3 Headset Trends to Watch: Wearables, Smart Devices & Beyond

We, at Frost & Sullivan, are proud of our enterprise endpoint coverage, focusing on everything from desktop hard endpoints (TDM, IP, and SIP) to corridor hard endpoints (DECT/WiFi phones), conference devices (audio conferencing and video conferencing endpoints), headsets, microphones, and the whole ecosystem of software communications and collaboration services. This article is about one of the subjects that excites me quite a lot -- professional headsets and the evolution of wearable technology in the business space.

Ever-Evolving Devices

Like many of you, I've been witnessing how headset vendors have transformed their wares from mere accessories to full-fledged enterprise communications endpoints. In fact, professional headsets have changed in form factor much more than any other enterprise device.

Source: GN Audio, Avegant, and Vinci

With the rise of mobility, professional headset vendors responded with a plethora of cordless options, for example. With the evolution of unified communications and collaboration services, they responded with full-fledged UCC-enabled headsets. With the proliferation of multiple communications endpoints, professional headsets became the glue of different communications modalities, offering dual and triple connectivity functionality. With the emergence of contextual intelligence, vendors incorporated smart sensors, enabling an improved user experience with their headsets. Finally, with the growth of open office spaces and noise-polluted environments, they incorporated advanced binaural stereo headsets with best-in-class noise cancellation technologies to enhance concentration and productivity.

Our research in this space shows that the professional headset market will continue to experience high growth rates due to the evolution of software-based communications and collaboration services and the need to improve worker productivity. In fact, our upcoming global professional headset study, scheduled to be published in August, found market revenue of $1.26 billion in 2016, a 7.4% growth. Notably, professional PC USB and UCC headset sales grew 22.3% to $626 million.

3 Trends to Watch

Now if you ask me where the market is headed, I would say professional headsets will continue to evolve, targeting different end-user groups and becoming more intelligent and independent enterprise endpoints. In our upcoming study, we discuss how trends such as wearables, Internet of Things (IoT), big data, and artificial intelligence (AI) could affect a market such as professional headsets.

Approximately 15 million head-mounted displays (HMD) for visual experiences, including video sources, virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) shipped in 2016. The number of HMDs is expected to increase to 39 million units globally by 2018, according to Frost & Sullivan's TechVision Group, with several start-ups emerging in the space. Some HMD vendors are leveraging the ergonomics and functionalities of headsets/headphones for immersive HD audio and video experiences. The Avegant Video Headset, for example, plays audio and video output from any PC, tablet, or smartphone.

Following the move toward smarter working environments and the importance of improving worker concentration, it's not difficult to envision visual-enabled headsets that would enable workers to stay in their concentration zones not only for audio, but also for visual communications. Future cordless solutions could allow workers to view presentations without needing to be at their desks. To address this trend, professional headset vendors could explore the market for HMD and the possibility of visual-enabling their headsets.

When it comes to data analytics, more than 50 billion connected objects, generating more than 500 zettabytes of data, are expected by 2020, according to TechVision. The growing popularity of big data in recent times has been the major driving force behind predictive and user behavior analytics. With data analytics, companies achieve considerable improvements in employee productivity, management, and engagement. Companies such as Humanyze are using tracking devices that analyze speech patterns, scan for proximity to others, show stress levels based on heart rate and voice inflection, and more. Collected data allows businesses to gain insight for operating more efficiently. In the professional headset realm, companies such as Plantronics and GN Audio are already offering data analytics services able to collect worker information. In the upcoming years, professional headset vendors will continue to invest in smart sensor technologies in order to better understand communication patterns of workers.

Last but not least, I can envision Internet-enabled headsets with AI services.

By 2025, computers, smartphones, and other devices connected to the Internet before all others will account for less than 15% of total IoT-connected devices -- while things such as sensors and smart appliances will account for more than 85%, according to TechVision. Complementing IoT are speech-enabled, AI-driven assistants. Personal assistants with natural language interaction capabilities -- Amazon's Alexa, Microsoft's Cortana, and Apple's Siri, for example -- are quickly becoming main interfaces to the IoT. One company, Vinci, is already experimenting with an Internet-enabled headphone. A project that raised more than $2 million through Kickstarter and Indiegogo, Vinci's 3G/WiFi-enabled headphone features a voice-controlled mobile assistant that acts as an interface to play music, and eventually search the Internet, make phone calls, and request services, among other planned capabilities. Would professional headset vendors explore this area in the future? I definitely think they should.

One thing is certain: Next-generation enterprise communication endpoints will be smaller, mobile, more intelligent devices equipped with sensor technologies that will help us to improve the way we perform our jobs. Taking into account the versatility of their professional devices, headset vendors have the full potential to capitalize on these evolving trends.