BOSTON, Nov. 2, 2020
/PRNewswire/ -- The first electric hearing aid was created in
1898 and was arguably among the earliest examples of wearable tech.
So it is fitting that more than a century later, on- and in-ear
technology is once again leading the way – this time as hearables,
a sector now poised for substantial growth.
A new report from IDTechEx, "Hearables 2020-2030: Technology,
Players and Forecasts", provides a detailed and wide-ranging
assessment of the current hearables market and relevant
developments. Exploring historical data from 2010 to 2019,
secondary research covering dozens of firms throughout the value
chain and including interviews with more than 20 leading firms in
the sector, the IDTechEx report also delivers market forecasts
covering 2020 to 2030.
What are hearables?
Put simply, hearables are wireless electronic devices that are
worn in, on or around the ear. This traditionally includes
connected wireless headphones and earbuds, with versions of the
definition also including connected hearing aids and cochlear
implants. The hearables market covers a broad range of
technologies, end-users, and sectors at various stages of maturity.
For example, the medical hearing aid market has been active for
more than a century, but the consumer-facing wireless headphone
market did not really gain traction until after 2010.
Apple's AirPods, launched in 2016, kickstarted the market,
leveraging Apple's position to becoming the most commercially
successful product in the space. This also triggered strong
competition in that area as companies battled hard to compete – a
battle that persists today.
In parallel to this commercial rise, another important
evolutionary step has been underway, with the inclusion of
biometric sensors within hearable devices. This development may
prove crucial, for not only is it possible for biometric data to be
collected from hearable devices right now, but the potential for
biometric hearables is enormous. "Hearables 2020-2030: Technology,
Players and Forecasts" shows that biometric hearables are set to
make a substantial impact on the consumer, over-the-counter (OTC)
health, and professional medical markets with a few years, with the
market for hearables with biosensors set to reach $5 bn by 2030.
Why use hearables with biosensors?
Wearables with biometric sensors are nothing new – the Pew
Research Center found that around one in five Americans now wears a
fitness or activity tracker. These are most commonly worn on the
wrist, but that market is beginning to see some saturation and so
it seems ripe for innovation.
In this context, biosensors in or around the ear make perfect
sense. Anatomically, the ear is an ideal location for biosensors
because it is close to many useful, high-quality biometric signals.
- The ear canal has a shallow, rich capillary bed which makes it
suitable for non-invasive monitoring (e.g. heart rate)
- Placing sensors in the ear brings them closer to the body's
core, giving better measurements for core body temperature,
- The ear is close to important signals such as brainwaves, eye
movement, speech recognition, and head tracking.
These attributes can not only optimize many of the readings that
conventional biometric wearables already track, but also generate
new possibilities for consumers and medical professionals
Unobtrusive, comfortable hearables that are comfortable to wear
could increase compliance with medical monitoring or study (e.g.
drug efficacy trials, ambulatory recording of heart rate, or blood
pressure). Hearables can also be used to monitor chronic conditions
or general health and to track diet and fitness.
This progress has been supported by recent changes in the
regulatory and legal landscape. In 2017, the US Congress passed the
Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act and created a new class of hearing
aid that is regulated by the FDA but can be bought and sold without
the involvement of a licensed professional.
Prior to this, the hearing aid market was tightly regulated (as
a medical field), which restricted access to the market –
consequently, biometric sensors within hearables were largely
confined to consumer goods. However, the Act has opened the hearing
aid market up to new providers and customers, all of whom will be
keen to differentiate their products and brands.
Brave new world?
It is clear from "Hearables 2020-2030: Technology, Players and
Forecasts" that the scope for biometric hearables to access and
exploit multiple biometrics at once takes their scope beyond that
of conventional health and fitness trackers and even hearing aids.
An article by Poppy Crum, Chief
Scientist at Dolby Laboratories and an adjunct professor at
Stanford, explains that the ear is the
ideal portal to access data on:
- Heart rate
- Blood oxygen levels
- Eye movements
- Skin resistance
- Stress hormone levels
- Brain electrical activity
This means wearables may, in time, be integrated with other
technologies including machine learning/AI and cloud computing to
discern the physiological, physical, and emotional status of
wearers – and trigger actions in response. In this scenario, the
hearable 'knows' how stressed the wearer is, how best to calm them
down (prompting their smart speaker to play a favorite music track,
perhaps), which direction they are looking in and how much mental
effort they are making. Hearables with voice recognition tech will
'inform' the hearable how often the wearer is speaking, in what
tone, and even with what emotion.
Indeed, researchers at Cornell
University are currently researching the use of hearables to
track and translate facial expressions.
Such capability may sound futuristic, and not all of it is
possible – yet. But a surprising amount of the knowledge and
hardware/firmware required is either being developed or has already
been integrated into devices.
Where does this leave the hearables market?
The key message arising from "Hearables 2020–2030: Technology,
Players and Forecasts" is that the technological and market
landscape for hearables looks promising but faces challenges.
Specifically, the report finds that:
- Even though it is still early days for hearables containing
biometric sensors, the market forecasts predict that over
$5 bn of ear-worn products containing
biosensors will be sold by 2030.
- The relative amount of penetration into the total market by
volume will be relatively small, but biometric sensor integration
is likely to be prominent in higher-value products within each
sector, thus potential total revenue is substantial.
- The introduction of biometric sensors to hearable products is
likely to be gradual, starting with relatively conventional sensors
(e.g. heart rate) but diversifying over time.
Meanwhile, the wider hearables market, including non-biometric
products, faces challenges that the report addresses. These
- The impact of the 2017 Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act and the
new product category it creates.
- The likely duration of the current, aggressive, market
conditions, and dominance of particular brands.
- The areas of development likely to affect and shape the sector,
and those likely to fail.
- Relevant technological advances (e.g. energy sources, upgraded
For more information on this Hearables market report, please
visit www.IDTechEx.com/Hearables or for the full portfolio of
Wearables research available from IDTechEx please visit
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