When we talk of technological innovation in wearables, one of the fastest growing areas is hearables. The trend among modern hearables is going towards physical miniaturization while maximizing the functionality and user experience. Advancements in technology have helped hearables become more light-weight and compact as well as a feature-rich offering which provides an enhanced music listening experience, active noise cancellation, heart rate tracking, wireless charging, real-time language translation, and many other such features. However, there are still many technical hurdles that need to be overcome and much more value can be created for advanced hearables. We believe that technology companies can do a lot more with hearables in the future.
Counterpoint Research expects that 2019 will be the year that hearables evolve into an important market. During the year, we expect major technology companies to drive innovations in true wireless hearable technologies. A rise in discretionary incomes of consumers and evolving digital habits are expected to propel the demand for hearables across the world.
The global hearables market is relatively niche and consists of a small number of players that control the market. However, competition will intensify led by the big technology companies in 2019. For example, Apple is planning to refresh its current AirPods this year with a major overhaul to the design expected in late 2020. In addition, Google and Amazon are likely to introduce similar hearable devices this year.
Exhibit 1: Key Industry Players
AI-based voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa are also likely to boost the market for hearables in 2019. Companies which make their mark in hearables will be in a prime position to be the point of control for their environment. Future generations of hearable devices will be able to accommodate virtual personal assistants and used for a multitude of tasks such as queries and hands-free directions.
The growing market for hearables will also benefit the Li-ion (Lithium Ion) battery industry as advanced hearables require a good battery life. In the past, alkaline, nickel metal hydride (NiMH) and other types of batteries were used. However, the adoption of Li-ion batteries is becoming more prevalent due to its superior battery life and other advantages. The benefits of a booming hearables market will only accrue to reliable Li-ion battery manufacturers that are safe enough to be worn or placed in the ears.
In order to better understand customer preferences about hearables, Counterpoint Research recently conducted a consumer survey of hearable users and potential buyers currently using smartphones in the United States, one of the biggest markets for hearables. The consumer research has led us to confirm the growth potential of the market which will be driven by wireless hearables and consumers’ desire to buy hearables with enhanced features and functionalities. Following are some key findings:
- Type and Brand Preferences: It is not surprising that wired hearables have been the most common choice up until now. However, the adoption of wireless hearables amongst premium smartphone users is increasing. Apple is a distinct leader with AirPods in the category of true wireless earbuds. Ease of use, comfort & fitting and portability were highlighted as the key reasons for choosing Apple. Apple and Samsung smartphone owners have a similar level of brand loyalty when it comes to hearables.
Exhibit 2: Current Preferred Types and Brands (US)
Exhibit 3: Correlation between Smartphone and Hearable Brands (US)
- Usage Pattern and Location of Use: Almost two out of three respondents listen to music more than 40 minutes a day while one in every four respondents watches videos for an hour or more with hearables. Home is the most common place of use while leisure/fitness activities are the next most common use case for hearables.
- Future Purchase Preference: With advancements in multiple technologies reducing the size of hearable devices and the mass adoption from smartphone brands, true wireless hearables are becoming more attractive to consumers. Over half of the respondents have intentions to buy AI-based hearables in the future.
Hearables have the chance to be a part of a future where information and connectivity are integrated into our daily lives more than ever. Ultimately, advanced hearables can reduce smartphone use, as they may take over many tasks that users solve with the help of their smartphones today. However, there are many technical hurdles still to be overcome and going forward more value will be created for advanced hearables. Many consumers still worry about high prices, low battery life and a risk of losing a single earbud. Consumers want to buy advanced hearables at a very affordable price. With the market for hearables growing, there is space for the big technology companies to be doing a lot more. Suffice to say, the time is ripe for them to go and grab the opportunity.
The detailed insights are available in the latest reports for purchase at report.counterpointresearch.com
- ‘Hearables – Next Big Thing in Tech’
- ‘Consumer Lens – Hearables Consumer Insights (USA)’