The ear is "the biggest potential market for connected wearables", according to a forthcoming market forecast from self-styled UK-based 'wireless evangelist' Nick Hunn, who predicts the market could be worth as much as $5bn by 2018.
In his forecast preview, he says: "Sound drives the bulk of our technology use, and earbuds are the only piece of wearable tech to have gained ubiquity and social acceptance. These devices are about to undergo a revolution in capability, getting rid of their cables and giving them the opportunity to be the standard bearer for wearable technology."
Innovations in hearing-aid design offer a glimpse of the potential of hearables. Smaller batteries are freeing designers to make more discreet and attractive hearing instruments, while better processing power is adding extra functionality – disrupting their image as a simple prosthetic or 'aid', and widening their appeal. For example, earlier this month, Danish manufacturer GN Store Nord launched a tiny hearing aid that streams sound directly from Apple's iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
The ear is also ideal for measuring health and body metrics, according to Hunn: "Unlike the wrist, the ear doesn't move around much while you're taking measurements, which can make it more reliable for things like heart rate, blood pressure and temperature."
Coupled with the continued development of gestural and voice command, hearables have the potential to offer consumers a direct and intuitive interface with the internet, their peers and the growing Internet of Things. They will also offer brands opportunities to engage with consumers in more intimate ways.
For further insight into the future of intuitive interfaces, see The New User Interface and Touch-Free Tech. For an update on the wearables market, take a look at Wearables: Beyond Novelty, part of our reporting from this year's South by SouthWest festival.