hearables hearing aids at ces 2022

Top Audio and Hearing Health Takeaways from CES 2022

This week, host Dave Kemp is joined by Giles Tongue, CEO of Chatable, and Karl Strom, Editor-In-Chief of The Hearing Review, to discuss their recent experience at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where a number of audio and hearing-related technologies were on display.

They discuss the implications of the latest trends and key takeaways for the hearing health and audio industries.

Full Episode Transcript

Dave Kemp 0:09
All right. Welcome back, everybody to this Week in Hearing. We have a great guest set this week. We have Giles Tongue and Karl Strom. So why don’t we go one by one let you to introduce yourself. We’ll start with you, Giles.

Giles Tongue 0:23
Hi, morning. I’m Giles, I’m Chatable’s CEO. lovely to be here. Thanks for having me on again. And great to meet you online, Karl.

Dave Kemp 0:33
Awesome, and Karl.

Karl Strom 0:35
I’m Karl Strom. I’m the editor of the Hearing Review. And I’ve been in the industry for about 30 years. And I’ve, this was my first time to CES. That’s the subject of our of the webcast.

Dave Kemp 0:48
So perfect, perfect, perfect, thank you, Karl. And thank you, Giles for both being here today. As Karl mentioned, the the theme of this episode will be all around CES, these two gentlemen attended in what was I guess, a pretty odd year with the you know, omicron wave and the pandemic in general. But the show goes on. And you two, were there. So I figured, you know, for all of us in the industry that didn’t have a chance, whether it’s in the hearing healthcare industry, or just broadly speaking, in the audio industry, really just wanted to kind of get a sense of what went on what really stood out to you, and how you’re sort of interpreting what 2022 might look like, following the heels of this event. So Karl, why don’t we start with you, you just mentioned that it was your first time attending CES. So I guess just what were some of your takeaways from this year’s event?

Karl Strom 1:43
Well, you know, having attended, you know, for the past almost 30 years, the AAA and and EUHA and ADA and IHS and those types of things. It’s just really daunting. How large of the CES convention is, I mean, there were 2200 exhibitors there. 45,000 attendees. And usually, and that’s about a third of what there usually is, from what I’m told, there’s usually about 150,000, but because of COVID, and probably was a super spreader event, right, even though everybody had masks on and did whatever they took, we took tests before we went in into the hall. And I think they did as good a job as they could do it, you know, but just the just the sheer magnitude of the event, there’s three, basically, there’s three different convention halls and actually four because the Las Vegas Convention Hall utilized both of its centers, so and they’re separated, but they’re gigantic, right, I mean, the Samsung – and I’m not exaggerating – the Samsung booth probably would have taken up maybe a third of the triple a convention, it you know, I mean, these are huge exhibits, and they have everything from self driving cars to things that water your lawn, you know, and there’s one particularly interesting one in the Venetian where, where I met Giles, you know, where it’s all started, it’s basically startups in there, in there grouped by different countries. So, you know, just, I just found the whole thing daunting, you know, there’s, you know, kind of relative to hearing care, of course, there’s hearables, and in those types of things, but there’s accessibility, you know, products, headphones, and personal audio, wearable technologies, health and wellness, home audio, e-gaming, which my boys, I took pictures for my boys, you know, smart homes, and streaming and embedded technologies, all of these different things that really are going to, you know, in my view are going to seep into hearing, you know, hearing care, technology, anything that can foster independent living for, for older adults. All of that is, is there and you know, in the form of startups, there’s probably, you know, not just Giles but you know, Elon, another Elon Musk, or, you know, somebody walking around there. It’s it’s very impressive,

Dave Kemp 4:25
huh, that’s awesome. And Giles, you said this is this was your 10th CES that you attended. So what was your perspective?

