Sound has always had profound importance in human life. It is an evolutionary tool for surveying our environments and a psychological prompt for our emotions. It can be used for both connection or isolation. From art and entertainment to design and technology, the way we engage with audio sources today has grown to reflect our modern world.
In 2016, Apple launched its infamous AirPods. Initially mocked on the internet as a frivolous rich person’s toy, sales skyrocketed. In 2019, analysts estimate that Apple sold nearly 60 million units. This year, we will see more wireless earbuds competitors, as brands attempt to win a piece of Apple’s success. The ‘hearables’ market is set to be worth 80 million by 2025 as tech innovators, bolstered by voice technology, continue to blend the features of smart phones into wireless headphones. Earlier this month, CES unveiled a sophisticated assortment of new smart ‘hearables’ with features such as improved noise-cancellation, heart-rate monitoring, and assisted hearing. After taking a set-up hearing test, Nuheara IQbuds2 Max offer a completely personalised experience. They also offer active ‘speech in noise’ control to automatically limit the background noise users hear when having a conversation in a noisy environment.
Designers are anticipating a future where earbuds are ubiquitous and, not unlike wearables, people keep them on their body consistently throughout the day. And with the expansion of audio streaming, people have even more reason to keep listening. The penetration of music streaming services such as Spotify have been relentless over the last 10 years. Audiobooks have been growing 25% year-on-year in the US. However, the most notable example of this profound shift is podcasts.
Listeners now have more choice than ever with over 192,000 new podcasts launched in 2019 alone. Ireland has the third highest podcast listenership in the world. A 2019 Reuters report found 37% of Irish people have listened to a podcast over the last month. This is unsurprising given the traditionally high radio listenership and the cultural significance of storytelling in Ireland. Ireland’s Blindboy has designed his show to be a ‘podcast hug’ for listeners. This speaks to part of the appeal of podcasts. The conversational nature of podcasts offer listeners a sense of intimacy in a world where loneliness is becoming an epidemic. Podcasts are also a lucrative opportunity for brands. They are a haven for reaching younger audiences and are designed in such a way that listeners are less likely to ignore advertisements. Brands like Mastercard and Slack have even produced successful podcasts of their own. This could be exciting territory to try out, but brands be warned—if the content doesn’t add value to your customers’ lives, they will listen elsewhere.
We are entering an era where there is always something in our ears or playing in the background. We are busier than ever and keen on multitasking whether that’s on our commute or doing chores at home. It also gives people control over their environment, filtering in only the sounds that they want to listen to. As more of our devices become connected, audio will take on even more important role in our lives and how brands relate to their consumers. Stay tuned.