Directions For Hearables
There are many exciting areas of evolution currently in the audio industry, but no product category shows such levels of innovation, cutting-edge integration, and technology convergence as the true wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds category. For this issue, I tried to address that product class from a fundamental angle, which is voice integration. As I wrote this month, voice recognition and voice enhancement are defining features for hearables — currently the direction that is exciting everyone in the technology sector, particularly in the consumer electronics, mobile, and audiology markets.
We still don't know exactly all the applications and technologies that "hearables" will encompass, but we are starting to have some ideas. And they all look promising, starting with the fact that TWS earbuds are showing to be simultaneously the ideal audio front-end interface and also the ideal hub for biometrics and audio augmentation. Gradually, audioXpress has explored these topics in past articles, and we are far from exhausting the key areas in product development that are making TWS earbuds the fastest growing consumer product segment — already larger in volume than the smart speaker market, which was previously the fastest growing new product category.
Originally we intended to feature a separate article addressing the topic of voice and Communications — as we did in our April 2021 edition. But the topic of TWS is showing so much activity on the voice front that we have condensed the coverage we had planned into a single Market Update. Basically, because the topics are so intertwined in current product designs — just look around and you will see that as people returned to the office, old-fashioned headsets used for office comms have now simply been replaced by those earbuds that everyone was already using at home and now love.
Voice and true wireless devices are closely related as any developer working in TWS earbuds and hearables can attest. In the article I wrote for this edition, I discuss the available hardware and software building blocks for these product designs, while also exploring the latest innovations in form and function, looking primarily at voice capture and recognition. We will still need to address topics such as active noise cancellation, RF modules, wireless streaming, and much more in future Market Updates.
And there's also the intense activity surrounding the new class of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. While many consumer electronics companies are going to focus on hearing assistance and augmentation — features that don't necessarily meet the required qualifications as OTC hearing aids — the new earbuds will certainly perform much better than earlier concepts of personal sound amplification products (PSAPs).
And at the same time, we are also seeing all the audiology companies embracing the innovations being originated from this consumer segment. By integrating the best features from TWS earbuds, hearing aid companies can create more awareness within those with hearing loss, help remove social stigmas surrounding the use of hearing aids perceived as medical devices, and even foster new potential hybrid use-cases for compensating mild hearing loss, hearing safety, and hearing augmentation, directly applying to work requirements, or age-related risk factors.
And already on the horizon, there's the new field of augmented reality and immersive gaming, where true wireless stereo looks set to replace traditional headphones and headsets. With applications ranging from entertainment to corporate communications, there's a good chance that the added convenience — and the embedded power — of wireless earbuds will become an enabling component for the "metaverse" (whatever that will prove to be). Particularly as the ability to combine AI augmentation becomes a reality.
Product developers working in this field are certain to keep very busy for the foreseeable future.