Today’s Smart Hearables: How Did We Get Here?

Look around you, and you’ll see wearable technology everywhere. Whether it’s smartwatches like the Apple Watch or fitness trackers from Garmin®, personal electronic devices play a more significant role in our lives. According to Statista Research Department, one out of every four Americans will be using a wearable technology by 2022.

What’s often overlooked in wearables, however, is hearable technology. Hearables, by definition, are ear-worn electronic devices designed for multiple purposes, including sound amplification, voice transmission, wireless communications, and, more recently, medical monitoring and fitness tracking. Hearable products, such as headphones, earbuds, and hearing aids, are on the rise, and in this blog post, we will examine its origins, applications, and challenges.

What Are Hearables?

It’s believed that our partner, Valencell®, was the first company back in 2006¹ who made it possible to turn a conventional headphone into an ear-worn multimedia device capable of heart rate monitoring, communications, tracking, and more. In 2014, technology analyst Nick Nunn first coined the term “Hearables” in a blog post, proclaiming the ear as “the new wrist” for wearable technology. Nunn had recognized the incredible potential of in-ear devices that could interact with smartphones and other technology seamlessly.

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Previously, electronic hearing products were mostly limited to doctor prescribed hearing aids that offered limited access to audio devices, such as music players and mobile phones. However, recent technology advancements have enabled hearing devices to provide an enhanced listening experience and other useful functions, such as medical monitoring and fitness tracking.

As new technologies enabled new products, hearables have come to include all ear-worn electronic products, such as headphones, hearing aids, and related devices. By leveraging cutting-edge microchip and sensor technology, smart hearables can improve millions of people’s lives.

Using Smart Hearables

Hearable technology can be used for various applications, including infotainment, hearing assistance, and even health monitoring. In particular, healthcare sectors and consumer electronics have seen massive growth, as more tech consumers are looking for ways to augment and improve their lifestyle.

As the technology capabilities keep advancing, what used to only be possible in science fiction, could soon become a reality. Current hearables can already monitor health activity, such as blood pressure, and are beginning to monitor our biological signals and stress levels.

Like smartwatches and smart bands, hearables can monitor personal user data through embedded microchips and smart sensors. These hearable devices can then connect to smartphones or other electronics with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or a cellular network to further enhance the user experience.medical devices_1024x512

Enabling Smart Hearables

With the Internet of Things (IoT), hearables can do more than amplify sound. And thanks to advances in microchip and sensor technology, today’s hearable devices are unbelievably advanced. These microcomputers can handle tasks such as translating in real-time, tracking your health vitals, and serving as a personal assistant via voice command.

New developments in microprocessors mean that smart wearables, like intelligent wireless earbuds, can always be connected and be always-on to increase the quality of life of their users. Thankfully, the processors found in today’s smart devices can provide outstanding processing capabilities, having evolved into always-on edge processing. 

Edge processing enables endpoint devices like smart earbuds to handle increasingly complex computations directly on the device without sending processes to the cloud. Especially with Ambiq’s proprietary technology, the SPOT™ Platform, smart hearables can do more on less power.

Challenges for Hearable Technology

Despite massive improvements in microchip and sensor technology, integrating various technologies into smaller earbud form factors remains challenging. In general, hearable devices are limited by their form factor and battery life.

Manufacturers and designers must cater to tech consumers with high expectations. They expect a product that is lightweight, fashionable, and comfortable to wear. However, users also expect a durable device that can withstand environmental hazards. Users might accidentally drop their earphones or earbud on a hard surface, or spill water on the device.

Finally, battery life is a crucial consideration for hearables. Capabilities like listening to music and phone calls don’t take much battery, unlike more advanced stuff like health tracking, voice command, and location finding. The more processing an endpoint device handles, the more battery power it uses.


How Ambiq Is Helping

Ambiq’s Apollo microprocessors are incredibly compact and low power, enabling hearables to become truly intelligent. Tomorrow’s smart hearables will be able to track its user’s activity, body performance, and health conditions, as well as connect seamlessly to other smart devices like mobile phones and home appliances.

Other capabilities powered by Ambiq’s products include mobile communication, always-on listening, and real-time information. Our ultra-low-power products are driving innovation in audio tech, helping you deliver new and exciting consumer audio experiences.

1Valencell was founded in 2006. The first hearable product with Valencell tech came to market in 2013 (a product called the iRiver ON).

Charlene Wan

Written by Charlene Wan

Experienced marketing and communications executive with a successful track record in the technology industry on a global scale. Skilled in branding, go-to-market strategy, media relations, executive communications, and social media.

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