Giles Tongue 4:32
Well that was a great overview from Carl because you can you can kind of forget how big the places I mean, for anyone from the UK, if you’ve been to the ExCeL Center in London, which is a massive place with loads of halls in them, it’s a big event, they’re using lots and lots of halls. You could probably fit the whole thing inside one of the Vegas halls. I mean, and if you’ve not been to Vegas before, you know if you’ve got a meeting in one hotel and you’ve got to go to another that could be a 20 minute journey, just walking from one hotel to the other. But for anyone who’s been to CES before if I told you I, you know, I wouldn’t have had to queue for a single taxi that would blow your mind because normally you’re queueing for about an hour. So that gives you a kind of feel for the attendance of the show. It was unusual from that perspective. I mean, there were a lot of carpet spaces where there should have been booths and some big gaps. Yeah, I first went in in 2012. So I’ve seen a lot of different shows. This is the first time which may be of interest to you that I’ve met more audiologists than I’ve met CTOs. So it was really interesting. I mean, obviously, my focus now I used to work in different areas of consumer electronics, whether it was protective phone cases, or wearable tech. And this time, I’m there focused clearly on hearing. But yeah, to see so many hearing focused brands, and I’m talking about not just endless numbers of earbuds, but also, you know, Jabra were there, Eargo were there Rion, the Japanese hearing aid manufacturer represented me, me and others, you know, there was a whole bunch of guys that would be familiar to us from the hearing, hearing aid, hearing loss, hearing help space that were there at the Consumer Electronics Show, which I think is really indicative of what we’ve got to look forward to over the next couple of years. In terms of big themes, I mean, there was always a big theme there. And somehow all of the manufacturers in the Far East get ahead of the game and arrive at CES with their demonstrations on whatever the big theme is. And you know, way back when it was phone cases, you can move for phone cases, and then it was drones. And then there were hoverboards. And this year, I was looking for a big theme. And it could be because I’m kind of in the eye of the storm. But to me, the only real prevailing theme was probably ear buds. And there were a lot of ear buds companies you’ve never heard of as well as many of you have. And that really is kind of indicative of this gold rush that’s happening at the moment, you know, everyone can see this forecast for 2 billion units being sold over the next four years. I mean, I don’t think there’s ever been a faster growing section or segment of consumer electronics before. So there’s this massive Gold Rush charging into the space and the battleground at the moment is active noise cancellation, I think, but what people are talking about, and what they’re asking about is hearing, hearing accommodations, hearing health hearing enhancement, you know, OTC for all these guys who are making earbuds today they’re looking at OTC and thinking that we got a role to play in that how can we get involved? You know, what do we need to do? How are we going to do it and you know, I can talk about some of the, the observations I’ve had from from that space, but from a difference to previous years, yeah, that the volume of people attending and displaying was lower, but the quality of conversations was much deeper. So luckily, if you did have a good conversation to be had, you would tend to be more relaxed in it and be able to spend more time in it rather than, uh I’m late for this one, I’m going to get to that one. And I don’t even know where it is, it’s probably miles away. And sorry, let’s just do this in two minutes. And I’ll catch up in a few weeks, there was none of that this time, it was very much more relaxed. So

Karl Strom 8:10
if I’d like I’d like that, it was a blessing in disguise for me, because if you’re walking around and you need to talk to people, they have time to talk to you at the booth instead of having to, instead of having to talk to a real customer, right, who might be buying your, you know, your or distribution of their, of your product. Right. Yeah. So I, you know, I totally agree, you know, one of the from kind of the reverse angle, one of the things that just impressed me, you know, I’m so ensconced in hearing and all of that all the time, you know, you know, hearing healthcare that we have these two worlds that are colliding, you know, the consumer electronics and, and hearing healthcare and, you know, it just is interesting as you’re walking around, like like Giles said, there’s there’s a lot of earbud companies and things like that and, and a lot of products that you would think they might have more interest in, in the hearing in the hearing healthcare sphere, but really, our market is so much smaller than the than the consumer market that for some of them, I was talking this person from Shokz and they make this kind of cool conduct conducting

