The Market for Hearable devices 2016-2020
Nick Hunn is the founder and CTO of Wiforce Consulting and has recently published a document entitled, “The Market for Hearable devices 2016-2020”. In this detailed report, he uses his extensive knowledge to predict the future of hearables. I will try to summarise this in a brief article but for the full report please visit:
What are hearables?
Hearables – anything that fits in or on an ear that contains a wireless link, whether that’s for audio, or remote control of audio augmentation (Nick Hunn, 2016)
Introduction to Hearables
Nick starts off by introducing the topic of hearables, or more specifically, Apple Airpods. Apple’s bold strategy of removing the 3.5mm jack from the iPhone 7 along with the release of their Airpods has essentially paved a golden path for other technology firms to develop wireless headphones and hearable devices. He demonstrated that in 2016 for the first time wireless headphones outsold wired headphones. This is incredible because looking at the statistics, only 5 years prior to that wireless headphones had less than 10% of the market share.
2014 was the year of the hearable revolution because of the Bragi Dash and Earin kickstarter campaigns. The Bragi Dash was the most successful campaign with a backing of $3.39 million. Nick later goes on to say how Bragi were ambitious with their goals which could have seen the company crumble but in the end they were able to deliver the product and are now the poster child of hearables.
Internet of Voice (IoV) Applications
This is essentially talking freely to the internet through technology. Devices such as the Amazon Echo have moved the technology on from the days of poor speech recognition and awkward interaction. He confirms that both Google and Microsoft are developing hearable products focusing on voice recognition and so Amazon may not have the spotlight for long.
Hearables Vs Wearables
Many of the hearable manufacturers are targeting the sports market. At present many of the major brands are using wrist based technology to take biometric measurements. However, the head moves less than the wrist and is therefore more stable. This stability should provide more accurate biometric measurements. The Hearable could monitor several measurements such as body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and even adjust music to match the tempo of the exercise regime. These measurements can then be directly relayed in to the ear audibly by the technology and act as a personal trainer rather than having to lift the arm and view the results on the wrist.
Audio Curation and Augmented hearing
Hearable companies are targeting areas that other wearable tech can’t. One idea is becoming a sound engineer of your own audible world. You can attenuate or enhance different sound sources in your environment or remix the sound at a concert to improve your listening experience. As well as this, live translation is a talking point. Nick points out that having a device in the ear that translates other languages in real time is edging closer to reality. Imagine the possibilities of being able to travel anywhere in the world and being able to communicate freely with anybody.
Hearables Vs Hearing Aids
Nick states that the hearable and hearing aid markets are very different and the worry that hearables will see the end of the hearing aid industry is a very simplistic view (and I agree). Nick states that hearing aids have a much tougher job than just putting sound in the ear and requires the expertise of an audiologist to program and deliver appropriate amplification for the hearing impaired. Hearing aid manufacturers continue to support the current business model of audiologists by registering their products as medical devices. Nick makes no mention of whether this will change in the future but I feel that financially it is in the best interest of the manufacturers to delay this for as long as possible. We would however be foolish to think that the big 6 hearing aid companies aren’t working away in the background on over-the-counter hearing aids to ensure that their products remain current.
In this report Nick confirms that the changes in the market feel real and Hearables are looking to be the next big thing in wearable technology. Apple are likely to dominate the earbud industry at least for the next couple of years but we may then see a shift in control as other leading headphone manufacturers jump on board with biometric functionality. The hearing aid market will continue to grow alongside hearables for the foreseeable future and for now the two markets will remain distinctly separate.