I recently listened to the Inside Voice podcast episode that featured guest, Andy Bellavia. During this podcast, Andy and the host, Keri Roberts, spoke on the topic of hearables and the various ways in which the devices are beginning to change lives. As a seven year veteran working in the hardware side of the hearables industry at Knowles Corporation as the Director of Market Development, Andy is extremely well versed in the hardware innovation that’s been transpiring inside our smart ear-worn devices across the last decade.
One of the key points that Andy makes throughout the conversation is that prior to the last few years, hearables’ hadn’t achieved mass market adoption because the hardware limitations had not yet been overcome, namely solid connectivity and battery limitations – both of which AirPods largely solved. As Andy points out, one of the major breakthroughs came from the DSP chips becoming more power-efficient, allowing for longer and longer battery life. While DSP chips offer a dynamic and cheap option for manufacturers to power their devices, they have not been historically viable because of the power limitations.
Along the same vein, Andy mentions that other components found inside the devices, like the balanced armatures, are providing additional ways to preserve more power without sacrificing the high-quality. One of the most noticeable changes with truly wireless earbuds is that the battery life is increasing, even while the devices become more robust and capable. It’s through this type of innovation that helps to circumvent the battery life issues that will pave the way for in-the-ear devices to be worn for extended periods of time.
The other aspect of the conversation that I found intriguing was around the ways in which we’re beginning to see voice assistant functionality starting to be built out specifically for hearables and on-the-go settings. Andy cites things like location-based queries, such as, “Alexa, read me the reviews of the restaurant I’m standing in front of.” The other use case that he cites is around Google offering a more robust version of its Maps designed for visually impaired people. One can imagine that this version of Maps would be useful to someone who might be running or biking and need quicker turn-by-turn navigation.
It’s a great conversation that helps to shed a bit of light on why we’re suddenly seeing every tech company moving into the hearables space. The hardware and underlying technology has matured past the thresholds that had previously been too limiting for consumers to ever reach mass-adoption. Now, as Andy points out, the next phase will be all about building the actual use cases and functionality specific to hearble devices.
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