Dave Kemp 9:32
Yeah, Aftershockz

Karl Strom 9:34
or for for listening to music. And you know, it’s kind of a TransEar type of type of thing, that that you think that would be that kind of technology. It’s not that they’re not interested. I’m not trying to imply that they’re not interested in conductive hearing loss, but there’s such a bigger market for them, that they’re concentrating on and you know, as you’re, as you’re walking along, talking to some of these companies. That was that was an interesting kind of aha moment for me like, oh, you know, I mean, we sell 17 million hearing aids, you know, globally. And, you know, there’s, I wrote it down, there’s like 1.52 billion smartphones and for 445 million headphones, and 261 million computers. And, you know, we’ve got a $6 billion market in the in the US and, you know, you’re talking about just these giant consumer electronics markets that were that were an important niche. And of course, our our profit margins are different from from those, but it’s still, we’re still really small, right?

Dave Kemp 10:49
Well I think that what’s what’s interesting, you know, kind of going back to what Giles was saying, where you have these themes, and so much of it, I always relate back to Chris Anderson, who is the CEO of 3d Robotics, and I’ve mentioned this before on some of these different podcasts. But his piece that he wrote about, it was titled ‘The Peace Dividends of the Smartphone War’. It just feels like everything that we’re seeing in consumer electronics today really is kind of a derivative of just the economies of scale from the sheer smartphone proliferation that’s occurred. And, you know, it’s like every single year, it, you know, the more miniaturized devices become more and more feasible. So it makes sense to me that, like, we now live in this era, where in 2022, the ear bud is such a focus, because you can now with all of the innovation that’s been taking place around like the digital signal processing chips, and just the idea of like these things really becoming computers that reside in your ears, and what that all unlocks, has sort of now come to fruition. And I think that that coincides with just the revolution in audio broadly speaking, I mean, you can see it, I think, lots of people watching this today, you know, you can watch it on YouTube, or you can just listen, you know, as a podcast, and personally speaking, like I consume podcasts all the time now, because there’s just such a high quality of all kinds of different content, because so many creators are creating in that space and making it and it’s so easily available, and you can do it on the go. And so it’s like the, the the demand to wear these types of devices for longer periods of time. As that goes up, it really does start to create new standards. And I think that’s really what’s been occurring over these last few years is like, as Giles said, active noise cancellation now is becoming something that is a, you know, a basically a baseline standard feature that people just assume to have. And I think that if you look at what’s happening in the hearing healthcare space right now, especially with the consumer electronics side, with partnerships, like Mimi, and Skullcandy, you’re now seeing that, that trend very well may kind of come to fruition with hearing health as well, where you need to have a rudimentary level of hearing personalization that’s just baked into something even like $100 pair of headphones. And so to me, it’s like, where does that lead? Because you mentioned it, Karl, like this idea that if we sort of look at the hearing health market, just solely by a hearing aid unit sold, it is a really small market, but I feel as if for the longest time, that market really has catered toward the highest levels of severity with hearing us, right. And so it’s like, now what, what I think is going to be really interesting to see is how much demand is there for situational amplification for just turning on this hearing personalization for one use case throughout your day. Maybe it’s not even for like your ambient environment. It’s just for streaming or for the Zoom calls that you have. And where does that lead? I mean, does that like generate this new appetite for consumers to say I want more of this? And is that really ultimately what grows the market is this sort of trickle of demand into greater and greater levels of sophistication of personalization and amplification? Largely because that the most basic levels have become standardized across the board. It’s just a new feature that every single pair of headphones sold in 2023, or 2024. has baked into it. And that’s to me, that’s going to open the door on so many new possibilities of where the Aryan healthcare market can start to dabble in a much more broad way. I don’t know what it looks like but that’s kind of where my head’s at right now.

Karl Strom 14:47
Before you even started started in you know, the situation that that was one of the things that I thought would be interesting to talk about the situational use of this technology, whether it’s Giles technology or, or other other technologies and kind of an app based system of, of dragging what you need into it. And when you need it into a device is really interesting. And it’s very kind of counter to what audio, you know, to what audiologists and hearing aid specialists have kind of gauged their success on over the years is, is you got to wear this thing for, you know, at least 12 hours a day. I’m not saying and I’m not saying that, that has to change, I’m just saying that there are other things out there particularly in the mild to moderate loss that in the OTC where that that mode of success and satisfaction might not apply.

