The future of headphones — next twelve months

Currently, most headphones are wireless, easily visible and mostly used for listening to music and making phone calls. In the far away future (30+ years) I believe them to change into devices that we use for direct brain-to-brain and brain-to-machine communication that allow us to send and receive information such as images or sound without any other input devices. The way towards this future will progress in several periods [1]:

  • Now (next twelve months)
  • Near-term (one to five years)
  • Mid-range (five to ten years)
  • Long-range (ten to twenty years)
  • Far-range (twenty to thirty years)
  • Distant (more than thirty years)

Now (next twelve months)

Within the next twelve months, I am expecting to see more wireless and smart headphones.

Wireless headphones

In the next twelve months, the market share of wireless earphones will keep growing. Sales of Bluetooth headphones have already slightly surpassed wired ones in 2016. The removal of headphone jacks on several mobile devices (rumor has it that Google’s new Pixel 2 will come without a headphone jack as well) is maybe the best indicator that the wireless trend will continue. Furthermore, as consumer electronics companies like Apple, Samsung, and Motorola all have wireless headphones in their officering, we can expect them as well as other firms (e. g. Google) to invest more in that field.

From left to right: Apple’s AirPods, Bragi’s The Dash Pro and Samsung’s Gear Icon X (Sources: Bragi’s The Dash Pro, Samsung’s Gear Icon X)

Moreover, if it is indeed true that mobile video consumption fuels demand in wireless headphones, we have another reason to expect growing sales of wireless headphones as the latter, mobile video consumption, is projected to increase as well. Besides that, wireless is simply a “natural” progression; tangled headphones are annoying.

Convergence towards smaller earphones
Closely related to wireless will be a convergence towards smaller sized earphones as shown with Apple’s AirPods, Bragi’s The Dash Pro or the Samsung Gear IconX (see pictures above).

Smart headphones

Another thing that will become common place among wireless headphones is always switched on, always listening and instantly ready. We can observe these features with, for example, Apple AirPods. They automatically stop playing music when you take them out of your ears or connect immediately to your phone once you take them out of their case. Furthermore, they are always listening for Siri-commands provided that you double-tap them. With always listening-devices such as Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa we can expect more of such interactions in headphones as well. In this context of smart headphones, I will use the term hearables interchangeably. With hearables, I am referring to smart headphones as a sub-category of wearables.


[1] Time zones based on Amy Webb

Note that I will used headphones, earphones and hearables (smart headphones, a category of wearables) simultaneously

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