Hearables represents a compelling potential branch of augmented reality hardware which affords users granular control over their sensory experience, via hearing instead of sight, as is the case with traditional AR.  

What's Behind Your Ear

Not unlike the inception of XR, hearables are currently a niche piece of hardware navigating a number of hurdles, not least of which is the complication of multiple terms and names for the core platform and its surrounding technologies and features.

Since 2014, pioneers and evangelists have struggled to establish clear terms to describe an earbud form factor incorporating no wires of any kind and boasting some degree of “smart” device capability (such as onboard sensors or processors), in addition to the basic functions of a bluetooth headset. Founded on definitions from early thinkers such as Nick Hunn, the above definition has been refined using market research conducted by Greenlight Insights. 

Other issues currently facing hearables include the still-high cost of specialized audio components necessary to this new form factor. Hearables have only maintained a meaningful presence on the market since 2016, thanks to companies such as FireFlies Audio and Bragi. The latter has continued to innovate in the space and seek to influence hearable design by including features such as fitness tracking and, more recently, real-time translation.

Hearable technology represents a compelling potential branch of augmented reality hardware which affords users granular control over their sensory experience, via hearing instead of sight, as is the case with traditional AR.

Hearables @ AWE

AWE played host to one particular consumer hearables company with a burgeoning product line of high-end hardware.

Nuheara, leader in the emerging hearables market, is leveraging software-driven solutions to deliver a wide range of next-gen hardware:

  • IQbuds (featuring onboard dynamic noise control and speech/audio enhancement)
  • IQbuds BOOST (all features of the IQbuds and additional EarID providing intelligent amplification and rich calibration tools to create a customized hearing profile)
  • LiveIQ  (to be released Q3 ‘18)

Nuheara's messaging emphasizes the importance of a hearable's ability to grant users total control of their sonic environment. Whether tuning out noise in favor of music, enhancing speech in crowded conversation, or simply synthesizing a custom soundscape for an individual user, the company's IQ line provides a rich set of tools designed to cater to a wide range of hearing profiles.

A number of audio-focused companies, such as G’Audio Labs and Dirac Research AB, also attended AWE, although Nuheara was the only consumer hardware manufacturer on display.

The presence of these and other solutions providers at AWE, however, is a solid indicator that hearables are poised to begin supplementing existing and future AR platforms. Since presence is so often cited as a crucial measurement of the effectiveness of any immersive experience, it seems only natural that senses other than sight should contribute to more complete XR platforms in the future.