Is Apple secretly planning to launch an Apple-branded hearing aid? According to Apple Insider, there is fresh speculation that Apple is planning to sell “accessibility products” directly to consumers (via online and retail outlets) “sometime in early 2016.” Details are still unclear, but Apple Insider and Ubergizmo have both speculated that Apple may be planning to sell Made for iPhone (MFi) hearing aids along with other products, like Braille displays.
Assuming the speculation is accurate, what hearing devices will they be selling, exactly?
Will Apple sell products from its existing selection of MFi hearing aids (all currently produced and sold by partner companies)? If so, do they plan to employ licensed hearing instrument dispensers to facilitate product sales and customer support? Also, where will these new employees work, and where will they find space for clunky sound-treated booths in their pristine Apple Stores?
Based on current state regulations for dispensing hearing aids, our guess is that Apple is not planning on selling MFi hearing aids direct-to-consumer in anytime soon. The process would simply be too cumbersome and, as suggested by the image above, completely unrealistic given Apple’s tightly-controlled image.
Let’s look at an alternative possibility. Will Apple sell over-the-counter “hearing enhancement” devices that work with Apple products, such as the Soundhawk Personal Sound Amplification Product (PSAP)? Such devices are largely unregulated, and provide enough amplification to help some consumers hear a little better – largely those suffering from milder forms of hearing loss.
While direct-to-consumer PSAP sales may seem more plausible, its hard to see why Apple would want to sell products that directly compete with its partners in the hearing aid manufacturing world. Partners like Resound and Starkey continually promote hearing aid MFi technology, and with an Apple device required to make MFi work, Apple has a financial interest in supporting such activities.
The only way the PSAP approach could possibly make sense is if Apple has produced a brand new PSAP device that is so earth-shattering that they would be willing to jeopardize their hearing aid manufacturer relationships to promote it. Apple is known to have killer audio performance on their mobile devices and (as discussed) has worked closely with hearing aid manufacturers in developing the technology behind MFi. They also have a history of creating patents in the hearing aid space, and have a known predilection for delivering a tight hardware-optimized experience. Given Apple’s history, and the looming threat of a Samsung hearing aid on the horizon, Apple may just decide to manufacturer, sell, and support their own hearing solution.
Update: Apple is reportedly working on new wireless earbuds for the iPhone 7
With its resources from the 2014 acquisition of headphone maker Beats Electronics, Apple is prototyping a completely new set of Bluetooth earphones with the potential of launching the accessory alongside the iPhone 7 this fall. The new earphones are said to be completely wireless, which is to say that they do not even have a cable connecting the left and right ear pieces. Sources say that the headphones are similar in concept to the Motorola Hint headset … and Bragi’s new Dash headphones …
It’s expected that the in-development accessory will include a noise-cancelling microphone system, enabling phone calls and communication with Siri even without Apple’s prior in-line microphone and remote. In order to fit inside of the user’s ear, Apple will likely develop different sized ear sleeves for the hardware, similar to the approach used by Motorola and Bragi … Apple’s could have a control for managing calls and activating Siri.
Apple has registered the “AirPods” trademark which may be what these are called.
It’s not clear whether Apple has any intention of utilizing the noise-cancelling microphone system for picking up and amplifying day-to-day sounds (like the speech of friends and family), but we certainly see some potential here. Perhaps the AirPods will double as covert MFi hearing aids.
Last modified: January 9, 2016