It’s allegedly thinking about that in two ways: by using them as part of its health sensor system that also includes the Apple Watch, and by moving into the hearing aid sector.
As reported by Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman in his Power On email newsletter, Apple is investigating two kinds of health monitoring. The first is hearing health: by playing different tones and sounds in your ears, your AirPods could help you screen for hearing issues “not unlike how the Apple Watch ECG app checks for heart problems”.
That’s bad news for existing hearing-health apps, of course. But having it there in every AirPod could mean more people checking their hearing and taking action before things get really bad, and that has to be a plus.
The second form is temperature sensing. The Apple Watch Series 8 and Ultra include body temperature sensing to help with cycle tracking, but it’s not as accurate as, say, an ear thermometer. Apple is reportedly working on integrated temperature sensors that would deliver much more accurate information to your Health app.
How could AirPods become HearPods?
The bit I’m really interested in is in hearing help.
After many decades of standing next to huge guitar amplifiers on small stages, my hearing is absolutely shot but the cost of hearing aids is frightening – largely because in many territories they’re regulated as medical devices, which adds a lot of cost and keeps a lot of people out of the market.
That’s changing, though. In the US, the FDA, which regulates medical devices, has eased the rules on hearing aids. AirPods already offer some hearing aid-style features: the AirPods Pro 2 include Conversation Boost and Live Listen, which are both very helpful but aren’t FDA-approved.
But the FDA has massively relaxed its rules. That’s opened a door that firms such as Sony have already walked through, and Apple’s taking a peek too.
According to Gurman, Apple has hired engineers from traditional hearing aid firms to help it with this move, and I think that’s very exciting: traditional hearing aids don’t benefit from the economies of scale that Apple gets, and that – and the lack of competition – means that hearing assistance is ridiculously expensive. So expensive, in fact, that hearing aids make AirPods Pro 2 sound like budget buys.
According to Which? in the UK, private buyers pay on average £2,700 a pair, more than ten times the price of the AirPods Pro 2. As my own hearing deteriorates, HearPods can’t come quickly enough.