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3 Smart Headphone Design Engineering Trends to Follow

Posted on October 1st, 2021 by

Hearables, otherwise known as “smart headphones,” combine audio-based information services with wearable technology, allowing consumers to listen to music and communicate with their contacts wirelessly. Hearables take the form of true wireless earbuds worn in, on, or around the ear or a wireless, more classic type of headphone worn over the ears.

If you are on a smart headphone design engineering team, you are likely working on size reduction, feature integration, and incorporating more applications into your product. But what does the future hold for hearables?

This blog post will discuss three critical trends in hearable design that you should follow so your product can stay competitive in the hearables market.

 

What Features Will Be Most Important for Headphones/Earbuds?

 

 

1. Inclusion of Biometric Sensors in Wireless Earphones

 

There is currently a strong focus on implementing hearables as health monitors, fitness trackers, and activity trackers. As hearables already fall into the category of wearables, this is not much of a stretch. As this development progresses, product designers will be focusing more on including biometric sensors within their hearable products.

Here’s Why:

The ear is located in close proximity to useful, high-quality biometric signals. Sensors in the ear are closer to the body’s core, allowing for better health measurements, such as a more accurate reading of body temperature.

Additionally, with a shallow, rich capillary bed, the ear canal is an ideal location for non-invasive monitoring of health data such as heart rate. Research already indicates that measuring biometric data such as heart rate, temperature, or oxygen saturation in the ear via PPG (photoplethysmogram) sensors leads to higher reliability and better response times compared to devices worn on the torso or wrist.

What to Expect in the Future

According to market forecasts, over $5 billion in-ear headphones containing biosensors will be sold by 2030. Although there isn’t a significant market penetration expected, these devices will likely be high-end and more costly, leading to more substantial spending. It is reasonable to expect a gradual introduction of biometric sensors, starting with conventional components, such as heart rate sensors. However, the types of sensors incorporated are expected to diversify over time.

 

Find out how to make your hearables more reliable

 

2. Incorporation of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Cloud Computing

 

 

Researchers are currently studying the potential use of hearables to translate and track facial expressions. In time, hearables are expected to be integrated with more AI capabilities, cloud computing, and machine learning to discern users’ physical, physiological, and even emotional statuses.

Here’s Why:

Hearable devices hold promise in this area due to the location of the ear, which is close to essential signals such as speech recognition, eye movement, head tracking, and brainwaves. Using acoustic signals to address users entails lower distractibility than vision-based AI tools or tactile measuring, interaction, and signal components.

What to Expect in the Future

Hearables hold promise for more intelligent measurement and management of the emotional health of users. For example, future smart headphones may determine how stressed a user is and calm them, perhaps by playing soothing music.

As this technology expands, hearables are expected to recognize what direction a user is looking in, and how much mental effort is used in the process. Additionally, voice recognition technology may be harnessed to inform the hearable device when the user is speaking, allowing it to determine the tone and emotion of their voice and provide valuable feedback.

 

Watch our video series on improving consumer electronics devices

 

3. Hearables Standing in as OTC Hearing Aids

 

 

When the FDA Reauthorization Act of 2017 was signed into law, it included an order for proposed regulations to govern OTC hearing aids. According to Forbes, the FDA will likely publish these new regulations in 2022, and after this, we can expect OTC hearing aids to be widely available to the public. Hearables are expected to be utilized as one of these products, enhancing listening experiences, especially face-to-face communication.

Here’s Why

Currently, around 1 in 7 American adults report some amount of difficulty hearing, yet 80% of those who could benefit from hearing aids don’t seek help. The use of hearables as OTC hearing enhancement devices can break down barriers to purchase, including cost constraints.

Smart Bluetooth headphones are typically cheaper than hearing aids, which can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars and are often not covered by insurers and Medicare. No prescription will be required to purchase an OTC pair of headphones, and users that may not be aware of hearing problems may also buy a pair and notice a difference. Thus, consumers can more readily accept and address hearing loss when they use devices with less stigma attached to them.

What to Expect in the Future

As hearables are used as OTC hearing aids, hearable design engineering will likely emphasize sound enhancement features to improve the sound quality of critical interactions and functions such as noise isolation. The noise-canceling headphone features that minimize ambient noise in the surroundings will also be more critical.

As these devices will be used for hearing enhancement, longer battery life will be a priority to use them all day on a single charge. Finally, hearables will be expected to be self-fitting. In other words, users will adjust the devices to their hearing ability through a hearing test app so that essential conversations will sound good to them personally.

 

Read about our partnership with AXIL, a manufacturer of hearing augmentation and protection equipment for hunters, industrial workers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

 

HZO Can Improve Your Hearable Reliability Now and Well Into the Future

 

All future trends for hearables have one thing in common: increasing dependence on hearable devices. No matter what function your product serves, it must be reliable, even when exposed to fresh water, cleaning fluids, saltwater, chlorinated water, cold-weather condensation, humidity, and perspiration. Without suitable protection from the environment, these elements may permeate hearable circuitry and cause corrosion and irreparable damage.

Currently, hearables cannot be repaired by most major brands and must be replaced with significant expenses incurred. It can cost up to $60 per bud to replace hearables, in addition to downtime and other associated costs.

As a Parylene conformal coating company, we have coated internal hearable PCBs and batteries with Parylene for major brands, making products significantly sturdier and rising with our customers to mass-scale production within their specified budget and deadline. With the combination of our in-house designed application equipment, tested processes, and chemistry, our throughput can be two times faster than the industry standard.

Parylene is applied to circuitry by a unique vapor deposition process that results in highly conformal and uniform coatings. We have optimized our proprietary equipment to house more substrates and components than any other Parylene supplier. For reference, 10-000 – 20,000 hearables components may be coated in a single batch.

For more information on our high-volume production capabilities, Read our hearables case study

Mallory McGuinnessMallory McGuinness

Mallory is an electronics protection evangelist who writes content for HZO. In her free time she is reading non-fiction, and hanging out with her beta fish, King Awesome.

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