It wasn’t too long ago that wireless earbuds seemed like an expensive novelty. But now? It seems like everywhere you look people are wearing them.
True wireless earbuds, often abbreviated as TWS, have really caught on in a way that cabled earbuds never really did, especially so since Apple famously and “courageously” deprecated the 3.5mm jack from their phones and other manufacturers started to follow suit.
In just the last five years the TWS market has grown massively and shows no signs of slowing down. Advances in technology and versatility coupled with lowering prices have made true wireless earbuds an appealing option for people with a smart phone, which at this point is just about everyone.
The adoption rate of true wireless earbuds almost doubled (23% to 42%) from 2019 to 2020, and by now in 2023 it’s estimated that TWS earbuds actually make up the majority of the earbud market. The TWS market size is forecasted to reach $243.9bn by 2028 and $563.2bn by 2030.
Recent History of True Wireless Earbuds
German startup Bragi introduced the first true wireless earbuds, the Dash, in 2014 with a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Prior to Bragi’s introduction, the industry had already seen a number of wireless to source earbuds that still needed to be connected to each other, but the true wireless form factor, meaning zero wires whatsoever, was a significant leap forward in terms of design and functionality.
Most people can probably guess what caused the the popularity of true wireless earbuds to initially explode – if you guessed the Apple AirPods, which originally came out in 2016, you’d be right.
Apple’s initial offering set a new and much higher standard in terms of connection stability, ease of setup, and usability. This triggered rapid growth in the true wireless earbuds market as other big manufacturers such as Samsung, JBL, Sony, Bose eventually introduced their own competing products.
And now in 2023 there are hundreds of companies in the market – some of which only produce true wireless earbuds – that are competing to release both better and less expensive products. The original AirPods were $159 dollars in 2016 ($199.51 in 2023 inflation adjusted), but now there are a multitude of great sounding, versatile, and feature rich true wireless earbuds available in the $30-50 range. I can attest to this because I have now fully reviewed a lot of them.
What Features and Developments Can We Expect to See With Wireless Earbuds in the Future?
Given the exponentially fast growth of this niche and its huge market cap, there’s no question that companies are going to push and innovate in it at full speed. Here are some new features I expect to see in wireless earbuds sooner than later:
Much better battery life
Active noise cancellation and transparency are becoming more and more common features, but even premium-tier true wireless earbuds can only hold a charge of around 6 hours with either of them on. This will get a lot higher in the next ten years as more and more people demand to be able to use these features day in and day out.
Rapid wireless recharging
You’ll be able to simply place the case or even just the earbuds on a disc and get hours of extra battery life in possibly just a few minutes.
Hi-Res lossless audio quality
Devices now have enough storage to hold many large hi-res audio files, and multiple streaming services have started to offer hi-res audio as well. No current Bluetooth codecs can really transmit data fast enough to support hi-res audio, and non elite wireless earbuds don’t yet have the engineering to bring out a noticeable difference in it either, but I expect lossless hi-res to be standard within ten years.
Latency doesn’t really matter if you’re just listening to audio, but if the audio is delayed behind something that your watching it can ruin the experience or make competitive gaming unplayable. Gamers want to use true wireless earbuds as well, but many of them are hesitant to due to potential latency issues. I expect this issue to be effectively solved in the next five years and for wireless gaming earbuds and headphones to become standard.
3d surround sound spatial audio
3d spatial audio is just really starting to catch on in the home theater niche, but you need a lot of speakers and expensive equipment to use it. In ten years though? I think earbuds will be able to reproduce spatial audio almost if not just as well as actual surround speakers. AirPods already boast this feature and it’s only going to get better.
Health and vitals tracking
Fitness bracelets have also become very popular in the last ten or so years, and I expect that it won’t be long before true wireless earbuds can do everything and more that a fitness bracelet can currently do – tracking heart rate, breathing, energy expenditure, step count, and all that neat stuff.
Artificial intelligence (AI) integration
Everyone is talking about ChatGPT these days, but most people don’t know just how fast this AI stuff is advancing. I think it won’t be long before earbuds will be able to recommend music or other media based on our mood, such as it’s determined by measuring out vitals and even our brain activity.
… I’m really not kidding, as cool and admittedly creepy as that may sound. With such a fast adoption rate and market cap increase, companies are going to go all in on true wireless earbuds.