Bluetooth 5.2 to Revolutionize Hearing Tech and Drive Further Market Growth

New Report from Nick Hunn Cites Audio Streaming, New Bluetooth Technology as Market Drivers

A new research report predicts that the market for “hearables”—intelligent earbuds, headsets and entry-level hearing aids—will grow to $80 billion by 2025.

With audio streaming applications such as Spotify rapidly driving acceptance of smartphone-connected earbuds such as Apple’s ubiquitous AirPods, the market for hearables grew to more than $13 billion in 2019. And that’s just for starters, says the report’s author, Nick Hunn, principal of WiFore Wireless Consulting.

“Since I first coined the word ‘Hearables’ in 2013, the market has become the fastest growing consumer technology we have ever seen,” says Hunn. Noting that in the past four years, more than 100 million pairs of earbuds have been sold to consumers, he says an $80 billion hearables market by 2025 is easily in sight. “I am aware that number goes beyond what others may anticipate, but we have barely seen the start of what hearables can accomplish.”

Bluetooth 5.2 spec is a game-changer for hearables and hearing aids

Hunn says he expects the new Bluetooth 5.2 specification, introduced at CES this week, will be a catalyst for innovations that will drive market growth. Among other things, the new Bluetooth spec will enable makers of hearables to provide higher quality audio with less latency (delay) in wireless streaming and multichannel connectivity with multiple Bluetooth accessories. All of this will be accomplished with Bluetooth LE Audio, the “next generation of Bluetooth audio”, available with Bluetooth 5.2.

Bluetooth 5.2 Spec

(Source: WiFore Wireless Consulting)

And the new Bluetooth standard can be expected to help continue blurring the line between high-end hearables and low-end hearing aids.

In an interview with Hearing Tracker, Hunn said standardization will make it easier for Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids to send and receive high-quality wireless audio to and from any Bluetooth-5.2 enabled device. At the same time, the new Bluetooth standard will enable third-party manufacturers to create accessories that connect to any Bluetooth-5.2 enabled hearing aid, regardless of brand.

Currently, hearing aid makers offer assistive listening devices—like remote microphones and TV streamers—that stream audio using proprietary wireless technologies. The new Bluetooth standard will open up the market to lower-cost, brand-agnostic accessories, he said.

When will Bluetooth 5.2 hearing aids be available?

Hunn cautioned it may take some time for the new Bluetooth-enabled products hit the market. He expects hearing aid manufacturers, which have a relatively quick product cycle, to ship Bluetooth 5.2-ready products in the next year or so, and is hopeful that the new audio streaming tech will be available on popular smartphone models like the iPhone or Google Pixel by “Autumn of next year” (2021). He believes third-party assistive listening products running Bluetooth 5.2 will be available before that, and he expects both hearables and hearing aids to benefit from them.

Still early in the life cycle

Hunn said there is plenty of innovation to continue the growth of the hearables market. In fact, the market is still early in its life cycle.

When he first started following the hearables market, there were intrepid startup companies developing visionary products such as the Bragi Dash. It’s what Hunn calls the “crowd-funded enthusiasm” stage of the market.

In the past several years, hearable makers have dramatically improved audio quality and connectivity solutions, driven by the rapid growth of music streaming services such as Spotify. According to the report, “there are currently around 1 billion users streaming music on a regular monthly basis.” It’s those kinds of numbers that will continue to drive near-term demand through what Hunn calls the “getting audio right” stage of the market’s development.

Stages of Hearables Market

(Source: WiFore Wireless Consulting)

When the new Bluetooth 5.2-enabled applications come on line, we will see the market move into its “advanced audio” stage, Hunn says.

However, it will be near the end of the 2020-2025 five-year cycle before we see biosensors integrated into hearing aids and hearables in the form of “killer apps” that dramatically accelerate market growth.

Hunn says all the promise of biosensors is real, but that it will take some time for the excitement about the possibilities of in-ear sensors to translate into high-tech features that are cost-effective and easy to use. But when that time comes, we will be in another high-growth “biometrics” stage of the market’s life cycle, he says.

Report available under Creative Commons license

We’ve only scratched the surface of the data and insights in Nick Hunn’s latest report on hearables. The good news is that it’s available for free under a Creative Commons license. You can download it here.

Bluetooth LE Audio and the LC3 Audio Codec

Here’s a video from YouTuber Gary Explains for those who wish to learn more about the tech behind Bluetooth LE Audio.

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