While the wearables trend began with the wristband device, sensor miniaturization has now progressed to a wide range of form factors. As an example, the 'hearable' or ear-based wearable device combines these sensor inputs and additional computing power with a variety of new use cases for the ear.
More miniaturization will help drive the capabilities of the market, as well as push hearables capability into the mid-tier device market. This sector is uniquely positioned, with more mainstream market pricing, to change both the wearables space and the existing ear-based device sector.
Being able to successfully navigate this evolving landscape will require both a clear vendor vision on what the sector can achieve and an awareness of what existing technology partners can bring to the market.
Hearables Market Development
According to the latest worldwide market study by Juniper Research, there will be an estimated 417 million hearables in use by 2022. This includes fitness-focused devices, hearing augmentation and purely audio-focused devices.
The new study found that more than 271 million audio-focused multimedia hearables from the likes of Apple, Bose, Google, Samsung and Sennheiser will be in use by 2022 -- that's compared to an estimated 62 million in 2018.
These will represent over 50 percent of all wireless headphones in use by 2022; reaching as high as 80 percent in the U.S. market. Apple's AirPods have emerged as a leader, with Juniper estimating around 24 million AirPods to have been shipped in 2018.
The analyst's research predicted that as mid-range and budget manufacturers leverage voice assistants to enhance their devices, over 75 percent of hearables in use will incorporate voice assistants by 2022.
"In some cases, voice assistants will be the only ‘hearable’ feature of these devices. Premium players need to provide other features to distinguish themselves, like advanced audio adjustments or innovative interfaces," said James Moar, research analyst at Juniper Research.
According to the Juniper assessment, the fitness segment has strong differentiation here, with custom assistants providing in-the-moment workout feedback, but these are only expected to make up 10 percent of hearables in use in 2022, thanks to their niche use case.
Outlook for Hearables Applications Growth
Assistive hearables will win on revenues -- generating over $40 billion annually by 2022, as hearing aids integrate mobile technologies and maintain medical industry prices.
Consumer assistive hearables are less expensive, which is proving appealing to healthcare institutions. Nuheara is one of the most successful companies here; distributing IQbuds BOOST through the NHS from 2019.
However, Juniper expects existing hearing aid players to maintain control of most medical distribution channels for the foreseeable future.