hearing aid market disruption

When, Not if: More Disruptors Entering the Hearing Marketplace

On the heels of Starkey’s announcement of their industry-first partnership with the upstart hearable company, Bragi, more news of other products entering into the ear-level amplification space are emerging. As early as February 21st, hearing care professionals just might get a peek at a new hearing aid option for their patients.

samsung hearing aid galaxy
Will Samsung’s new hearing aid be unveiled this month?

In a report from April 2015, Samsung was said to be preparing to bring a Bluetooth-capable hearing aid to market, to launch alongside the release of their new flagship Galaxy smartphone. Adding legitimacy to the claims that Samsung was indeed serious about getting into the hearing aid industry was a report from BusinessKorea, stating that the company had placed an order for $14 million dollars worth of amplifiers–a necessary component in the manufacture of hearing aids.

 

Galaxy S7 Launch Date Rumors Confirmed

 

We had previously speculated, based upon a number of industry sources, that Samsung would be launching it’s new Galaxy S7 smartphone at this year’s Mobile World Congress on February 21st in Barcelona. HHTM has now received confirmation from Samsung that, indeed, the S7 will be released at the upcoming Mobile World Congress event.

The confirmation of the S7 release date does emphasize the product will utilize virtual reality (VR) but there is no mention of a hearing aid as part of its launch. However, if we take Samsung at their word from last April, they may be planning to release a hearing aid to coincide with the new S7:

 

“…Samsung’s hearing aid project was strongly influenced by Lee Jae-yong, the company’s vice-chairman. Samsung views expansion into the hearing aid market, which chalked up an impressive growth rate in the U.S. of over 11% in the first quarter of 2015, as a potential source of long-term growth for the company.” –Samsung May Soon Enter Hearing Aid Arena, May 5, 2015

 

Sound Radar Hearing Aid Samsung
Depictions of Sound Radar from recent Samsung patent filings. This feature is said to allow the user to select the sound source to ‘enhance’ using a smartphone application.

 

We now know, according to a December 21st report by Michel Groenheijde at Sam Mobile, that Samsung has applied for registration of a trademark for the term Earcle in South Korea, using multiple references to hearing aids in its related products description. In addition, a model number of SM-R790 was also recently registered at the Bluetooth Special Interest Group’s (SIG) database, using a description of Samsung Bluetooth Hearing Aid.

 

Hearing Industry Disruptions Abound

 

At the recently concluded Elite Hearing Network meeting in Cancun, an executive panel of the leading hearing aid manufacturers and retailers posed questions about upstart companies entering their market space.

Executives on the panel generally welcomed the competition; however, they did cite examples of other newcomers failing in their attempts to successfully launch a new hearing aid.

 

One specific example of recent failed attempts to gain traction in the hearing aid industry, mentioned by a panelist, was Panasonic.

 

New market entries, beyond traditional hearing aids, have also been making news. A recent TechCrunch report indicates the much anticipated Augmented Reality (AR) device from Doppler Labs, has begun shipments of its new product to Kickstarter backers.

These devices are being shipped under the name Here Active Listening and are marketed as “audio tuners that let you tune and tweak your own hearing experience.”  Unlike traditional ear buds, the Doppler AR devices allow the end-user to customize the gain and frequency response of the incoming audio signal. The Here Active Listening system also comes with its own recharging station that doubles as a carrying case.

 

doppler labs hearable

 

 

The Doppler Labs press release also mentions the use of programming software, available through the “Here” app, that appears to allow the end-user to control frequency response, noise reduction and gain. It would seem the Doppler Labs product is another example of the continued metamorphosis of hearing aids and off-the-shelf listening buds.

 

*Title image courtesy michelfalcon


6 Comments

  1. As an almost 64 year old audiologist (been doing this for 40 years), I’m glad I’m at the end of my career and not the beginning. I was at the Elite meeting last week and I’m frightened at what lays ahead for our profession. One of my personal observations – a lot of folks are licking their proverbial chops at the masses of baby boomers entering the age when hearing loss becomes the norm and not the exclusion. But our industry needs to realize that many of us will NOT have the discretionary income previous generations have had in retirement and many will seek the less expensive/more affordable options out of necessity. Very few of my friends in my age group have comfortable retirement packages awaiting us and that’s because of how the economy has fluctuated in the last 30 years. It should be an interesting time, for sure.

  2. A huge tech savvy market is coming.

    Most people I know of 70 and below can use Email, Skype and a smartphone.

    Anyone 50 or younger has used computers all their working lives and the 50-70 group contains the geeks who worked to turn the analogue world digital they are actually better qualified to understand hearing aids, gain, frequency and bandwidth than the IT geeks of today.

    Many of our jobs and hobbies have involved tech. We know what can be built for a few pounds if you search eBay carefully.

    I’d happily spend a few £100 on a pair of totally adjustable hearables like those described, but having perfectly acceptable free NHS aids £3000ish is just utterly laughably not happening

  3. I agree with you Sergei…for now. However, if Samsung can manage to help re-brand hearing aids as wearable devices or “hearables” (or apparently Earacles, yuck), in the future I could see other companies (maybe Apple?) following suit. You would take a hearing test on your own phone and then adjust your “hearable” device according to the results. I can see people currently in the under-50 year old market loving this kind of technology – where no direct human interaction is needed to hear better. This would take years to happen, but it’s possible. I don’t like it at all. I have more fear of a successful re-branding of hearing aids than upstarts entering the market. Hearing aid companies better keep a close watch on this.

  4. When will the industry finally stop relying on late stage diagnosis of hearing problems to sell products and recognize that hearing for both conductive and sensorineural hearing patterns usually start within the normal range for level and progress. Waiting to the point in old age when a person as no other choice but to go by a hearing aids clearly is not working out as we have convinced the public that hearing loss is late onset and hearing aids are only for old people who cannot use new technology but should buy it anyway.
    Why not encourage people through what ever method or device to get an early start to stabilizing a hearing problem and provide some less expensive method for the new and younger people to understand that their only option is not just a 4000.00 pair of hearing aids there are other options.
    Stop focusing on what the user cannot do and focus on early hearing change when the user can use advanced hearing testing technology to change their hearing healthcare path. Test early and test often and send the message that a hearing test does not mean you have to buy something that is the wrong message. Stop using the hearing test as a selling tool use it as an educational and empowerment tool.

  5. I don’t see much of this succeeding. The typical user can hardly figure out how to use their remote for cable, operate a DVD player, or use a Kindle. For the tech savvy segment, yes….but how big is this segment?

    1. You’re correct, Sergei. And technology continues to become more and more difficult for those of us who are not tech savvy.

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