January 29, 2020
This article is a based on 3 recent reports combined with our own in-ear monitor market understanding.. Vincent Nallatamby wrote a wonderful piece for Tempow, More than Music: the True Potential of True Wireless Earbuds , Nick Hunn's The Hearable Report and Qualcomm's LE Audio: A new age of Bluetooth audio sharing in which they interview Robin Heydon, Senior Director, Technology of Qualcomm Technologies International, Ltd.
HEARABLES TO HIT 80 BILLION BY 2025
True Wireless Earbuds are on track to reach 300 million units by 2022 and over 630 million units by 2025. So what's fueling this explosive growth?
True Wireless adoption rates and predications are currently linked to cell phone distribution and streaming services but once digital assistants and LE Audio location-based sharing begins to offer valuable content and augmented reality enhancements, exponential growth rates will happen.
"Location-based audio sharing will allow public spaces, such as a museum or art gallery, to share Bluetooth audio with groups of visitors at the same time to help enhance their collective experience. Or a conference center could provide audio to conference attendees in multiple languages. Cinemas could share movie audio in the native language of hearing-impaired visitors, as well as provide audio in multiple languages to others. Using LE Audio, even bus stops can broadcast audio to announce bus arrivals for those with limited hearing or sight. This will be a transformative experience for those currently poorly served by facilities designed for non-disabled people. LE Audio will enable many new sharing experiences, helping consumers use their devices in new ways. LE Audio-based devices have the capability to replace expensive and cumbersome hearing loops, allowing more venues to provide audio to those who wear hearing aids. The technology has the potential to transform the overall hearing aid experience, enabling the development of Bluetooth hearing aids to connect to most phones and TVs, and making these devices much more accessible to people with hearing loss" Says Robin Heydon, Senior Director, Technology of Qualcomm Technologies International, Ltd.
For these numbers to play out, here is what I believe needs to happen.
- Changes need to be made to the form factor / tip solution to allow for comfortable and seamless all day use. The in-ears need to become invisible and non-intrusive to the wearer. It must always just work. It must be light and easy. Tips must not exert pressure over time and the devices must stay put and not move/ wiggle throughout the day.
- We need to balance the tradeoffs between isolation and situational awareness. Active Noise Canceling and/ or piped in ambient noise will not be the final solutions. Isolation provides better audio reproduction and allows lower SPL levels but leaves the user feeling sealed up with limited spatial awareness. Piped in / amplified speech does not sound natural and is disconcerting. The ideal form factor provides 100% natural sound pass through with complete situational awareness combined with the augmented reality voice in your head with the ability to block and isolate up to -26db of ambient noise whenever desired.
- Battery life and ease of recharge must improve. This is just a function of time but it most always be front and center.
- Ruggedness / durability / wax issues need to be solved. The ear is an unforgiving place. Repairs are par for the course currently in both the in-ear and hearing aid space. For true adoption, this must be fairly seamless and unless structural changes are made, no manufacturer would be able to keep up with the repair ratio at the projected growth numbers.
As this market evolves, the in-ear manufacturers who have decades of experience in tackling these issues will be front and center at helping to enact change.