Hearing aid depicted above is Siemens Pure Model with hypothetical Samsung branding.
Is a Samsung Hearing Aid On the Horizon?
Consumer electronics behemoth Samsung Electronics is reportedly planning to enter the hearing products market, possibly by the time it launches its next-generation Galaxy S7 smartphone in 2016.
According to BusinessKorea, Samsung is developing a hearing aid that will be a stepping stone into the fast-growing global market for mobile health devices. And Hearing Health & Technology Matters Editor David Kirkwood is warning “Big-Six” hearing aid manufacturers to get ready for a new competitor with enough technology, financial resources and ambition to instantly turn the group into the “Big Seven.”
But these reports have yet to answer what will be the biggest question on both consumers’ and hearing professionals’ minds: What exactly does Samsung intend to sell?
Will Samsung follow arch-rival Apple’s lead and partner with hearing aid companies on technology enabling “Made-for-Galaxy” hearing aids? Or (more likely) will Samsung try to one-up both Apple and the Big Six by introducing its own Samsung hearing aid and making it compatible with Samsung Galaxy phones?
Or, will Samsung attack the low end of the market with a souped-up Samsung PSAP (personal sound amplification product) that doubles as a wireless Bluetooth companion for its smart phones?
So far Samsung hasn’t tipped its hand, beyond acknowledging to BusinessKorea that it intends to enter the market and confirming it has made a sizable order of hearing aid amplifier components. But any of those scenarios would have an earth-shaking impact on both consumers and suppliers in the hearing products industry.
As Holly Hosford-Dunn points out in a post for Hearing Health & Technology Matters, Samsung has a history of waiting until technology innovators have successfully established a new market, then flooding the market with its own lower-cost versions of very similar products. In fact, its Galaxy smartphones so closely resembled the iPhone that they sparked a billion-dollar patent infringement battle with Apple. But that didn’t stop Samsung from overtaking Apple’s market share in smartphones. Now that hearing aids are being integrated with smartphones, apparently Samsung feels the time is right to bring its weight to bear on the hearing health market as well.
Apple’s Made-for-iPhone Hearing Aid initiative has been one of this decade’s most exciting advances in the hearing industry, and if Samsung sells comparable but lower-priced products to its equally large installed base of smartphone users, it has the potential to reach a huge number of new hearing aid consumers. Integrating a high-end hearing with its smartphones in the same way GN ReSound and Starkey Hearing Technologies integrated their hearing aids with Apple’s iPhone would enable Samsung to address a ready-made market of consumers with hearing loss who already own its smartphones.
Samsung already has a head start on smartphone-hearing aid integration: according to Dan Schwartz, author of The Hearing Blog, the Samsung Galaxy S5 can stream audio directly into ReSound’s Linx2 Made-for-iPhone hearing hearing aids, and ReSound’s Smart app enables Galaxy phones to wirelessly control volume, program and other settings on all of ReSounds Made-for-iPhone hearing aids.
Samsung also has the potential to address the low end of the market — and to bypass the regulated hearing-aid distribution channel — by developing a personal sound amplification product (PSAP) that consumers can buy without a doctor’s recommendation or hearing test.
PSAPs are not supposed to be designed or marketed as hearing aids. Instead they are intended to help normal-hearing consumers cope with specific situational listening challenges — such as hearing the dialogue on the TV or understanding what the minister is saying from the front of the church. Some of the latest PSAPs to hit the market also are starting to add more value with Bluetooth connections for streaming calls, music and podcasts from a smartphone.
While hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars, PSAPs only cost several hundred and have been attractive to consumers put off by the high cost of hearing aids. Samsung is the kind of high-volume, low-overhead manufacturer that can develop and deliver the most competitively priced consumer electronics products. So the PSAP market seems made to order for Samsung.
With its expertise in smartphones and wireless connectivity, Samsung also seems perfectly positioned to provide PSAPs with bells and whistles such as streaming of audio directly from their own smart TVs, smartphones and other devices. Samsung’s work to date integrating its Galaxy smartphones with ReSound’s Made-for-iPhone hearing aids would seem to put it on the path to start developing wireless smartphone connectivity with lower-cost PSAPs.
Even with low prices, the market for PSAPs hasn’t taken off yet. But there hasn’t yet been a supplier with anywhere near the marketing muscle and global distribution capability of Samsung. Think of what a Samsung Super Bowl commercial touting PSAPs (or hearing aids, for that matter) would do to jump-start consumer demand.
Samsung’s entry into either the high-end hearing aid market or low-end PSAP market would have a profound impact on audiologists, hearing aid dispensers and other hearing health professionals. On the plus side, a family of high-quality high-end Samsung hearing aids, especially with “Made-for-Galaxy” smartphone integration, would give hearing professionals a new, competitive product line to consider for their patients. In a market where the Big Six have long accounted for more than 80 percent of the hearing aids produced worldwide, having a seventh source of supply from a low-cost global manufacturer might be a welcome development. More competition can mean better products and lower costs for resellers.
On the other hand, if Samsung makes a splash with a snazzy PSAP that kicks into high gear the unregulated hearing products market, it could create headaches for hearing health professionals. Audiologists and dispensers are only just starting to figure out how to educate customers who come into their offices wondering why they should pay one or two thousand dollars, or more, for a hearing aid, when they can get a personal amplifier for three or four hundred dollars.
The problem has been aggravated by the fact that some PSAP makers have been happy to leave consumers with the impression that their products can be used to compensate for hearing loss rather than only for situational listening support. If Samsung entered the market with a PSAP that sewed the same confusion, it would compound the problem for hearing health professionals enormously.
For now, it’s impossible to know what opportunities and/or challenges Samsung’s entry into the market will present for both consumers and hearing professionals. Everyone will have to wait for Samsung to announce what it plans to do. With rumors that the launch of new Samsung Galaxy S7 is scheduled for sometime early in 2016 — which would be a perfect time to start talking about “Made-for-Galaxy” hearing products — perhaps it won’t be a long wait.
Update: Here are some quick summary of the Galaxy S7 rumors:
– Expected unveiling: February 21, 2016
– Likely release date: Early March 2016
– Rumoured specs: 2560 x 1440 pixel QHD display, 1.0μm pixel-based 23-megapixel camera, Android M, Snapdragon 820 CPU
– Key features: USB Type-C, Iris scanner, wireless charging
Update 2: Gina Smith over at aNewDomain has uncovered some important FCC documents, which confirm that Samsung will be releasing a PSAP (not a hearing aid).
Public docs suggest Samsung is working on a hearable entry called the Samsung Earcle, a non-prescription, wireless in-ear device for hands-free messaging, music playback and sound enhancement in hard to hear places. It appears also to be working on a prescription-only Samsung hearing aid
Read the full story at aNewDomain.
Update 3: We received an anonymous tip from “a Korean friend” a couple weeks ago, suggesting that we check out Earcle.com. We excitedly clicked on the link, only to find a basic splash page with the message “a revolution is about to happen!” No changes to the site as of Feb 23
Update 4: Samsung revealed details about the Galaxy S7 at the 2016 Mobile World Congress (as expected), but revealed no new details about the rumored “Earcle” device. We suspect the launch date may have been pushed back. We’ve reached out to our contacts at Samsung, but they have not been forthcoming with details.
About David Copithorne
David has been blogging about hearing issues for a long time. As someone who has progressed from mild to profound hearing loss, he has had a chance to experience almost everything that the hearing industry has to offer. He currently utilizes cochlear implants in both ears. Read more of David’s musings at the Hearing Mojo blog.
Last modified: February 24, 2016