Music. Podcasts. TV. Weather Updates. A reminder about your terrible posture.
One of those things is not something you expect from your AirPods, but get ready — or sit up straight. New documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal reveal Apple is investigating turning its wildly successful Bluetooth earbuds into health devices, capable of acting as hearing aids, checking your body temperature, and — yes — telling you you’re gonna regret what you’re doing to your back in that chair right now.
The hearing-aid function could open an especially lucrative customer base for the company, right as regulators are clearing the way for new players.
Hard of Clearing (Regulators)
The global Bluetooth-headset market is close to an Apple fiefdom. AirPods made an estimated $12.8 billion in revenue last year — five times more than second-place rival Bose. But the tech giant can’t just barge into selling hearing aids, because the FDA still says those devices must be handed out by licensed specialists who can tune them to each user. That could change very quickly.
Congress passed a law in 2017 to create a new category for over-the-counter hearing aids, and the FDA is expected to lay the groundwork for them by the end of the year — potentially creating That could create a sizeable new market for Apple and its headphone-peddling peers:
- There are 28 million people in the US who have mild hearing loss, but only 5% use hearing aids, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins. Twelve million more have moderate hearing loss, of which 37% use hearing aids.
- The U.S. hearing aids market is dominated by a few companies — like Cochlear and Sonova — who charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the devices. Cheaper, over-the-counter options could turn millions of holdouts into consumers.
How Would it Work?: Apple’s earbuds are already equipped with motion sensors — capable of catching your sloppy posture — plus microphones, amplifiers, and high-end processors. The only addition they would need for the new health features is a thermometer, which the company’s already designing for the Apple Watch. It just shows what you can achieve with a will and an $18.75 billion R&D budget.