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Aliph’s second generation Jawbone, designed by Yves Béhar

words Justin McGuirk

This device nearly ended my relationship. Of course, it wasn’t the Jawbone’s fault that I chose a rendezvous with my girlfriend to give it a trial run, or that she was standing outside the wrong door furiously calling me, or that I had it in my pocket oblivious to the fact that you have to have it in your ear to hear your phone ring, or that I was already on notice from her about this kind of thoughtlessness. No, it wasn’t the Jawbone’s fault, just like it’s never the computer’s fault when it doesn’t “understand” the command you’ve given it. The difference is that I know how to turn a computer on and off again, but this noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset doesn’t appear to have any buttons.

Now, you may already have gathered that I’m not the gizmo type. So why am I reviewing this contraption? Well, what’s the point of getting Gadget Boy to review it? Of course some tech-fiend can figure it out – and probably have it dismantled and reassembled like a mini Kalashnikov while I’m still choosing between the leather or plain ear loop. What good’s that going to do you? What you want is a real flubber to review it – a gigachondriac, an iBungler. You want me.

This is Aliph’s second-generation Jawbone – smaller and cooler than the original – and the idea behind it (to get really basic) is that you can talk, first, hands-free and, second, in situations where you might ordinarily not be heard, namely: in the wind, nearby car alarms, police sirens or rubbish trucks and in the pub when the match is on. Those are undoubted virtues, but not enough on their own for me to carry an extra doohickey in my pocket. It’s like the ad: “Take two bottles into the shower?” No, the reason why this appealed was its objectness. It was designed by Yves Béhar, and it has an otherwordly quality, like some obsidian talisman – although, turn it on its side and it’s a 1:50 model of that really expensive Zaha Hadid table. You can imagine a future where this is a piece of functioning ear jewellery, as common an appendage as glasses, except of course we wouldn’t need the phone to go with it because this would do everything just by reading our thoughts.

That’s not as fanciful as it sounds. This thing already reads the vibrations of your voice to trigger the noise-cancelling function while you’re speaking. Technologically, it’s the next step in humans’ mastery of our environment – the sonic equivalent of a zero-gravity chamber. Apparently it was tested by the US military, and it’s called Noise Assassin, a name that suggests it’s aimed at urban ninjas. Cue my second trial, which was a marked improvement on the first. A conversation actually ensued, but it opened like this: “Hello?” “Hello.” “God, is it really windy where you are?” Somehow I’d failed to find Noise Assassin. It does work, however. Or, at least, I have a couple of testimonials to that effect from people I spoke to with my head next to a running tap. The question is, why can’t this noise-cancelling function be incorporated into our mobile phones?

As an object, the Jawbone absolutely transcends those bulky widgets you see taxi drivers wearing. Alas, it’s hard to imagine who else it’s good for. If you keep one of these in your ear just to avoid having to politely excuse yourself while you step out of the pub for a minute, then you’re probably too obsessive about the quality of your telecommunication – or perhaps just paranoid that someone’s going to spit in your pint, and if you’re wearing one of these then you’re fair game.

The Jawbone is $129.99


image Rob Timm

top image Aliph’s second generation Jawbone, designed by Yves Béhar

Useful in the pub?
Useful in the pub?

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