How ‘Hearable’ Technology Could be the Future

Are “hearables” the next wearables?

By Kevin Wong on June 15, 2015

How ‘Hearable’ Technology Could be the Future

Today’s wearable devices account for two types of learners, and cater to the way those two types acquire and absorb information. First, there are the visual learners — those individuals who learn best by using their eyes, and conceptualize the world with charts and graphs — like those seen in a health app or planner. Second, there are the kinesthetic, or tactile learners — those who learn by interacting with the world, and use their thumbs to navigate their way around their mobile devices.

The Chosen Learner

But there’s a third type of learner that’s been continually neglected in this technological boom, although they comprise approximately 20 to 30 percent of the population. It’s the oft-forgotten auditory learners — those individuals who learn best with their ears, and remember best when things are spoken to them. There is a dearth of technology that caters to this percentage. But the major tech developers of the future should take heed: ‘hearable’ technology is on the horizon, and it has a high potential just waiting to be tapped.

For starters, there’s an automatically built-in audience of teenagers and young adults. Music is the soundtrack to their lives, and it would be a hop, skip and a jump to change over from their current ear buds to the ‘smart’ earbuds of a wearable brand, or even to ‘smart’ earrings for the fashion conscious.

As Scott Snyder, president and chief strategy officer of Mobiquity, notes in an article on Venture Beat, the ear is particularly ideal for smart technology. “[It] happens to be a good place to pick up blood flow as it moves consistently in and out of the ear and the membrane is relatively thin,” Snyder says. “Using optical sensors by companies like Valencell, we can pick up heart rate, blood flow, and even maximal oxygen uptake with accuracy comparable to that of a chest strap.”

Hearing is Believing

The possibilities abound. The obvious ones are the benefits for fitness enthusiasts. It’s easy to imagine a “hearable” fitness tracker / mp3 player that plays music and intermittently announces your heart rate, or tracks the miles that you’ve run, or tallies the calories that you’ve burned, or even keeps you motivated when you’re starting to lag behind your average time.

It can even be a helping hand to patients with heart problems. A hearable device could serve as a discreet, non-visible heart tracker — a way to track one’s stress levels throughout an average day, and find out exactly what’s causing the rise in blood pressure. Or, it could measure your heart rate in response to your music tastes, and find out which songs would be the best tonic for your stress.

And what about a helpful, voice-activated personal assistant? Imagine a hands-free itinerary keeper that reminds you about important meetings 30 minutes before they happen, or takes dictation on the way to work, or remembers the essentials from important conversations? Hearable technology can be context sensitive, reminding us of restaurants we’ve eaten at when we travel near them, or stores we want to visit, or nearby places of interest to a curious tourist or traveler.

As Snyder points out, the greatest current obstacle to hearables is their prohibitive cost — the technology is not yet mainstream enough for middle-class consumption. But that will change in the coming years, and tech innovators would be wise to investigate what could eventually become a multi-billion dollar industry.

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