When smartphones started omitting the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, there was a bit of an uproar among those who didn’t love the idea of buying a separate adapter to listen to music, podcasts, or other audio with their headphones. Blog posts and online forums filled with people expressing their annoyance. But there has been an upside (in addition to the one touted by Apple that removing the jack would save space and provide better wireless audio). Research conducted by Juniper Research found that the hearable device market will grow by over 500% over the next five years as a result of smartphone jack retirement.
One of the key drivers of this trend is the increase in the price of headphones. Now that the headphone jack is becoming less common, the price gap between headphones and hearables (also known as “ear-based wearables”) has been reduced. Juniper’s findings indicate that there will be more than 285 million hearables used in 2022, a sevenfold increase over the 43 million expected to be in use by the end of 2017. Multimedia hearables (hearables focused on providing audio) will be the leading category. While the market for audio and fitness hearables will be robust, devices that amplify or adjust what users hear, known as “assistive hearables,” are expected to generate the most revenue due to their high cost. The cost of medical hearables is typically over $1,500. However, if Juniper’s forecast holds, competition from over the counter hearing aids will create a price drop in assistive hearables.
As this trend continues, the potential that seems most exciting is how companies will expand the capabilities of hearables beyond the fitness and audio market. Users want devices that sync seamlessly with their smartphone, in addition to correcting and amplifying sound. And headphone manufacturers are creating in-ear buds that measure biometrics, provide superior sound quality for music and other audio, and have the potential to digitally process sounds to compensate for an individual’s hearing needs. While the hearables category may have gained traction in the fitness market, it now has the capacity to appeal to those with hearing loss, reduce the stigma of hearing aids, and improve hearing loss earlier in life.