For the next two episodes of the Future Ear podcast, I’ve brought Andy Bellavia of Knowles Corp on the show to have a nice long discussion about the state of hearables and where things are headed as we enter into the 2020’s. This is a two-part episode, with the first episode being released today covering the idea of, “why now?” – why are we seeing such a flurry of new hearables announcements.
We kick the conversation off with a rundown of all the recent product announcements and new entrants into the hearables space. Heading into 2020, we now have Apple’s AirPods Pro and Power Beats Pro, Amazon’s Echo Buds, Samsung Galaxy Buds, and are expected to see an upgraded set of Google’s Pixel Buds, and eventually Microsoft’s Surface Buds.
So, why now? According to Andy, up until recently, the hardware has finally matured to the point where it can overcome some of the initial limitations that plagued early hearable devices, such as short battery life and poor connectivity. Ultimately, what made AirPods so successful was the W1 chip – a custom silicon chip designed by Apple, specifically for its wearable devices to work in conjunction with the iPhone.
Custom chipsets from Apple and Qualcomm enabled various hearables to pair to iOS or Android smartphones through low-power Bluetooth, along with other battery-preserving innovations. The big reason why we’re seeing so many new types of hearables enter the market is because the hardware has finally become suitable for longer usage, while also increasingly becoming more miniature. In essence, Moore’s Law has had enough time to take effect and facilitate a good experience.
We then move onto hearables-specific features that are beginning to go mainstream. Take Apple’s Transparency Mode for example, which allows for, “pass-through audio,” by using an additional microphone to feed your external environment’s acoustics into your earbuds. This ability to blend your physical and digital acoustic environments together was pioneered by companies like Doppler Labs and Nuheara years ago.
Apple has not only brought this feature to the masses with its wildly popular AirPods Pro, but it has taken it a step further by creating the ability to toggle between Transparency Mode and Active Noise Cancellation with a squeeze of the AirPods’ stem, where the Force Sensor resides. The Force Sensor, and the utility it provides, is a perfect example of how hearables are evolving to facilitate longer usage.
So, as we conclude, more and more people are outfitting themselves with devices that allow for them to dip in and out of the audio-internet in entirely new ways. In part two of our discussion, we’ll start to walk through some of the possible avenues that voice assistant-enabled hearables will really start to open up.
-Thanks for Reading-