BERLIN, GERMANY — The demise of the smartphone headphone jack has seemingly prompted a wave of interest in wireless audio products. According to audiophiles who attended the recently concluded European consumer electronics show (IFA) in Berlin, the advent of the Bragi Dash in 2014 sparked a flurry of activities at several other consumer electronic companies. Because of the perceived market demand for wireless earbuds, several other companies have gotten in on the action. This activity went up a notch when Apple launched the new AirPods along with its latest smartphone, the iPhone 7, which doesn’t have a port for wired headphones.
Now, at the September 1 to 6 IFA consumer trade show, several other consumer electronics companies, including the behemoth, Samsung, as well as several other much smaller start-up companies, by launching their own versions of wireless earbuds and amplification apps, seem to be hot on the trail of Apple and Bragi.
The trend looks like it might be here to stay, as analysts at NPD group report that around 900,000 pairs of wireless earbuds have been sold in the US since the beginning of 2017, with 85% of them sold by Apple.
While many analysts anticipate Apple’s AirPods will get updated with new features over time, the devices are said to have the capability to be used as personal amplifiers through use of the Fennex Augmented Hearing App. However, as some have argued, the standard Bluetooth protocol used by devices like AirPods “creates an unacceptable amount of delay in the signal” to be properly used as a personal amplifier.
Opportunities for Hearing Professionals?
One common feature of wireless earbuds now hitting the market is a sleek charging case. Some experts believe the charging case helps turn attention away from some of the other design flaws, such as limited battery life and small non-custom fitting devices that easily fall out of the ear. With their cool recharging cases, the thought is users will be forced to develop a habit of only removing their earbuds when they need to be re-charged. Experts also report that the audio quality in wireless earbuds is subpar compared to many higher-end, noise cancelling headphones.
Because the typical user is already streaming music from low resolution music streaming services in noisy situations, like walking on busy sidewalks or on crowded the bus or subway, the sound quality from wireless earbuds may be “just good enough” for the masses.
For users of wireless earbuds who desire a better quality fit, the rise in popularity of these devices may present an opportunity for audiologists and hearing aid specialists. Professionals may be needed to provide a customized solution to improve the coupling of these devices to the ears of their wearers.
In addition to customization of the earbud, it is possible that in the very near future hearing care professionals will begin to see consumers trickle into their clinics with wireless AirPods that have been turned into amplification devices. Fennex and another app, Petralax, are among a new group of newly launched “augmented hearing apps” that work in combination with earbuds and a smartphone to provide low cost amplification for the end-user. The evolution of these devices may be a signal that we are embarking on the “just good enough” era of consumer-driven hearing care.