Samsung’s Gear IconX fitness earbuds allow users to get more from their workouts while relying on less tech. Born out of a desire to enrich the listening experience during exercise with unmatched convenience, the all-in-one earbuds feature a design free of cords, buttons and—most importantly—hassle. Samsung Mobile Enhancement Team Manager Sanghyun Kim and Assistant Manager Jiho Lee explain how they geared the Gear IconX to be particularly liberating.
Q. How did you come up with the Gear IconX’s “independent” concept?
Sanghyun Kim: For many people, preparing for exercise entails grabbing three devices: their smartphone, fitness tracker and earphones. But managing all three during a workout can be cumbersome. So, in an effort to streamline the experience, we dreamt up a wireless music player that could work independently, minimizing any hassle.
We began by envisioning a standalone device that could function simultaneously as a music player and fitness tracker and provide real-time exercise data. We decided to make it cordless in pursuit of complete convenience, and ran numerous ergonomic tests to find a design that would fit every ear.
Q. What was the most difficult aspect of incorporating the fitness tracking technology?
Jiho Lee: The earbuds feature built-in acceleration and heart rate sensors, but when it comes to heart rate, accuracy can vary depending on where the sensor is positioned and how it comes into contact with the body.
It was therefore difficult to find a spot to install the sensor that would work universally, for all ear shapes. What’s more, it was actually our first time utilizing such a sensor on ears. Our existing devices were designed to collect heart rate data from fingers or wrists.
While we could have placed the sensors in greater contact with users’ ears, we believed that doing so would compromise the device’s attractive aesthetic. We therefore carefully honed the product to strike a perfect balance of accuracy and design.
Q. How did you design the earbuds to support crisp music playback on their own?
Sanghyun Kim: In order to facilitate an ideal standalone listening experience, we included built-in memory storage in both earbuds. In use, the device draws from both, and does not suffer from the loss of sound quality due to data compression that’s typical with other wireless earphones. This is how the Gear IconX manages to deliver better sound despite being completely cord free.
Jiho Lee: To streamline file transfers, we decided to launch dedicated PC software—for the first time in the history of the Gear collection—and modified the Gear Manager app to foster the direct transmission of music from users’ phones to their earbuds.
Q. What led you to opt for touch-based controls?
Jiho Lee: Adding physical buttons for different commands would’ve been the easiest route. However, we decided not to put up with the possible inconvenience that hard keys could bring, including requiring a larger design to properly accommodate them and creating irritating pressure on the ear when pressed.
We wanted the earbuds’ controls to be easy to use, conducive to a small design and unlikely to malfunction, which made a touch-based interface ideal. Ultimately honing the controls’ design and selecting what command to assign to each variation of swipe, tap and press took a great deal of deliberation.
Q. What steps did you take to optimize battery capacity?
Jiho Lee: The Gear IconX is capable of running for 3.8 hours in Standalone Mode and 1.6 hours when streaming from a smartphone. According to our research, people usually listen to music for no longer than 1.5 hours at a time.
Because the earbuds are completely cordless, we decided to provide a dedicated case that would allow users to safely and conveniently store and charge them when they’re not in use. By designing the product to recharge during storage, we allow it to be more available for users’ enjoyment.
Q. How do you hope the Gear IconX will contribute to users’ listening experience?
Sanghyun Kim: What makes me happy as a product planner is when people find a device utterly easy to use. The Gear IconX, for example, automatically pairs to users’ phones via Bluetooth as soon as they put the earbuds on, meaning no long button presses to initiate connections. The built-in storage also means immediate access to music—no fishing for a phone or untangling earphones required.
Our goal was to enrich the listening experience during exercise with convenient and intuitive functionality, and we believe users are seeing that. I was especially proud when, at the Rio Olympics, I saw a visitor to the Samsung Galaxy Studio grab the earbuds without any instruction, plug them in and start grooving to some music.