LAKE WALES, Fla. — With the industry scrambling to match Apple's wireless earbuds, adding Valencell Inc.'s tiny PerformTek biometric measurement module to an earbud goes beyond Apple's newly announced AirPods. AirPods house a single microelectromechanical system (MEMS) accelerometer as a sensor. In contrast, PerformTek adds to biometric sensors already fine-tuned for health-care caliber performance metrics for sports, fitness and medical applications.
According to analyst Nick Hunn at WiFore Consulting who predicted a $30 billion market for wireless earbuds by 2020 before the iPhone 7 AirBuds announcement, he's considering upping his prediction now that the "keep up with Apple" factor is in play.
"It gives me confidence that we will probably meet or exceed that number," Hunn told EE Times. Seeking Alpha has already estimated that the opportunity for Beats this year as a result of the iPhone 7 will be around $5 billion and that's just with 45 percent of the market share. That suggests that the loss of the 3.5mm jack will produce additional annual revenue."
The Valencell PerformTek biometric measurement module has all the sensors and algorithms already perfected for accurate heart rate, distance, speed, cadence, oxygen consumption and other biometrics.
"NPD noted that trend when they reckoned that wireless headsets overtook wired sales by value back in June. The Apple announcement suggests that will now accelerate," Hunn told EE Times. "I’m going back to my numbers to see whether I need to increase the prediction for 2020."
With the iPhone 7's AirPods giving wireless earbuds much greater visibility in the market, the effect of the iPhone 7 will be to make wireless headsets much more popular in the short term. That will spur innovation, according to Hunn. And since the AirPods are essentially an entry-level hearable — doing only audio and voice. — the startups like Bragi, Nuheara and Doppler Labs will one-up Apple with noise cancellation, biometrics and audio curation, according to Hunn.
Valencell's PerformTek biometric measurement module is one way OEMs can do an instant one-up over the iPhone 7's AirBuds. By making earbuds truly wireless — and waterproof — they can become the platform for all sorts of biometric measurements not convenient before when tethered to a smartphone.
"Apple news and the recent string of announcements from consumer electronics market leaders like Samsung and Jabra make it clear that the new trend in next generation earbuds is to get rid of the jack, making them 'truly wireless,' Steven LeBoeuf, cofounder and president of Valencell told EE Times in an exclusive interview. "And for sports and fitness, earbuds require high accuracy in their biometric sensing in order to provide accurate and continually interesting health insights."
Valencell claims its PerformTek biometric measurement technology enables brands to reduce the size of their device without compromising accuracy. The millimeter-sized module and accompanying fine-tuned software, according to LeBoeruf, provides continuously accurate heart rate, distance, speed, cadence, oxygen consumption and other biometrics. Its track record has already been proven too in the Jabra Elite Sport earbuds in Samsung Gear IconX earbuds.
Valencell claims to have been refining its own opto-mechanical sensors and algorithms for a decade (since 2006) focusing always on the high-end medical-grade accuracy market instead of consumers. However, now that earbuds pricing has reached $159 for the iPhone 7's earbuds, the time is ripe, according to Valencell, for it to reach into the consumer market with a module that is more accurate than existing solutions.
"We invented biometric sensing long before the Fitbit, and have not just gone out and bought existing sensors, but have refined their construction for more accuracy in earbuds, on the wrist, on the arm or on the leg," LeBoeuf told EE Times. "We are also ahead on the algorithmic side of interpreting the data coming from the sensors. And we are working on new measurement modalities that others won't be able to match, such as blood pressure and respiration rate."
Besides the emerging consumer market, Valencell already serves the professional sports monitoring market, the stress analysis market and various medical segments. It has 30 customers under license and 12 consumer products in the marketplace already from giants like Samsung, LG, Sony and Jabra.
— R. Colin Johnson, Advanced Technology Editor, EE Times