Wearable technology is a growing market, but the most common applications are a smartwatch or FitBit — footwear has not been an obvious choice for this kind of electronic-supported accessory.
However, DropLabs thought shoes were the perfect fit for their mission to connect listeners to the energy of live music — an experience that is truly felt from the ground up.
The DropLabs team comes from a consumer electronics background, meaning that they were confident they could create the technology needed to capture this sensory experience. But their challenge was to introduce it into a footwear product that would still meet consumer expectations for fit, comfort and style, no matter the shoe size.
To do this, the company brought together experts from across several industries in order to create the new signature EP 01 sneaker, retailing for $299 on its website. After a soft launch in late 2019, DropLabs launched the Triple Black Edition today.
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“I was used to doing headphones,” said Susan Paley, CEO of DropLabs. “You don’t have to worry about different sizes. You don’t have to worry about someone standing, putting their weight on the speaker. There were so many things that we had to understand because what we’re trying to do is move all the energy up into the body.”
The EP 01 works by embedding patented technology in the midsole that takes the audio from any connected device, converts it into stereo and delivers it back through the footwear in the form of bass vibrations. Connected headphones then provide the usual sound experience, supported by this additional layer of tangible sound.
While consumers initially enjoyed the technology during commutes and air travel, a new group of customers have been drawn to the EP 01, to help re-create the live music experiences that are not currently available during the pandemic. There has also been a general growth in content consumption as more people have stayed home, which DropLabs has addressed by releasing new features alongside the Triple Black Edition today.
Through the accompanying DropLabs app, users can apply filters that are tailored to particular listening experiences. For instance, Velvet amplifies the lowest bass notes and Bright showcases low-mids and symphonic sounds, making it well-suited for jazz or classical music. A sliding intensity scale also allows the listener to adjust how strong the vibrations are, without impacting the volume of the audio.
The other filters, Dramatic and Seismic, are designed for cinematic viewing and gaming respectively. As the technology is able to convert sound into a stereo experience, users can hear — and feel — music or sound from the direction it’s intended to come from, adding to the immersive experience. A gunshot from the left when playing a first-person shooter game would trigger a corresponding vibration in the left shoe, for example.
Paley believes that this will prove particularly valuable for competitive gamers and the e-sports market in general, possibly paving the way for collaboration.
“A lot of footwear brands are also very interested in how they serve a new athlete, which is a new e-sports athlete” said Paley. “What does a shoe like that need to look like and what does that experience need to be? We think the big opportunity is actually in partnership and collaboration.”
As a technology company first and foremost, DropLabs is actively looking for new and interesting ways to present the audio experience to users. The EP 01, in particular, was designed to be as accessible as possible and present a blank slate for prospective partners: The technology is embedded in the product in a way that allows for other designers to build their own creation on top of it, without interfering in the user experience.
“The shoe can take many different forms,” said Paley. “The upper can look many different ways. Doing collaboration with people, working with different footwear brands, they can then interpret it in their own branded way, but we deliver the experience. That’s what our technology does.”
While footwear has a complicated relationship with technology, Paley believes its approach is similar to large industries such as automotive: There is a desire to innovate and differentiate, but it has to make sense from a margin perspective. As a result, many athletic companies have focused on performance for traditional sports and now find themselves unprepared for the e-sports market.
By partnering with a proven wearable audio concept, brands could find a way to fulfill metrics for innovation and revenue — at least that’s the DropLabs hope. But it’s not just footwear brands that the company wants to partner with. As Paley describes it, shoes are simply one of the more compelling use cases and “how it all starts.”