Earlier this month, analyst Nick Hunn of WiFore Wireless Consulting published a lengthy report on the exploding potential of the hearables market. His report is accessible here: The Market for Hearable Devices 2016-2020.

The report is a fascinating read, making a strong case for a hearables market that may be worth upwards of $40 billion by the year 2020. A few key takeaways from Hunn’s report include the following:

Bluetooth Earbud Sales now Exceed Non-Bluetooth Sales

bluetooth vs non-bluetooth headset sales
For the first time, in 2016 sales of Bluetooth-enabled headsets surpassed those of non-Bluetooth headsets. This milestone marks the continuation of a trend that really started in 2013, coinciding with a sharp uptick in the consumption of streaming  media by U.S. smartphone users. Although Bluetooth earbuds and headsets only represent 17% of the overall transactions, their value exceeds that of non-Bluetooth  (wired) headsets and earbuds due to the higher price point.

AirPods Debut

Apple made two unexpected announcements on September 7th, 2016 that validated the potential of the hearables market. One was the design of their own wireless chip, and the other was the debut of their AirPods earbuds. Completely wireless and using Bluetooth technology, Apple’s AirPods indicated the world’s largest company’s entry into the hearables market. Although Apple will undoubtedly be responsible for a huge volume of wireless earbud sales over the coming years, Hunn notes that the “real innovation in hearables will come from other earbud developers.”

An Emerging Ecosystem of Hearable Manufacturers

In his report, Hunn identifies 40 different crowdfunding campaigns featuring hearable devices. His data shows a clear demand for hearables, as over 90% of the campaigns exceeded their fundraising targets (many by an exponential amount). Notably, he also points out a widespread rate of failure to deliver final products and meet deadlines among these campaigns. As the report states, “manufacturing hearables is a lot more difficult that most start-ups imagine.”

In his summary of the most intriguing players within the hearables market, Nuheara’s IQbuds™ receive high marks. The following passage emphasizes the game-changing augmented hearing capabilities of IQbuds™ that differentiate Nuheara from other wireless earbud manufacturers.

“Nuheara, another company working in this area, has been successful in raising investment and crowdfunding for their IQbuds™ – an earbud which filters out noise. It’s interesting that Nuheara comes from an industrial sound protection background. They offer to amplify speech above background noise. Their take is interesting, as it’s an application which has long been a major selling point for hearing aids, where hearing loss makes it more difficult to interpret speech. Nuheara are making the point that in an increasingly noisy world, even those with perfectly good hearing need help in having conversations. It’s not traditional assisted hearing – it’s addressing a totally new market of augmented hearing, which could become very popular.”

Additionally, the observation that Nuheara “comes from an industrial sound protection background” is significant. While other hearables startups struggle with manufacturing and funding issues, Nuheara just announced the commencement of commercial production for their first shipments of IQbuds™ to early backers. Through partnerships with research institutions such as Curtin University, manufacturing agreements with Flextronics, and strong financial backing, Nuheara is poised to deliver to a market eager to get its hands on hearable devices.

Entering the Age of the Internet of Voice

Beyond speech amplification and intelligent noise cancellation, the WiFore report also highlights the significant gains in the quality of voice recognition technology. With the proliferation of applications such as Apple’s Siri, Google’s Voice Search, and Microsoft’s Cortana, an increasing number of online queries (particularly on mobile devices) are now spoken rather than typed. This growing adoption of speech-enabled devices suggests a future where hearables and voice-recognition become the user interface for the internet and devices connected through the internet of things (IoT).

The 36-page report discusses several other topics. The entirety of the paper suggests why the hearables market will likely grow at such an astounding rate. Nuheara is excited about the future of hearables. We improve consumer lives by enabling them to control how they hear the world around them and connect to their digital worlds.

December 1st, 2016
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