Let’s take a look at exactly what the FDA did: Last month, the federal agency announced a proposal to “improve access to hearing aid technology for millions of Americans.”
If you or a loved one have tried to get a hearing aid (especially during COVID conditions), you know that it can be a drawn-out process that requires lots of testing and a prescription for a specific technology, followed by careful fittings with an audiologist. Prices can also be pretty high when all is done, and future adjustments to hearing aids can incur even more expenses. But, on a positive note, the FDA is interested in undoing all that.
The proposal calls for the ability to create a new category of hearing aids that could be sold over the counter without requiring a visit to a doctor or specialist. This would also make it a lot easier for a variety of tech companies to start producing and selling hearing aids.
The FDA notes that there’s a significant market for over-the-counter hearing aids. Around 15% of Americans over the age of 18 have some kind of hearing issue, while only 1/5th of those who could benefit from hearing aids actually have one. The agency also mentions that it could help promote healthy competition and reduce hearing aid prices.
While this is still just a “proposal,” it’s clearly set to be finalized. Specific guidelines for these OTC hearing aids include volume limits, recommendations for when prescription aids should be used instead, and so on.
Apple’s Been Prepared for OTC Hearing Aids
Now, enter Apple. The Wall Street Journal has already reported that Apple is considering getting into the hearing aid business. It makes sense, considering Apple has been continually updating its Health app and integrating information from various Apple devices and sensors to help support ongoing health monitoring and new health solutions.
The brand also has a product ready and waiting to act as a hearing aid: The AirPods. AirPods, and the AirPods Pro in particular, already come with multiple sensors, microphones (currently to enable taking phone calls), customizable gesture-based controls, and various technology like Spatial Audio Adaptive EQ and active noise cancellation. The AirPods also do a ton of receiving and processing environmental sound. They’re set up for the exact kind of OTC solution that the FDA has in mind.
Earlier this year, Apple released a major Hearing Study along with partners like the University of Michigan and the World Health Organization. The study is ongoing and continues to gather data from a variety of Apple customers who have voluntarily offered information using the Health app to log their daily hearing difficulties, headphone exposure, loud work environments, and important related factors.
Apple has its bases covered and appears ready to act, so get ready for hearing aid capabilities to hit the AirPods sooner rather than later.
Of course, Apple isn’t the only company that’s expressed interest in this new market. Bose has also stepped up, while more traditional hearing aid companies like Eargo and Lively are also likely to offer OTC options. However, none of them will be able to interact with your Apple devices or the Health app in the same way, so it looks like Apple has a clear edge here.
[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]
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