The hearing industry has significantly transformed since the late 90s. Hearing devices have transitioned from analog to digital, from digital to wirelessly connectable, and now “hearables” have arrived. But what are hearables? What can they offer consumers in the future? And what makes a hearable different to a wearable?
Hearables mean different things to different people. To some, they are sophisticated, feature rich wireless headphones, while hearing aid manufacturers such as Starkey Hearing Technologies see a hearable as a hearing aid that does more than amplify sound and clarify speech. You may not know, but these types of “hearables” already exist. The Starkey Halo 2 is a fantastic hearing aid that is a made-for-iPhone device, allowing streaming from your phone, self-adjustable sound quality and geotagging to truly personalise to the wearer’s needs. This is the first step along the hearing aid/ hearable path, with the vision of the future being a hearing aid that tracks biometric data through the ears as well as amplifying sounds and clarifying speech. Imagine a hearing aid that can sense when the wearer’s blood pressure spikes and automatically triggers an emergency call. Imagine a device that automatically detects falls and then alerts carers. This level of integration of hearing aid and biometric measurement means that a hearable moves from being an entertainment device, to one that is an essential part of health monitoring and wellbeing programs. Doctors will be able to get a better, more accurate reading of their patients vitals, and hearable users as well as their family members can track health data in a personalised way. Hearables then become a valuable diagnostic and monitoring tool, that is part of a holistic approach to healthcare.
Many think that biometric data measurement is in the domain of wrist worn wearables (think fitbit, jawbone etc), but there is evidence that around one third of users stop using their wearables after 6 months usage, and half stop utilizing their devices long-term. There are a number of theories why this occurs, with the most common being that consumers don’t want to charge another device in addition to their smartphone. We believe that the hearable will be different. Our prediction is that because the speech amplification benefits offered by the hearing aid component is essential to everyday life, that charging the device every night will be seen as a necessity rather than a chore, and the long term usage rates will not see such rapid decline as the wrist worn devices.
The future of hearables is exciting, with many potential applications that can improve the lives and healthcare of millions of people. What an exciting to be part of the hearing industry!