Pine64 has made a name for itself with a series of open hardware devices including Linux-friendly laptops, smartphones, tablets and single-board computers as well as other devices with user-flashable firmware including an inexpensive smartwatch and even a soldering iron.
Now the company is taking aim at Bluetooth audio devices. The company plans to launch a set of PineBuds true wireless earbuds with all the hardware you need for features like active noise cancellation. But unlike most earbuds, which rely on proprietary firmware, the PineBuds will allow users to flash their own firmware. They may also just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Pine64’s audio roadmap.
The company first hinted that it was working on a set of wireless earbuds in an April Fools’ day post on the Pine64 blog. But given much of the other content of that post, you’d be forgiven for thinking the whole thing was a joke.
It turns out the PineBuds are real though, and they’ll be a set of Bluetooth 5.0 true wireless earbuds with touch-based inputs that can be used for controls, 3 microphones on each bud that can be used for voice calls and voice assistants and for noise cancellation, and a charging case that not only includes a battery for topping up the earbuds, but which also exposes UART connections that will allow you to flash firmware to the earbuds when connected to a PC with a USB cable.
Pine64 says this will allow developers to create custom firmware that can do things like alter the touch controls, change sound signature profiles, adjust resonance for a specific user’s ear canals, or use the earbuds as hearing aids.
It’s unclear when the PineBuds will go on sale or how much they’ll cost. (Update: Pine64 says they could go on sale as soon as October, 2022). But the first step is getting developers onboard – Pine64 designs and produces open hardware, but the company typically works with the independent developer community to create software for those products.
The company is positioning the PineBuds and other new audio projects as a “small” project that will be almost completely community-driven, which means it’s more akin to the PineTime smartwatch and Pinecil soldering iron than the company’s larger product categories like smartphones, laptops, and single-board computers.
Before the PineBuds are ready to ship, Pine64 will release a PineSound development board that users the same Bestechnic BES2300 Bluetooth 5.0 audio chip as the headphones. The board is obviously larger than the earbuds, and exposes additional ports and pins that will help developers test the platform.
The PineSound board has a 3.5mm audio jack, 4.4mm and 2.5mm balanced jacks, coaxial & optical inputs and outputs, an SMA connector, a USB-C port, and ports for connecting an LCD display and touch input.
Since Pine64 considers the PineSound board and PineBuds earbuds to be a community-driven project, decisions about if and when they’re ready to move from developer-only products to items that are ready for production and sale will be set with input from members of the development community. And if and when that ever happens will most likely depend on whether a developer community evolves and grows around the platform in the first place.
Not all of Pine64’s small, community-driven products have been great successes, after all. The company’s PineCube open source camera never really took off in a big way, although a dev kit is still available for $30.
It’s not hard to imagine that open source, customizable earbuds could be a bigger success though, especially as they’d most likely help flesh out Pine64’s growing ecosystem of open hardware products. Perhaps one day you’ll be able to pair them with a Linux smartphone like the PinePhone, a smartwatch like the the PineWatch, or other devices like the PineNote E Ink tablet.
And if that happens, it’s also easy to imagine Pine64 expanding its line of wireless audio products to include over-ear headphones, wireless speakers, or other hardware.
Hey, I don’t know if it will permit enough outputs to do ear massage as well as flash group audio and dance choreography. Interesting!
Being able to flash the firmware on your earbuds might help you be really sure that communications between them and devices they’re peripherals to could be secure. It might, if it has enough hardware in there, even permit the development of encrypted communication between you and other guys near you who are also wearing flashed earbuds without the need for an extra device like a phone. If they didn’t, a meshnet of pinephones could likely be fine too.
But even though this isn’t illegal or anything, you would basically only need that level of control if you were actually trying to cause some entity problems, or if an entity had problems with you, so I’d really want the device to function as earPLUGS too.