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 : 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) In this report, I have described how I imagine this future to unfold. Click here to download The future of headphones report Notes  Time zones based on Amy Webb Note that I am using headphones, earphones and, hearables (smart headphones, a category of wearables) interchangeably. Featured Image from Harpal Singh: Harpal Singh
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 starting with wireless and smart headphones. Here I am collecting my thoughts and ideas around this topic.
- Scientists devised batteries than can be implanted and charged via sweat, tears, and blood. With this, they are not only decreasing battery charging cycles but are also lowering risks for implementing devices. Both things that will enable us to use headphones longer and to wear them inside us eventually.
- Congress passes OTC hearing aid legislation That’s great as it allows headphone manufacturers to sell hearing aids to people with mild hearing loss. Furthermore, this cuts out audiologists out of the equation. Will make hearing aids accessible to more people and push all day wearing of headphones.
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 : 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
Hearables are small computers and not headphones
Back in September, Apple introduced the Apple AirPods, a set of wireless earbuds, also known as hearables. And whereas hearables have existed before Apple’s AirPods their announcement has brought up interesting arguments about hearables in general. Concretely, users have repeatedly raised concerns about the following topics: They have a short battery life Earpiece unfitting for users’ ears Fear of losing them High price They have a short battery life Innovation often comes with some kind of behavioral change linked to costs. Besides learning costs (using a touchscreen after a feature phone), transaction costs (switching between cellular service providers), obsolescence costs (changing operating systems will make your old software useless) users encounter psychological costs. Psychological costs are associated with gains and losses. Consider, for example, the current state of electric cars. Through driving an electric car, you get a greener environment (your gain), but you lose the capability of long distance traveling (your loss). The same principle of gain and loss applies to hearables. Hearables have a short battery life; some only last for three hours. When using them, you gain, for instance, the comfort of cordless headphones, but, because you have to charge them, you lose the comfort of 24/7 availability. Consequently, a big issue for
AI for hearables more important than sound quality
It seems to me that lately, everybody is taking about AI. Wwhen I look at what hearables can do (or what currently available models offer) and what announced hearables promise to deliver, I cannot help but do the same in the context of hearables. There are several differentiation criteria for headphones such as sound quality, comfort or durability. Hearables, of course, are a form of headphones, namely wireless headphones. Therefore, it would make sense to have the same differentiation criteria for hearables. However, hearables are only somewhat similar to hearables. Somewhat because they are independent of end devices, versatile (they have biometric measuring for sports activities but also integrated microphones for making phone calls)and part of ubiquitous computing (you have a computer in your ear). Hence, using the same criteria for headphones as well as hearables, will not work. However, independence or biometric tracking information alone will not help hearables cross the chasm to become mainstream and eventually a commodity. What will is AI. AI answers the “So what?”-question AI will play a huge differentiating role amongst hearables. Possibly in wearables in general. It’is nice that the Dash hearables tell me my hear rate or average speed while running, but that does not answer the „So what?“ question: Headphone:
What makes hearables so interesting?
I think that hearables are a great piece of wearable tech and here are three reasons why I think that: Wireless is more comfortable than wired This one is obvious. Hearables are usually wireless which makes them easy to use and wear: You take them out and put them into your ears — no untangling of cables no fight between cables and clothing. You take them out of your ears and put them back – no rolling up of cables. And no, they do not fall out – at least not mine (The Dash by Bragi) and I was traveling, walking and exercising (running and biking) with them. My wired headphones fell out more often. Versatility and independence There are of course hearables with only one particular use case like the Pilot (on the fly translation of spoken language), but there is also a wide variety of universally usable hearables like the Gear Icon X by Samsung which you can use for sports (it has fitness tracking functions) and everyday activities like „phone-less“ call-handling (they have integrated controls to answer calls without taking out your smartphone). Using The Dash by Bragi (Source) for swimming or everyday use Admittedly, you can get this versatility with
What are actually hearables?
