. Doppler wasn't trying to compete with Apple but it was still caught in the AirPods' churn.
Kraft is a good salesman and always made it seem like the company was well capitalized. The Doppler team was hard at work on its next-generation product, the Here Two, and was set to release a new hearing health app, Here Plus.
The not-quite-finished app will be released for free once it gets through the Apple Store review process (you'll need a Here One to use it), but there won't be a Here Two. (The company says it will support the Here One until December 1, 2017, and if you bought a Here One in the last 30 days, you can return it.)
"We are all obviously very disappointed that it has come to this," Kraft said at the end of his email to reporters and supporters. "But I know the team is proud of what we've built and the legacy we will leave. Thank you again for being part of Doppler's journey."