Leading the world in the manufacturing of bluetooth products is Parrot, a French company with a famed focus not only on wireless car systems, but also multimedia and entertainment products, with their line of headphones, speakers, and the flying AR Drone.Yes, flying. At the head of Parrots operations for the past 20+ years is the company CEO, Henri Seydoux, whom I had approached for an interview, due to our interest in how Parrot’s bluetooth technology advances may come to redefine the consumer side of the music industry. Of particular interest to me was their headphone line, Zik, which is creating serious buzz, due to it’s truly one-of-a-kind capabilities, and offering a new type of experiences for music lovers.
Was it always your intention to establish Parrot in the world of wireless devices? Did you ever set out with a different goal for the company?
Yes, and no. Our first project was to develop a vocal organizer. It wasn’t a commercial success, but it allowed us to show our expertise in vocal recognition and digital signal processing. At the time, we started thinking of the telephone in the car, we were also investigated potential technology that could be adapted to the car environment, and that was Bluetooth. So we became experts in Bluetooth technology, experts in digital signal processing, and number one for in-car telephony. Our story started there.
Was there a particular experience you had, or need that you felt should be filled by what Parrot is currently doing in the wireless market?
My main experience was with software.
One of your most-hyped products right now seem to be the AR Drone. Whereas the practical use of your other products, like your Bluetooth systems and headphones are clear, I wonder what your intentions when creating your drones. It’s seems like quite the technological marvel. Was that your plan? To showcase Parrots abilities as a wireless product manufacturer?
Gaming is something I had in mind for a long time. Parrot AR Drone was the outcome of a dream: to develop a high-tech product for kids and adults by creating a new concept of video gaming, using iPhone and iPod touch as a first step.
Parrot’s first entertainment project was a Bluetooth race car. Though we had developed this, I wasn’t fully satisfied, as the car wasn’t like I imagined for my dream. It should fly! And this is where the idea of the quadricopter came. It was also necessary that it had a very powerful computer, in order for the quadricopter to be stable and easy to control. This project was supported by the arrival of the iPhone, as well as the decrease of the price of some components like MEMs.
What do kind role do you think wireless devices will come to play over the next decade? Even in the dance music community, news of a groundbreaking wireless DJ system, the “XDJ-R1” by Pioneer, is causing a lot of excitement. Do you think other areas of technology will continue in this fashion? If so, why?
Tech is progressing very fast. Innovation is driven by the software. You can put software in many things for numerous applications. Music is one of the areas where software has played, and will continue to play a key role. It is the same for wireless. Bluetooth is everywhere now, but 15 years ago, it revolutionized the way electronic devices communicated. From contacts to communication, from images to music. Wireless means exchange, flexibility, mobility.
Is the rapid growth of electronic dance music in the US, and other parts of the world, something that interests Parrot, as you’re now making products associated with music? Or will you brand your music-related products as universal for everyone, perhaps?
Music is universal, isn’t it? With Parrot Zikmu Solo, you can listen to all kind of music genres and thanks to our free “Parrot Audio Suite” application, you are able to customize the speaker to your taste, in playing with audio effects, the bass extender, the equalizer, etc.
In addition to being elegant and simple, Parrot Zikmu Solo is the most technologically-advanced wireless speaker in the market. It is compatible with any peripheral or network (iPhone, iPod, PC, Mac, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth mobile phone, Ethernet, etc.) so we can answer the various ways and means people listen to music.
The product that has interested me the most at Parrot is your wireless headphone line, “Zik”. On your website, you call it “The most advanced headphone”. Do you mean to say that no other headphone set does what Zik does?
Yes! Parrot Zik headphones are virtually one of the hardest things that we have ever created. No other headphone does what Parrot Zik does. No other headphone offers such level of technology. The things we create at Parrot are primarily driven by software ideas. Parrot is a company of engineers who have worked for years on spatialization, and on giving a much more natural ambience to the music that we listen to with headsets.
Parrot Zik has a real outstanding acoustic quality, especially through its ability to focus in on the music you are listening to. The first innovation is that you just need to touch it lightly, for controlling the music.
The second innovation is the Active Noise Cancellation, for which we are using 4 microphones capturing the noise and reducing it, thanks to an electronic system creating anti-noise. Finally, there is a very sophisticated system for detecting jaw movement, following exactly what you are saying, and allowing you to phone from any noisy areas.
Where did you get the inspiration to create the Zik headphones? Surely the headphone market is quite populated as it is. Why branch into headphones when you already had your other trademark products?
We are a technology company that are experts in wireless, and digital signal processing. All of this means that our exploration field is very large. The question is not whether to enter a crowded market or not. The question is whether we can think of a product in a unique way, and make sure that the consumer usage is at the center of that thinking. Technology can answer this. And if we feel we have the right answer, we launch the product. With Parrot Zik, we offer the most advanced headphone, in terms of both technology and features.
Does the fact that Zik uses Bluetooth over wires have any shortcomings? Or is it only a plus for you?
Parrot Zik is full of sensors and technologies, amongst which are Bluetooth and NFC. We are expert in wireless technology, but as with everything we do, we offer people the best technology, as well as the freedom to choose. For the Zik headphone, you have two wireless options, as well as a wired one. Liberty is in the possibility to choose.
(Above: Henri Seydoux)
How does Zik hold up in terms of durability? Does the extensive amount of technology make it a sensitive or fragile device?
We’ve paid a lot of attention to the materials to make Zik robust. So you just have to treat Parrot Zik the same way you treat an object you like and care for.
I notice that you’ve worked a lot with the product designer Philippe Strack. How did the two of you work together to create Zik? Was one of you the visionary, whilst the other handled the design process?
I know Philippe Starck for a long time and we work well together. It’s rare in life to get along with someone simply and immediately. Philippe has a keen sense for intended meaning.
Our first project together was the Zikmu wireless speakers, which we’ve marketed since 2009. When Parrot decided to work on headphones, around 4 years ago, pursuing the collaboration with Philippe Starck on another musical object was obvious. So it starts with a conversation, or an intention. Then, there is the drawing, and the technical work running parallel to that, as well as the research of the best type of technology to use.
Given what seems to be a lot of complex components, can you tell me what the biggest challenge in developing this headphone set?
Parrot Zik headphones are virtually one of the hardest things that we have ever imagined, since it is in some ways the most banal. The biggest challenge was to develop the most advanced headphone, and we’ve done it!
Can you tell me about the consumer reception and commercial performance of Zik so far? Has it lived up to your expectations in the marketplace?
First time we showed Zik at its project stage, we knew that we were right. It was at CES Las Vegas 2012, and the welcome was very encouraging. When we launched it, in summer 2012, consumer reception was great. We’ve sold almost 100, 000 units worldwide thus far.
Will we be seeing any upgrades to the Zik headphones line anytime soon?
We do not comment on product road-maps. We like to keep surprises.
Alright then. I’ll be waiting to see what surprises Parrot has in store. Thanks for talking me Henri. I encourage our readers to take a look at Zik headphones themselves on Parrot’s website, and keep up to date with Parrot through their Facebook page.