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016 – Carl Thomas – Hearables-as-a-Platform

The next episode of the Future Ear Podcast features Carl Thomas, Founding Director at Audiowings. Along with launching wearable company, Audiowings, Carl also founded Wearables London seven years ago, which brings industry thought leaders and executives together. As someone who has a long history working in the wearables industry, I figured Carl would be a great guest to bring on and have a broad-based conversation around a whole host of hearables-specific topics.

Back when Carl was starting Audiowings seven years ago, he met Nick Hunn the wireless analyst who had coined the term, “hearables,” during one of the Wearables London meetups that Carl was hosting. Carl told me that one of his biggest learnings from Nick was the idea that one day hearables would be platforms in their own right, providing a utility through ongoing experiences, over and beyond the physical product.

One of the examples we use to flesh this idea out is the concept of unbundling hearing aids into a subscription-based offering. It’s conceivable that down the road, especially in light of OTC hearing aids, that one might buy a hearing aid device (an unprogrammed widget) at a fraction of the cost, and then subscribe to their audiometric configuration, aka their “prescription.” Going a step beyond, one might even subscribe to various features, such as biometric monitoring.

From Nick Hunn’s Hearables market to reach $80 billion in 2025

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the most notable behavioral trends that has been underway for the past few years, is the social normalization of wearing things like AirPods in our ears for longer periods of time. As Carl notes to me, when he was starting Audiowings in 2013, he recognized that this trend was already underway with the rise of streaming services. The chart above illustrates the correlation between the upward trends of both Spotify users (a large majority of usage coming from mobile, aka headphones) and the adoption of Bluetooth headphones.

Another topic we touch on is the idea of the ear being a, “physiological playground.” The reason we use this term is the combination of the fact that the ear is largely made of cartilage (great for more accurate optical-based sensor readings), is a stable part of the body (even when the head moves, the ear’s orientation pretty much stays intact), and straddles the inside and outside of the body (can measure biometrics and metrics found outside the body, such as in the air). As Dolby’s Chief Scientist, Poppy Crum, has written, the ear is basically a USB port into the body (I love this analogy!).

As I’ve discussed before with folks like Ryan Kraudel on episode 10, one of the most promising and exciting applications for hearables is for the purposes of establishing longitudinal data sets for our health. It’s through these data sets that we can establish benchmarks with our data, and then layer machine learning applications on top of that data to recognize patterns and abnormalities in the data. In essence, we’re talking about hearables serving the role as preventative health tool.

Finally, we wrap with a Twitter thread that Carl issued last year that I still think about from time and time again today (I highly encourage you to click on the tweet and read the thread in its entirety). We both believe that there are a large number of trends underway that will ultimately come together to help give rise to the idea of hearables-as-a-platform. It’s here where we might feel compelled to don our best Joe MacMillion impression and say something like, “hearables aren’t the thing; hearables are the thing that gives you access to THE thing.”

-Thanks for Reading-

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