We’re going to get into details about literally everything to do with hearable technology, so you can use the links below as a table of contents to each of the major sections we’ll cover.
2 Features and Benefits
3 Smart Hearing Aids
4 Smart Personal Sound Amplifiers (PSAPs)
5 Smart Headphones and Earbuds
6 Additional Tech and Companies to Watch
History of Hearable Technology
The term hearables is still being shaped because while some do exist in the market place, we are far from saturation. Thus, to some people hearables may just be wireless earbuds with advanced features, but to others it may be more akin to a hearing aid.
A hearable is a wireless in-ear computational earpiece. Essentially you have a micro computer that fits in your ear canal and utilizes wireless technology to supplement and enhance your listening experience. Many hearables will also feature additional features such as heart rate monitoring (see below for a full list).
Fast forward to today and there are two important movements currently happening that are both converging on one another.
First, hearing aid companies are beginning to recognize that users want a device that does more than correct and amplify sound. They want to be able to sync seamlessly with wireless devices such as their smartphone, for telephone calls, music, games, and more.
Second, commercial electronics companies (more specifically headphone manufacturers) are realizing the potential of “bionics,” or creating in-ear buds that measure biometrics, output great quality sounding music, and (this is the newest part) have the potential to amplify sound.
I believe both groups will eventually converge, but it’s really a matter of who will get there first. In my opinion, The Big 6 have the biggest advantage because they have been dealing with this technology for decades, and already have the required approval from the FDA to label their devices as actual hearing aids (something most consumer electronics companies can’t do by law).
Features and Benefits of Hearable Technology
Many companies are still trying to figure out the niche role their hearable product will play in the marketplace.
Some more traditional headphone companies are caught up in the same race most wearables are: biometrics. While hearing aid companies seem to be ensuring their already functioning technology syncs perfectly with your smartphone for even more user control.
Either way, there are a ton of benefits, but we’ll do our best to list and explain most of them below.
- More accurate vital signs. Imagine being able to instantly measure thins like: heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, pulse oximetry, ECG, electro-encephalogram signals, and more.
- Activity tracking. This could range from a pedometer to improved caloric output based on movements, and more.
- Biometric personal identification. NEC recently announced a technology that utilizes sound waves to acoustically recognize and identify a person (i.e. the owner of the hearing device) based on the size and shape of their ear.
- Invisibility. While the stigma of wearing hearing aids is decreasing (which is a really good thing) manufacturers are still striving to create technology that is as unobtrusive as possible.
- Improved sound quality. A large part of sound quality has very little to do with the sound output from your device, and more to do with sound filtering. Combined headphone and hearing aid technologies may allow for this.
- Augmented hearing. Companies like Doppler Labs are working on technology that will not only aid hearing, but also improve it above normal levels, though admittedly this kind of tech could still be years away.
- Smart everything capabilities. Seamlessly sync your hearables to your iPhone, or your smart home devices.
- Face-to-face communication. Lots of times people with hearing loss are discouraged from interaction. But as hearables start to erase the stigma of wearing an in-ear device this will hopefully go away completely.
- Translation. Can a hearable perform live translation of a foreign language to your native language? The Pilot is going to try.
- Layered listening. Think of this as augmented reality for the ears. This technology would allow users to filter out or enhance specific sounds. We heard rumors at CES 2017 that Bragi would be adding features like this to The Dash.
As we’ve mentioned a couple times above, one of our favorite benefits is actually related to perception of ear enhancing devices currently on the market. The advent of hearables is likely to help reduce the stigma of hearing aids and thus help people prevent and improve hearing loss much earlier in life.
Hearables Currently on the Market
Below you will find 3 separate lists of pre-existing devices that are adding new technology to transform them into true hearables:
- Hearing Aids
- Personal Sound Amplifers (PSAPs)
- Headphones or Earbuds
We update each list on a bi-monthly basis. Some on the list aren’t currently available, or may still be in a funding or design stage which you’ll see noted in the availability column.