ByteDance buys earbud maker Oladance for future hardware

ByteDance Ltd. has acquired Chinese earphone maker Oladance for around $50 million, its latest step toward developing wearable devices that could become the next home for its tech after smartphones.

TikTok’s Chinese owner has finalized the deal and dispatched staff to work with the Shenzhen-based startup founded five years ago, people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified. The acquisition brings on board a team of seasoned former Bose Corp. engineers, which has been developing a series of earphones that wrap around the wearer’s ear.

ByteDance is exploring new hardware categories much as US social media rivals Snap Inc. and Meta Platforms Inc. have done with their connected smart glasses — looking for an extension of its social ecosystem beyond the phone. ByteDance management sees the potential to turn wearables into a platform for generative AI services, one of the people said. Its Doubao chatbot recently surpassed Baidu Inc.’s Ernie to become China’s most downloaded ChatGPT-style app.

With the ascent of artificial intelligence, new products like the Humane AI Pin are also showing a path toward novel form factors for staying connected, though smart earbuds that combine voice controls with onboard AI are a nascent category. Much like Apple Inc.’s AirPods and Apple Watch, the most advanced wearable technology today still relies heavily on the smartphone, though various bits of discrete functionality are now being offloaded onto the accessories directly.

ByteDance and Oladance did not respond to queries about the deal first reported by local trade media.

The world’s most valuable startup is no stranger to experimenting in search of the next must-have gadget and gear, albeit with limited success to date. In 2021, ByteDance acquired Pico, a Chinese maker of virtual reality headsets, but the company last year trimmed that business down as part of a broader retreat in video gaming. It has also delved into areas like robotics and edtech gadgets through in-house development or investments.

Oladance’s earbuds are designed to keep users aware of their surroundings during activities like running and workouts. Its main line of earphones, the OWS series, are priced from $130 to $230, according to its website. –BLOOMBERG