Apple Plans to Introduce ‘Hearing Aid Mode’ in Their Next iOS 18 Update | What Does This Mean?

Apple Plans to Introduce ‘Hearing Aid Mode’ in Their Next iOS 18 Update | What Does This Mean?

by | May 3, 2024 | News

Although nothing is official at the point of publishing this article, it appears that based on speculation from a number of reputable forums and news outlets that technology giant Apple is planning to enter the hearing care market in late 2024/early 2025.

Here’s what we know up to now.

Rumors suggest that iOS 18 will include a new feature called “Hearing Aid Mode.”

Set to be released as part of the next iOS update in (predicted) September 2024, this new update will be focused on enabling Apple Air Pods users to use their earphones as amplifiers to better support them in challenging listening situations, sitting alongside their previously launched Live Listen (2019) and Conversation Boost (2021) features.

To accompany this, Apple is also rumored to be releasing their 3rd generation Air Pods Pro in early 2025, which is believed to be the hardware that will allow users to gain optimal benefits from the Hearing Aid Mode feature.

Why Would Apple Introduce This Feature?

In the next five years, the US will see the number of 65+ year olds increase from an estimated 19 million people to an unprecedented 70 million people due to the baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) reaching retirement age.

With a study in late 2023 suggesting that 23% of baby boomers are iPhone users, that means that 16,100,000 Americans could benefit from this feature, and they could take market share from Android who has a 55% hold on this demographic.

This appears to be a strategic move to capture more customers and create a point of difference in the earphone market that they already dominate.

What Will Hearing Aid Mode Be Like?

As it stands, there are a number of ways that you can utilize apps to use your Air Pods as sound amplifiers, often taking the sounds they can hear from your microphones and amplifying it into your ears.

The Hearing Aid Mode matched with the new Apple Air Pods Pro 3 will likely be more sophisticated.

Apple Airpods have accessibility features that allow them to function similarly to personal sound amplification products (PSAPs). PSAPs provide amplification to all sounds to make sounds more audible to the wearer. PSAPs cannot be programmed to mute or amplify specific sounds.

Current generation AirPods have features that reduce overall background noise and focus on a single speaker, so hearing in conversation is boosted; this can benefit people with hearing loss who strain to hear correctly in noisy listening environments.

Based on speculation, Apple may introduce features to allow you to self-assess your hearing and utilize features to help in difficult listening environments, although it’s purely speculation at this stage.

We’ll be watching Apple’s June 10 conference to learn more and share any updates on this blog for you.

What Impact Will This Have on Hearing Care?

Before we look forward, let’s look backwards.

When the FDA finalized regulations for over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids in August 2022, there were a lot of question marks for what this would mean for the hearing care industry and the hearing health of individuals.

Leading tech brands such as Jabra and Sony quickly launched their OTC devices into the market in October 2022, and the response was mixed.

The media picked up the story and caused a lot of confusion by declaring that “affordable hearing aids had arrived” and many individuals purchased them. What soon followed was many people realizing that these devices did not deliver on their needs/expectations, and in many cases, they served as a catalyst to seeking a full-time prescription solution.

Unlike the previously launched OTC devices, Apple seems to be taking a different approach and building Hearing Aid Mode functionality into their already best-selling Air Pods, rather than launching a new sole purpose-focused product.

The One Big Concern

As was experienced when over-the-counter hearing aids first reached the market in 2022, the downside is that it causes a lot of confusion.

Between advertising messages and media headlines, many people could be led to believe that Apple Air Pods and Hearing Aid Mode will be just as powerful as standard prescription hearing technology.

This will likely result in people purchasing the new Air Pods, not having the experience that they hoped for, and concluding that addressing their hearing challenges professionally is not the right solution for them.

Though these new features from Airpods offer a myriad of great hearing accessibility features, prescription hearing aids are still superior when it comes to benefits for people with underlying hearing loss. Prescription hearing aids are custom-programmed for the wearer’s specific hearing loss, including real-ear testing, custom adjustments, and the shape and size of the earpiece. This provides specific treatment for each individual’s hearing loss, rather than a more generic hearing boost.

PSAPs and OTC hearing aids cannot be programmed by a provider, and adjustments to the physical fit are minimal. Programming adjustments via the Airpods are presumed to be limited to volume adjustments on the connected device, rather than swapping between different listening environments as needed like many prescription hearing aids can do.

Self-assessment of hearing with an iPhone does not equate to a diagnostic hearing test, and this can cause individuals with a hearing loss to go undiagnosed or miss a serious medical condition causing their hearing loss. While the Hearing Aid Mode may be a useful tool in noisy environments, it should not replace seeking out a diagnostic audiologic evaluation to determine hearing status in each ear.

If the benefit of these devices is unsatisfactory, it may be time to contact an audiology provider for a hearing test and hearing aid discussion.

The Many Positives

This could be one of the biggest steps we’ve ever experienced to addressing the outdated stigma and normalizing the conversation around hearing loss.

The largest—and in some people’s eyes, the coolest—technology brand in the world will be promoting the benefits of better hearing and allowing users to experience what improved hearing could sound like.

It could be the catalyst to changing the conversation around hearing loss, making treatment of hearing challenges far more common, and serve as the initial step to many people seeking a long-term prescription and professional solution.

What’s Next?

We’re closely monitoring this news, continuing to stay at the forefront of the latest announcements and will continue to keep you updated and informed through this blog.

If you would like to join our email newsletter list to continually receive the latest news, then please click here.

Alternatively, if you have any questions, need any assistance, or would like to discuss your hearing concerns, then you can request a callback by clicking here, or find your closest clinic and call us at (410) 944-3100.

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Dr. Melissa Segev Au.D, F.A.A.A.

Dr. Segev, co-owner of Audiology Associates, proudly represents the values of excellent patient care upon which her practice was established in 1977. She understands that to properly treat the patient, excellent state-of-the-art medical testing is required along with acute listening and understanding of the patient’s perceptions of how they are feeling and what their needs might be.

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