Giles Tongue 15:52
Yeah, totally. So, so I’m looking at this space from from a number of angles, I mean, your overview that Dave was spot on, we’ve got sort of Bluetooth, which is enabling ear buds to kind of be a functional thing. And then all the use cases of podcasts and music streaming phone calls, voice UI, which I know you’re you’re very close to. So there’s all these different drivers, which are making earbuds, you know, a thing. And then on top of that, we’ve got some really interesting things going on, in the kind of development side of things. So the advancements of chips like the Knowles chip that we’re on, which is enabling for the first time, a very advanced AI to run in an era of low power. We then have some some other companies, which I’ll just talk about for a second. That’s okay. So we got DSPC DSP concepts, DSPC, who’ve developed a framework called Audio Weaver. And if you jump on the website, you’ll be able to see how this works. It’s basically a very intuitive almost drag and drop means by which you can, as a developer pick and choose which audio features you want to deploy on your earbud. And it comes with a development board that you can then you’ve downloaded, you’re either know your phone call one, maybe put chat one there, maybe you’ve put something else. And then you’ve got this board with your headphones on. So you can hear what all sounds like. And if you didn’t like that combination, or let’s pick and choose some others. I mean, how fast is that going to be to get to market, it’s extraordinary. And then another company, Sonical.ai, they’ve got a similar thing with it with a platform where they call it apps for the ears. So now, you can pick and choose. And this is not just the developer, this time, this is actually the end user. So the end user of this, if there’s an earbud using their platform, they can pick and choose which, which apps they want to hear. So if they want hearing enhancement in whichever flavor, then they can have that, you know, they want spatial audio or different types of ANC. And you know, there’s 10 different vendors of ANC now. So we can have all of those different things. So another really dexterous and fast, and you know, these things can be in market in 12 months. So really, really fast development. And then a slightly different flavor, which I’ve just mentioned, is a UK based company called Mymanu who’ve developed a an earbud system, it’s one of these ones with a with the system on the shoulder as well. And their system is entirely standalone. So it’s got an e-Sim in it, it’s got enough processing and storage to host apps. So the whole thing is basically free of a smartphone. So now you can have a whole platform, you know, a whole operating system and world on your, on your shoulders. And again, you’re then downloading your hearing accommodation, whatever else you want on there, straight onto the system, and you’re free, have a smartphone. So we’re really getting close to this operating system on the ear, you know, computer on the ear, there’s always different descriptions for this, which then removes the smartphone.

Karl Strom 18:48
And then you have you know, and then to build on what Giles is saying, you know, there’s other there were other exhibitors there, IDUN technologies, and I don’t I don’t expect to understand or I don’t pretend to understand everything that they do. But it uses EEGs and some things, obviously some other technologies and cloud based computing to kind of figure out your physiological needs and what they call actionable insights, I think into into what the device should be doing at the time. Wisear is another one that takes physiological indicators and, you know, and employs them into for us to be the processing or turning up the volume or whatever, you know, gain or whatever would be. But you know, I mean, to, to Giles point, there’s all these all these really kind of what, you know, we’re kind of science fiction stuff just 10 years ago. Steaming towards us.

