Investment in Hearables Continues to Grow Rapidly

Brian Taylor
August 11, 2015

By Brian Taylor, AuD

There have been distant rumblings over the past few years that the devices many consumers are inserting into their ears can do much more than play music–some have the capability of shaping and amplifying speech sounds, monitoring bodily functions and providing a 3-D listening experience.

The one commonality among all these applications is the smartphone, which serves as the hub for personalized control of various acoustic parameters, such as noise reduction and treble/bass control.

Hearables: Growing Trend

These so-called hearables may no longer be space-age gadgets in which future generations of hearing healthcare professionals have to contend. A recent TechCrunch report indicates that funding for hearables has nearly tripled from $12.6 million in 2014 to $31.2 million so far this year.

Ruochen Huang, a writer for TechCrunch, reported last week that nine venture capital funded and crowd-sourced companies have captured over $50 million in revenue since 2009.

Additionally, within the past two months Eargo ($13.6 million) and Doppler Labs ($17 million) have invested substantial sums of money into the development of virtually invisible hearing instruments that provide augmented content through a mobile device.

Influence of Smartphone Apps

Amyn Amlani

Amyn Amlani, Ph.D.

The  impact of how hearables might impact the hearing healthcare market was recently discussed by Amyn Amlani, PhD. Specifically, Amlani, whose research has focused primarily on hearables stemming from smartphone hearing-aid applications, estimates a 3.6% increase in the overall adoption rate of hearing aids, from 24.6% (per MarkeTrak 8)  to 28.2% today.

Dr. Amlani’s research, which is predicated on economic models, hypothesizes that, “smartphone-based technology acts as a funnel, allowing listeners with hearing difficulties to experience first-hand the benefits of amplification with no delays in service delivery and little financial risk. As a listener’s self-efficacy to succeed and outcome increases with smartphone-based technology, there is an increased likelihood of transition from smartphone-technology to hearing aids.”

This hypothesis stems, in part, from recent studies carried out at the University of North Texas, with smartphone-based technology having similar electro-acoustic properties and perceived performance compared to traditional hearing aids.{{1}}[[1]]Amlani AM, Taylor B, Levy C, Robbins, C. (2013). Utility of smartphone hearing aid applications as a substitute to traditional hearing aids. Hear Rev, 20(13), 16-18, 20, 22.[[1]]

More recently, Amlani measured greater self-referral and hearing aid adoption in a group of older adults who completed a self-administered hearing screening, compared to a matched group who underwent a traditional face-to-face hearing screening.{{2}}[[2]]Amlani AM. (2015). Improving patient compliance to hearing healthcare services and treatment through self-efficacy and smartphone applications. Hear Rev, 21(2): 16-20.4[[2]]

The increase in patient’s self-efficacy, or the confidence to complete tasks towards a goal, has the potential to halve the 6 to 12 year waiting period experienced by many individuals with hearing difficulty.

Reducing Stigma, Encouraging Treatment

Finally, in a study presently underway, Amlani and colleagues{{3}}[[3]]Amlani AM, Smaldino J, Hayes D, Taylor B, Gessling E. (unpublished). Using smartphone applications to change attitudes about amplification and hearing loss.[[3]]are assessing whether short–term real world experience with a smartphone hearing-aid application might be useful in modifying attitudes of non-users of hearing aids, and hearing loss in general.

The initial findings of the study suggest that smartphone hearing-aid applications reduce negative attitudes and psychosocial barriers towards hearing aids and hearing loss in both groups, and offer the potential to reduce delays in hearing health intervention.

The same may not be true for Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs), however, because PSAPs too closely resemble “traditional” hearing aids, arousing an increase in stigma, according to Amlani.

*Featured image hearable: Dash by Bragi

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