Did you know?

Click any word in a definition or example to find the entry for that word

hearable

noun [countable] usually plural

an electronic device which is worn in the ear

hearable

adjective

'For now, hearables look set to follow the fitness trend seen in the wider wearables market … It's a really small computer that sits in your ear. It will entertain you and advise you what to do better, and exercise right.'

CNBC 29th December 2014

'Next big thing in wearables market could be hearable technology … The rise of hearable devices could help move the wearables market even more in 2015.'

TweakTown 1st January 2015

Imagine wearing an intelligent little earpiece which tells you about a special offer as you walk past your favourite restaurant, hears your conversation about dates and notes them in an electronic diary, or googles a person's name you've spoken aloud and gives you the lowdown on them as you meet for the first time. Though not quite yet a reality, these possibilities are just around the corner with a concept that technophiles are beginning to get excited about – devices now known as hearables.

headphones, ear buds or hearing aids are used by many people on a daily basis, so the idea of an in-ear device is something that we're already comfortable with as part of a person's appearance

A hearable is a wireless in-ear accessory incorporating a computer or some other kind of technical gadget. To date, one of the main applications of hearables has been in relation to fitness – devices which track users' exercise performance and vital signs etc, whilst giving them access to music or other online content. This is just the beginning however, with hearables predicted to be the next big thing as a kind of unobtrusive personal assistant whispering gently in your ear.

Hearables are of course the latest innovation emanating from a developing market described as wearable technology, clothing and accessories that incorporate wireless devices. In early 2014 there was a big noise around products such as Google Glass, a funky pair of glasses-cum-headset hoped to be a game-changer in portable computing. Another example is the Pebble, a wearable computer in watch form, and there are other types of product too, such as fitness wristbands, shirts, etc. However, though the Pebble has been reasonably successful, Google Glass failed to capture the public's imagination. It's thought that the issue with this, and potentially all such products, is that people need to be convinced to put them on, and perhaps even more importantly, they also need to feel happy about how they look when wearing them. This is the area where it's believed that hearables can really score over wearables. Headphones, ear buds or hearing aids are used by many people on a daily basis, so the idea of an in-ear device is something that we're already comfortable with as part of a person's appearance. What's more, hearables are also far more discrete than other wearable technology, tiny devices which are barely noticeable in comparison to bulky wristwatches or peculiar-looking glasses like Google Glass.

Background – hearable

The use of the word hearable in relation to portable technology is of course based on the earlier use of the word wearable in the same domain, which dates back to the early nineties. Both terms occur in this sense as adjectives and nouns, the noun more often in plural form.

The concepts represented by hearables and wearables are a reflection of our ever-increasing desire to integrate technology into the flow of daily life. Early attempts to do this threw up products such as the e-vest, a sleeveless jacket with multiple pockets designed to carry a range of electronic devices while out and about. Around the same time we began to see the emergence of expressions such as smart clothing, a generic term for garments incorporating technology on some level. The Pebble, as mentioned above, is correspondingly described as a smartwatch, a further example of the growing productivity of the computational sense of smart (compare smartphone, smart TV, smartstamp).

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

Read last week's BuzzWord. JOMO.

This article was first published on 11th March 2015.

Open Dictionary

rhythmus

moving with rhythm, together as one

add a word

Blog

A must for anyone with an interest in the changing face of language. The Macmillan Dictionary blog explores English as it is spoken around the world today.

global English and language change from our blog