Dave Kemp 19:46
Yeah, and I think that the really again, the the enabling factor of all this is the fact that these devices have become conducive to being able to operate almost independently with an iOS baked into it, right? I know Bragi has been trying to do this as well and be the operating system for all of the different applications. And so it sort of like begs the question of what does this look like, you know, in terms of the how does this all kind of work from? Are you paying in terms of subscriptions? You know, are you is this something where you kind of the widget becomes very much commoditized, and you’re layering on all of these different features. I mean, I think it’s reasonable to think that you could even have hearing aids that are very much just prescribed to your hearing loss, and you’re just subscribing to that, you know, you’re subscribing basically, to the algorithm, I mean, if and when the time comes when these devices really do become truly commoditized. And I’m not suggesting that’s like going to happen anytime soon, or that, you know, there are medical grade hearing aids that really are designed for these very high levels of hearing loss. But I do think that, you know, you kind of walk this, this walk this trajectory out a little bit, and you think through, like, what will the next three to five years look like, as people just continually become more and more conditioned to subscribe for services, and the hardware isn’t really the focus anymore, it’s what you layer on to the hardware. And that’s where I think like what Giles has, is incredibly interesting when you think about it, because it really might be at the forefront of this, which is, look, you know, this is something that, you know, you think of you have the you have this processor, baked on the AI Sonic, Knowles chip. And so these chips become more and more pervasive. So it’s really something that you can turn off and on. And you just decide I want that feature. And, you know, it’s the feasibility of all this seems to be increasingly more and more likely, is I guess what I’m suggesting?

Giles Tongue 21:57
What happens if somebody creates a piece of hardware that’s just super powerful? It’s got everything you need from a hardware point of view, but they give it away. And now you you pay for the subscriptions of all this stuff? I mean, I imagine someone will have a crack at that.

Dave Kemp 22:12
Right? Yeah. So with CES, I guess I appreciate you two sharing some of the different companies that you saw. Was there. I know that you had said Giles, you talked to a whole lot of audiologists this year clearly, like this whole idea of hearing health, consumer electronics, the marriage of the two is becoming more and more of a theme. How are you thinking about 2022? In particular, I guess the short term horizon? I think we all have thoughts on what maybe the longer term horizon looks like here as things progress. But how are you imagining the like, what are you anticipating to be maybe some of the milestones to keep an eye out for here this year, or even next year as sort of the first forays into this brave new world?

Giles Tongue 23:01
Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it? I mean, every time I open LinkedIn, it looks like Sonova has done something else. So they clearly had the whiteboard out over the last couple of years trying to work out where their positions gonna be. And so I think from from the hearing aid side, they’re probably looking at this space and going, okay, there’s a whole world of mild and mod, which is probably outside the clinic, and what’s our role going to be in that space? And do we do it ourselves? Do we acquire someone? Do we create a new brand? Or, you know, what’s our expertise? How far can we stretch it? And do we partner with people do we license, you know, there’s a whole bunch of different options there, which, which they could or they do nothing, and just stay in the clinics and, you know, severe, profound, mostly, you know, so from the hearing aid side, that’s one thing. And then on the consumer electronic side, we’ve got the existing incumbents, people like Apple, and you know, this year, I think everyone’s going to start talking about Apple a bit more, because, you know, I keep nudging certain people in the in the hearing industry saying I can’t see Apple on your, on your competitive landscape there. So, you know, Apple have dropped an AirPods, it’s got half market share, it’s got hearing accommodations, you know, it’s enhancing transparency mode with with, you know, inputs from an audiogram. You know, so they’re clearly in that space, and we shouldn’t ignore that. But then we’ve got a bunch of other companies like Bose and so forth, who are making OTC products, which look like hearing aids which are sold through Best Buy, you can find it which I haven’t been able to this week, actually, that’s a whole nother story. And then a bunch of other companies like Noopl who obviously we work closely with who are addressing hearing loss from different form factor products. And then all the other earbud companies, whether they’re existing airbud companies or people who are in the space of audio, maybe they make headphones, maybe they’d make speakers or something who are both looking at this enormous growth in earbuds, 2 billion earbuds over the next four years and thinking, well, maybe we should be in that space. And then they’re thinking, Well, what’s our differentiation? What’s our feature? And a lot of them are looking at hearables hearing health, hearing something, and trying to work out what is it we’re going to do? And the trouble a lot of them have is that the incumbent teams in the office are not medical people, they’re not, you know, so there’s a bit of a fear factor as to do we go full on OTC which is a medical device and build a product that’s going to require a whole infrastructure to support that, or is there a sort of gentle step that we can take, which is, you know, halfway towards it, and then we’ll figure out the longer term plan. So I think this year, there’s gonna be a hell of a lot of, you know, chin scratching going on, and maybe we’ll see some speculative products coming in, which is sort of tentative steps towards something. And the great unknown, as you know, is this rush of people with mild and moderate, you know, into Best Buy, going to materialize? Is that actually going to be a thing? So, yeah, it’s gonna be a hell of an interesting journey for the next next few years. And, and I think, you know, with with Chatable, we’re in it, we’re in a good place, because we can kind of be useful in lots of those different scenarios, whether you’re looking at a medical device to, you know, help with conversation and noise, or you’re just looking for a feature that enables you to keep your ANC in, and now you can hear conversation, you know, we can do all of those things. So, luckily, I’m kind of right in the middle of it. So it’s, it’s fun time to really,

