Home Blog The Wireless Revolution in Headphones Brings Fresh Audio Offerings
Aug 30, 2017

Totally Wireless Earbuds Bring the Loud to Stereo Headphone Sales

Subscribe to our blog

So far, 2017 has been a great year for headphones. Through July, U.S. dollar sales and average prices increased 22 percent, and 18 percent, respectively, over the same period a year ago.  A number of new and interesting devices have also debuted this year. Recent products from industry headliners like Bose, Sony, and Beats represent just a few of the innovative headphone devices to come to market in the past year. Sure, much of today’s growth is due to the continued shift to Bluetooth, but the wireless revolution occurring in headphones has given rise to a wave of fresh audio offerings.

Totally wireless earbuds represent a new segment that has come out of the emergence of Bluetooth. Bragi and Doppler Labs were among the first companies making totally wireless earbuds, but the entrance of tech titans like Apple and Samsung (but mostly Apple) has led to a spike in unit sales in the segment. More than 900,000 totally wireless headphone units were sold in the U.S. since the start of the year, according to The NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service. As fast as this segment has emerged, so have products that go beyond music streaming. Samsung’s headphones-slash-fitness tracker, IconX, features an optical heart rate tracker and 4GB of memory for music storage (eliminating the need for a music player) for those interested in a fitness product. There are also augmented hearing buds like Doppler’s Here Plus and Nuheara’s IQbudz, which are fitted with external microphones to change the sound around the wearer, making it easier to have a conversation in a loud restaurant or to tune out a crying baby on an airplane. 

Some products have a loftier goal – making the wireless earbud a computing device for the ear. Since launching in December, Apple’s AirPods have accounted for 85 percent of totally wireless headphone dollar sales in the U.S., according to NPD’s Retail Tracking Service. With a use case centering on frictionless access to Siri and other tasks initiated by voice, AirPods really act as an extension of the iPhone. Apple’s path to leadership in the category is helped by disruptive pricing, brand resonance, and excitement over the W1 chip, which significantly eases Bluetooth connections to iOS and Mac devices.  The Dash from Bragi features an ARM Cortex M4 CPU, as well as 27 sensors designed to detect movement and voice input. It is also the first noteworthy headphone brand to partner with IBM Watson. For these products, audio quality remains important, but takes a backseat to new capabilities added on top of the sound experience. With this in mind, it’s not hard to imagine a collection of mobile apps optimized for a voice interface similar to the growing ecosystem of Alexa skills.

Apple’s early domination of the category will continue to challenge competing brands entering the totally wireless market. New entrants will have to provide some differentiation in features, sound quality, or associated services and applications in order to stand out. Consumer reception of wireless earbuds is still forming, even as their use case continues to evolve. As Alexa skills and other voice-first content diversifies, headphones, including totally wireless earbuds, are the leading candidate to be the next piece of hardware to drive digital assistant adoption.



Stay current in your industry
SUBSCRIBE

Related Content

Tagged: Consumer Electronics , Technology


Verizon Steps Up; Buys Tracfone
Verizon Steps Up; Buys Tracfone

While the Verizon/Tracfone deal will certainly increase pressure on T-Mobile and AT&T, the biggest impact may be felt by Dish, which now owns the Boost Mobile brand. Hear more from NPD's Connected Intelligence President, Eddie Hold, on the deal.

5G Awareness Has Reached the Masses, But Majority Do Not Understand 5G Network Types
5G Awareness Has Reached the Masses, But Majority Do Not Understand 5G Network Types

According to NPD’s Connected Intelligence, 9 out of 10 consumers are aware of 5G networks; however, only 18% have heard of and understand the difference between the 5G network band types such as mid-band or high-band (Millimeter Wave) currently available in the U.S.

35% of U.S. Consumers Own At Least One Smart Device
35% of U.S. Consumers Own At Least One Smart Device

Smart home device penetration has surpassed one out of every three U.S. consumers — 35% of U.S. consumers say they own at least one type of smart device.

The Computer is Personal Again
The Computer is Personal Again

NPD Industry Advisor, Stephen Baker, takes a look at the U.S. consumer PC market following a momentous week - and first half - and shares insights around what is to come.

Newsletter

Subscribe and get key market trends and insights relevant to your industry each month.

We will not sell your information. View privacy notice. | Cookie Settings

Follow Us

© 2020 The NPD Group, Inc.