Hearables or Smart headphones are technically advanced, electronic in-ear-devices designed for multiple purposes ranging from wireless transmission to communication objectives, medical monitoring and fitness tracking. Hearables are therefore a manifestation of the concept of ubiquitous computing.
Hearables are wireless electronic products worn in, on or around the ear. This includes products such as headphones, hearing aids, cochlear implants, and a growing ecosystem of related and new products. They have applications including combinations of infotainment, hearing assistance and augmentation, health monitoring and more, based primarily in the consumer electronics and healthcare sectors. This report aims to provide a comprehensive view of the entire industry, covering each product type individually, broader industry themes and review of the key technology at the core of this movement.
Hearables as a category was first coined back in 2014. At this time, the earliest commercialisation efforts around “true wireless” headphone products had just begun, with several new startups attracting a significant amount of attention. In headphones, significant portions of the market were switching to wireless options, enabled by Bluetooth® Low Energy radio, and Apple had just acquired Beats for $3bn. In hearing aids, the leading 6 (now 5) players dominated a multi-billion dollar market, but with the rate of new innovation beginning to increase.
Subsequent years have seen the product sector rise in both attention and revenue. The most significant event of all was the release of Apple’s AirPods (December 2016), and the subsequent success of this product. This triggered efforts from the majority of major headphone players and several other consumer electronics players to produce their own true wireless headphones. In hearing assistance, the increasing sophistication of algorithmic techniques to configure and adjust these devices threatens the status quo of the hearing aid industry. This has been compounded with the passing of the 2017 Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid Act in the US and the subsequent new product category that it will create.