Hello and welcome to FuturEar! As the name insinuates, the purpose of this blog is to provide an ongoing account of the rapidly evolving audio landscape. My goal is to help make sense of all the trends that are converging toward the ear and then consider the implications of those progressions. This blog will feature both long-form assessments, as well as short, topical updates on news pertaining to the ear.
The inspiration for this blog was the realization that we’ve quickly begun wirelessly connecting our ears to the internet. For starters, at a broad level, Americans are buying more Bluetooth headphones than non-Bluetooth headphones:
If you look more specifically into any one segment of audio devices, you’ll see the trend applies there too. If we are considering hearing aids, Resound introduced the first Made for iPhone (MFi) “connected” hearing aid back in 2013 – the Linx. Flash forward to today, and all six major hearing aid manufacturers sell a MFi hearing aid (Phonak’s Audeo B hearing aid is actually compatible with Android too.) Similar to headphones, the majority of hearing aids now entering the market are connected devices.
Hearables, everyone’s favorite buzzword, have collectively attracted more than $50 million through crowdfunding on sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. These devices are inherently connected and wireless. Additionally, you have the 800 lb. gorilla in the room – Apple – that introduced Airpods last December. Airpods have accounted for 85% of totally wireless headphone dollar sales in the US since last December. Google launched its own flagship headphones, the Pixel Buds, at the beginning of October. So now we have two of the largest tech companies in the world competing and innovating audio hardware.
This shift to Bluetooth-connected devices represents a fundamental change to these devices, as this new generation of connected devices are able to leverage the power of software. Essentially, previous, non-connected devices would be considered “entropic” meaning that they flat-line then depreciate in value as the hardware deteriorates. There’s no new value created by the device.
On the flip-side, these connected devices are “exotropic” meaning that they appreciate in value, so long as the hardware permits (all hardware eventually craps out). Through over-the-air software and firmware updates, as well as software app integration, new value is constantly being created. In other words, we’ve essentially gone from using headphones and hearing aids that are akin to flip phones to one’s that more closely resemble iPhones.
This blog will explore all of that new value, honing in on specific new use cases, as well as piecing together how a multitude of seemingly disparate trends all relate and ultimately lead to the ear. Just like all software-powered hardware that’s connected to the cloud, these devices will evolve, iterate and advance quickly and shift in unexpected ways. Exciting times!
-Thanks for reading-