i3 - November/December 2017 - 60

Business

By Bobby Baumler

BY T H E N U M B E RS

Smart Hearable
Technology

 T  

he pursuit for music portability began nearly four
decades ago with Sony's iconic Walkman, but it was not
until the mass adoption of MP3 players and smartphones
that headphones became a must-have accessory for consumers.
Headphones represent a $2.5 billion (wholesale) product category
within the consumer technology industry. Since 2007, U.S. headphone shipments have increased by 261 percent, climbing from
roughly 38 million sets to more than 137 million in 2017.
Manufacturers have responded with new
form factors and features as consumers
forgo what's "in the box." Today, consumers
can opt for a product to match their lifestyle from wireless earbuds for jogging
to noise isolation headphones for air travel.
Though the entire market for headphones has experienced tremendous
growth, the popularity of earbuds is most
pronounced. While a decade ago earbuds
accounted for four in 10 headphone
shipments, they now represent nearly
eight in 10 shipments. This trend should
come as no surprise as the latest earbuds
provide both outstanding sound quality
and a lightweight portable design.
The next 10 years will bring an increasing assortment of hearables and personal
sound amplification products (PSAPs).

CTA forecasts 2018 unit growth of
22 percent for hearables, following
a 110 percent increase in 2017. CTA
projects PSAPs to grow by 53 percent
in 2018, following 40 percent growth
in 2017. By 2020, CTA forecasts that
combined shipments for hearables and
PSAPs will total nearly 10 million units.
Hearables represent an evolution
beyond wireless earbuds, with the integration of smart capabilities and controls and
instant pairing between mobile devices
with the use of near-field communication.
First generation hearables include features
like digital assistant compatibility (i.e.
Alexa, Bixby, Google Assistant, Siri), builtin fitness tracking/health biometric capabilities, and in some cases the ability to
translate spoken languages.

Apple, Philips, Samsung and Sony have
either announced or released hearables in
the last year. Hearables such as Samsung's
Gear IconX serves as a running coach
with an in-ear assistant to provide details
of the user's fitness activity. Sony's
WF-1000X offers sound isolation/noise
cancellation with the ability to disengage
the feature while walking to allow ambient sound to be heard for safety.
PSAPs embody the future of the
headphone industry. PSAP capabilities
extend well beyond music playback and
function as over-the-counter hearing
aids by offering customizable digital
sound processing and feedback cancellation to improve accessibility for consumers. Popular models, including the
Bose Hearphones, are nearly identical
to the brand's conventional headphones,
yet provide sophisticated noise filtering
to enhance conversations and music for
individuals suffering from low to moderate hearing loss.
According to the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA), hearing loss
affects 30 million Americans. However,
only one-fifth of individuals with hearing
loss seek assistance. President Trump
signed the bipartisan Over-the-Counter
Hearing Aid Act into law as a part of the
FDA Reauthorization Act of 2017. PSAPs
encourage more Americans to purchase
hearing devices by increasing access and
improving affordability relative to professionally fitted hearing aids. With innovations like hearables and PSAPs, the future
for headphone technology is bright.

TOTAL HEADPHONES PURCHASED
EARBUDS

60

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2017

29,692

107,362

24,748

112,052

20,057

40,848

22,219

52,419

2007

2010

2013

2015

2017(e)

TOTAL: 37,970

TOTAL: 74,638

TOTAL: 60,905

TOTAL: 136,800

TOTAL: 137,054

SOURCE: CTA MARKET RESEARCH

I T I S I N N O VAT I O N

Courtesy Samsung

Today earbuds
such as these Samsung
Gear IconX, represent
nearly eight in
ten shipments.

19,352

18,618

HEADPHONES



i3 - November/December 2017

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i3 - November/December 2017 - Contents
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