Are hearables the tipping-point wearable device?
Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of an article from Retail Dive, an e-newsletter and website providing a 60-second bird’s eye view of the latest retail news and trends.
Wearable technologies such as Apple Watch, Google Glass and fitness trackers are already collecting information that ultimately may be used to make the wearers’ lives easier. But "hearables" — delivering audio cues to users and accepting voice-activated commands — are set to have a huge impact on the Internet of Things (IoT), likely delivering all sorts of new capabilities, even voice-activated shopping, to consumers.
Hearable technologies are projected to rack up $5 billion in sales by 2018, according UK-based Wifore Consulting, or about the same amount as the entire wearables market will take in this year. Why? They tend to be more discreet than other wearable interfaces, and people are already accustomed to in-ear technologies.
"Earbuds are the only piece of wearable tech to have gained ubiquity and social acceptance," Nick Hunn, founder and CTO of Wifore Consulting, said in a report cited by CNBC. "These devices are about to undergo a revolution in capability, getting rid of their cables and giving them the opportunity to be the standard-bearer for wearable technology."
German manufacturer Bragi offers a wireless headphone that not only plays music to accompany one’s workouts, but measures heart rate, blood pressure and respiration to offer computer-generated, audio feedback. Stateside, Intel is developing a similar health-monitoring headphone device with rapper 50 Cent. Apple is rumoured to be working on a hearable device following its acquisition of Beats.
Bragi Dash Wireless In Ear Headphones – Source: Bragi
The real potential for hearables lies in their ability to function as a listening device. Similar to Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, most hearables will accept spoken commands — and that means they can be used to perform any number of IoT functions, from turning off the lights to ordering groceries.
Microphones are the "stealth technology" set to enable widespread acceptance of the IoT, said James McQuivey, principal analyst at Forrester Research, in his keynote speech at IRCE in June.
Pointing to voice-activated systems such as the Amazon Echo and the microphone-enabled remote controls issued by Google TV, he posited a home setting in which commands voiced aloud would assist with shopping: "At any moment you could say, ‘(Insert name of retail relationship here), send me toothpaste.’"
Equipped with two-way, in-ear hearable devices, people could soon be able to perform practically any shopping function — from finding a store, to ordering an item, to making a payment — from any location within the range of one’s voice.
Will the arrival of hearables be a bigger game changer for retail than wearables? Are hearables platforms coming from Amazon, Apple, Google or other technology vendors more of a threat or opportunity for traditional retailers?