tact – social earphones

enabling social encounters with smart earphones

Have you ever felt encapsulated when listening to music on your earphones in public? How does this „bubble“ affect your interactions with other people that might want to approach you and talk to you?

We designed a set of smart earphones that automatically pause your music as soon as they are taken out – so you can tactfully focus on the conversation instead of interacting with your phone.


tact earphones are designed to enable undisturbed
interactions between people

In this two-week project, a Fabian Bitter and I designed a set of earphones which enable undisturbed interactions between people.

Observation of a common social phenomenon

The starting point was our observation that approaching a person who is listening to music can be a socially unpleasant experience for both parties:

We noticed that the listener is politely taking out his earphones when he is addressed to show that his attention is with his counterpart.

In the first moments of the conversation however, the listener still cannot fully focus on the conversation, because they have the gnawing feeling to miss something in their song, podcast or audio book – which is why they take out their phone and press pause – even though they want to be attentive to their dialog partner.

The other person notices this distraction, and it will give him an unwelcoming feeling of being disturbing and impeding. So how can this situation be changed?


Using technology in the background to enable human interactions


How it works: Taking away the fear of missing out

We want to take away the listener’s fear of missing out, so that he can focus on the conversation  and give the speaker all the attention needed – instead of interacting with his phone. This can be achieved by automatically pausing the music when the earphones are taken out:


Building an interactive prototype

We really wanted to experience ourselves if this worked, so built a working prototype using two inductive sensors and an Arduino board. I managed to hack and reverse engineer the remote control of Apple earbuds, so that we could automatically control media based on weather the earbuds are worn or not.

Interactive prototyping

Attaching a sensor to the headphones and hacking the built-in remote via an Arduino – it works!

Self-initiated project
Time frame: Two weeks
Contributor: Fabian Bitter
My role: Conceptualisation | Prototyping | Interaction Design | CAD & Embodiment | Visualisation