Hearables – smart headphones you can wear The word hearables is a combination of “wearables” and “headphones”. One thing that differentiates them from “normal” headphones is how you use them. What, in turn, makes them smart are the smart features they posses. Some of these features are (biometric) tracking and selective ambient noise control. Another thing that differentiates them is how you Wireless, self-sustained, touch, gestures and charging cases Hearables are usually wireless and have built-in storage and different sensors. With that built-in storage and sensors you can use hearables independently from any end device. In that case their functionality is, of course, limited. For instance, you cannot take any calls. In order to do so you have to connect them to a Bluetooth-enabled end device (like a smartphone or table). Regardless of how you use them they have have built in controls for operating them. Depending on the model you have either touch controls or buttons. The Dash by Bragi, for example, also supports head gestures like nodding. Due to their size and features the battery life is rather short (some have usage time of about three hours) they usually come with a charging case. Samsung Gear Icon X in its charging case (Source) These built-in sensors can
List of already available hearables
As of now four hearables from four different companies are available. A whole lot more is, announced, you can find a list of tose here. The once you can already buy you can already by are listed below. The Dash by Bragi The German company Bragi has actually two hearables in tis portfolio; The Dash and The Headphone. (The Headphone is not yet available, so you can information on it in the “soon to be available list” here.) The Dash by Bragi (Source) The Dash has a battery life of 3 hours which can be expanded through the included charging case, 4GB internal storage and touch controls. These hearables have a nice set of features that makes them interesting for sports: They are waterproof, have biometric sensors for things such as heart rate, steps and duration. If you are not doing any sports you can mute environmental noise and handle phone calls through the earpiece. They also support head gesture control such as nodding. I have talked about my personal experience with the Dash here. You can by it for about $300 in white or black. Gear Icon X by Samsung The Gear Icon X by Samsung (Source) The Icon X is similar to Bragi’s The Dash;
[Updated] List of announced hearables
Human by Human Human headphones (Source) The “human” hearables are one of the most unique or rather “human” looking hearables that I have seen so far. Their design is inspired by the human ear, should sell at $400 and be available in July 2017. On indiegogo the company collected $518,525 with an intended goal of $150.000. In regards to software features they have a audio sharing (share the music you are listing on your phone with others wearing the “Human”), ambient noise control, live language translation and bio-metric monitoring. What makes them stand out (besides their design) is that they can also server as loudspeakers when attached to each other and their sleep-feature which will “lull” you into sleeping, track you sleep cycles and awaken you. Also, they claim to have a 12+ hour battery life. Air by Crazybaby The Air by Crazybaby in the charging pod (Source) The Air hearables are still founding on indiegogo and have surpassed its goal of $50,000 by quite a bit, standing currently at $1,495,152 with 12 days left. They are supposed to launch in January 2017 for $159. What makes them unique is that they are the world’s first carbon nanotube hearables. Besides that, they come with a charing pod, are water
How Apple is pushing ubiquitous computing with the iPhone 7
I get that why people are complaining about Apple removing the headphone jack with the iPhone 7, but I think they should not. By removing the headphone jack Apple wants people to use its wireless headphones called AirPods. One of their key features are built in controls which can be used to activate Siri without taking your phone out. I have described here why wireless headphones are amazing, in regards to the iPhone and Apple in general they transferring parts of your iPhone into your ear. It is true that you can achieve the same with wired earphones as well but by making them wireless they are firstly, less intrusive and secondly they automatically connect to iPads, Macs and the Apple Watch. I have used wireless headphones before and after a while you start using your phone’s hardware less but your phone’s software (e.g. Siri) more and the phone as itself is merging more and more into the background of your life. Even though your phone might not be physically present, your phone’s functions are. For example, you can leave your phone in the bedroom and use have a phone call in another room. Your phone’s functions are everywhere, they ubiquitous. Another interesting aspect