Hearables: What are they? How are they setting the foundation for an ‘Audio AR’ future? 

ARtillery Intelligence’s September 2019 report can be previewed below. Subscribe to access it and all ARtillery reports, or purchase a la carte. ARtillery PRO subscribers can access the full report directly here (login required).

Executive Summary

Hearables: Broadening the Definition of AR

Augmented reality’s (AR) definition continues to evolve. Though considered by most to be a graphical format that overlays imagery on the physical world, there’s an emerging sentiment that AR’s definition is too narrow. As the technology grows into its own skin, it’s expanding into alternate forms of “augmentation.”

Chief among them is the emerging area that ARtillery Intelligence calls “audio AR.” It involves AR’s signature overlays… but audible rather than graphical. It can inform users and augment their experiences through audio cues, which are advantaged by subtlety and reduced hardware friction.

In fact, the foundation for this opportunity happens through already-pervasive “hearables” such as Apple AirPods. The popular device sold 25 million units in 2018, which ARtillery Intelligence projects to grow to just over 100 million by 2023. This is the first step to an audio AR future.

The second step is content and apps that developers build on that hardware base. Apple is motivated to make this happen, as audio AR is one component – along with Watch and glasses – of a prospective wearables suite that ARtillery Intelligence believes will be central to the succession plan of a maturing iPhone.

Meanwhile, the BoseAR platform already provides developers a place to build audio AR apps and experiences. This should accelerate audio AR as developers are incentivized by distribution scale from Bose’ hardware base. It’s on pace for one million audio-AR enabled devices by year-end.

Developers are already jumping on this opportunity with audio AR apps that feature guided audio tours, espionage games or fitness management. Going beyond just audio cues, these apps tap into the IMU sensor bundle in BoseAR hardware to sense precise head movement as inputs.

AR’s expansion into new modalities and definitions doesn’t end with audible content. Other key signals and inputs are developing, such as location. In fact, one of the most popular forms of AR to date utilizes device location as a key input to inform and influence user experience: Pokemon Go.

Niantic AR lead Ross Finman likes to say “the real world is the content.” Rather than taking a secondary role to graphical overlays, the real world should be a primary component in AR experience creation, similar to how location is a key input that dynamically alters Pokémon Go play.

In what other ways is AR expanding into new modalities and definitions? We unpack this concept in the following pages, including examples, case studies, exclusive interviews, and original data. The goal, as always, is to inform and empower you with a greater knowledge position.


Price: $499 

This report is available by subscribing to ARtillery PRO, You can also purchase it for $499. This includes a briefing with the report’s author to discuss takeaways and answer any questions you may have.



Excerpt:  The Unsung Modality

In terms of penetration and impact, it could be argued that one of the most successful AR products to date is Apple’s AirPods. That statement sounds strange because the audio device isn’t often classified as AR. But it could represent and lay the foundation for AR’s unsung modality: sound.

With that in mind, we often joke that the original form of AR was radio. It augments your perception of the world while driving, jogging, or zoning out. While meant in jest, this raises an important point about expanding our conceptual understanding of augmentation. It should include all human senses.

Sound in particular could be a more viable near-term AR modality. “Audio AR” as we call it could come sooner than — and eventually coexist with — its graphical cousin. One advantage is subtlety: It’s less cumbersome than pulling out your phone and it sidesteps AR glasses’ style crimes.

That discreetness could in fact be audible AR’s greatest strength. Because AR glasses are held back by cultural and stylistic factors, the subtlety of ambient audio could fill an important gap. And the potential all-day use creates a massive addressable market (in the form of time) for content.

Unpacking that a bit, AirPods’ sleekness and portability have already begun to condition a use case to leave them in your ears all day. That then engenders a new channel for ambient audio. And the foundation is already building with 25 million AirPods sold last year according to ARtillery Intelligence.

As always, Apple’s lead will be followed by hardware commoditization by third parties, and falling hardware component costs that engender ubiquitous penetration. Then it’s all about the apps and use cases that develop. Apple will likely open up its platform in the manner of iOS, and tvOS.

In fact, audio leader Bose has already beaten it to the punch. The BoseAR platform gives developers a place to build audio AR apps. It will accelerate audio AR by incentivizing developers with distribution scale from Bose’ hardware base, including one million audio-AR enabled devices by the end of 2019.

Price: $499 

This report is available by subscribing to ARtillery PRO, You can also purchase it for $499. This includes a briefing with the report’s author to discuss takeaways and answer any questions you may have.


Video Companion


This report highlights ARtillery’s Intelligence viewpoints, gathered from its daily in-depth coverage of the XR sector. To support the narrative, data are cited throughout the report. These include ARtillery Intelligence original data, as well as that of third parties. Data sources are attributed in each case.

For market sizing and forecasting, ARtillery Intelligence follows disciplined best practices, developed and reinforced through its principles’ 15 years in tech sector research and intelligence. This includes the past 2.5 years covering AR & VR exclusively, as seen in research reports and daily reporting.

Furthermore, devising these figures involves the “bottom-up” market-sizing methodology, which involves granular ad revenue dynamics such as campaign pricing and spending. More about ARtillery Intelligence methodology can be seen here, and market-sizing credentials can be seen here.

Disclosure and Ethics Statement

ARtillery Intelligence has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this report, nor received payment for its production. With respect to market sizing, ARtillery Intelligence remains independent of players and practitioners in the sectors it covers, thus mitigating bias in industry revenue calculations and projections. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen in full here.

Hearables: Broadening the Definition of AR

Price: $499 

This report is available by subscribing to ARtillery PRO, You can also purchase it for $499. This includes a briefing with the report’s author to discuss takeaways and answer any questions you may have.


Ask Questions or Purchase Report