The hearables market is in the early adoption phase, but there are notable use cases for hearables in areas like healthcare and fitness. Hearables can take heart rate measurements, monitor sleep, track steps and the number of calories burned, and even perform brain wave analysis. Consumer adoption of hearables has remained strong despite the pandemic, driven by increased digital media consumption.

Macroeconomic Trends

Listed below are the key macroeconomic trends impacting the hearables theme, as identified by GlobalData.

Covid-19

Covid-19 has dented the momentum of the hearables market. The shipment of hearables will grow by 37% in 2020, compared to growth of 258% in 2019, according to GlobalData estimates. Changes in consumer behaviour, including working from home, increased consumption of digital media, and the popularity of virtual fitness coaching, is driving the adoption of hearables during the pandemic. However, the lockdowns in China in early 2020 disrupted production and delayed the launch of several devices.

Hearing aids

Over 900 million people worldwide will have disabling hearing loss by 2050, up from 466 million in 2020, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Specialised hearing aid makers have traditionally served this population, but it is also a large potential market for hearables vendors.

Apple, Bose, and Nuheara have added hearing aid-like sound amplification systems to their consumer-grade devices, positioning them as alternatives to hearing aids. However, there are stringent regulations in place to classify hearing aids as medical devices.

Unlike hearing aids, hearables amplify all sound indiscriminately and cannot configure sounds and frequencies to match users’ hearing requirements. These issues will prevent them from becoming substitutes for medically-approved hearing aids. However, vendors will continue to add sound amplification systems to their hearables to target consumers with mild hearing disabilities.

Health and fitness

Hearables vendors are integrating a range of health and fitness monitoring tools into their devices, aided by advances in biometric sensor technologies. Apple has patented a range of sensors for monitoring heart rate, temperature, and galvanic skin response through AirPods.

Vendors like Samsung Electronics also offer a built-in virtual fitness coaching assistant on their earbuds. In January 2020, Valencell launched the industry’s first calibration-free blood pressure sensor for integration in hearables. GlobalData expects health and fitness monitoring to be a key selling point for hearables over the next three years.

Product differentiation

Differentiation is crucial for vendors entering the hearables market. Early entrants such as Apple and Samsung Electronics developed unique designs to stand out, but most now embrace these form-factors. Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy Buds Live, launched in August 2020, are bean-shaped, and Apple’s upcoming AirPods 3 are expected to have shorter stems.

Differentiation is also possible around sensors, battery capacity, services (such as health monitoring and communication), and price. With competition in the market intensifying and devices becoming increasingly similar in terms of capabilities, price will be the key differentiating factor in the next two years.

This is an edited extract from the Hearables – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.