Karl Strom 26:28
you know, in terms of the short term, it’s also very interesting, Giles mentioned how Sonova’s you know, with their whiteboard and that kind of thing, but you know, I mean, GN is another very interesting, you know, how they have a position in both stances and I went to see the Jabra Enhance Plus and met with met with them and, you know, the, the two it’s, you know, the Jabra Enhance Plus is basically the convergence of Jabra, and, you know, GN Hearing – GN Audio and GN Hearing and, and it was it’s very impressive. You know, the, the earbud that they have is, it tunes itself tunes to your to your hearing loss. It’s, you know, it will stream music as 10 hours of battery life. It’s, it’s a, it’s a really slick system.

Giles Tongue 27:24
unbelievably small too isn’t it?

Karl Strom 27:26
Yeah it’s very, it’s very discreet. And, you know, after you tune it, you have basically three options and walk around the convention floor and tried it out. It’s very impressive, like Giles assessment. It’s very, it’s very impressive. This, this one has directional microphones, of course, but it’s really effective. And these are the kinds of, you know, exactly the types of things that, you know, that one would envision for the OTC market, right? It’s interesting. What’s interesting to me is we do have some good products, you know, there’s a lot of garbage, amplification garbage, out there, and we know that. But there are some really good products out there. You know, whether it’s Nuheara or Lucid or Alango, or Lexie, or you know, you can go on and on, right, there’s, you well, you can’t go on forever, but, but there’s some good products out there. And, and they really haven’t caught fire. And so that that kind of, as the devil’s advocate, you know, everybody’s talking about OTC and everything like that. And you just wonder how quickly it will catch on, I think, as part of the consumer devices, and you mentioned apple, and I totally agree. I mean, they, they have a, they’ve got a, as always, they have a brilliant product. But they don’t even you know, they don’t even advertise it as a, as a, you know, a hearing loss compensator or a PSAP or anything like that they don’t care. They’re their markets big enough, where it’s just another tack on for, for help helping the people use their products. And, and so it’s how all this is falling out with GN you know, I was going to get back to how GN bought Steelseries, you know, for $1.2 billion you know, and it it’s, you know, now bout Lively and, you know, there’s all kinds of very interesting things going on in our industry and for those, you know, for those audiologists who are in hearing care, you know, hearing practice owners who are a little edgy about, well, how what’s going to happen with brick and mortar, you know, the recent purchase of Alpaca you know, announced yesterday shows that they’re that at least the industry thinks brick and mortars pretty important still.

Dave Kemp 30:10
Yeah, no, that’s a great, I love what both of you said there, I was gonna mention the Steelseries acquisition too, because, you know, it seems sort of esoteric and abstract from a hearing health standpoint. But just as you mentioned Jabra, what you need to really understand I think, as an audiologist and somebody in hearing health, the relevance of that is it’s a new sandbox for them to learn from. And you have to know that there is so much happening in that sort of virtual gaming environment from spatial audio and all kinds of different innovation that will bleed into these other offerings, in the same way that Jabra Enhance Plus really is kind of like the best of both worlds, they’ve taken a lot of the really great streaming and, you know, pro audio elements of Jabra, and then combined it with a lot of the hearing health stuff from GN. So they’re creating a more total, I think, just a bigger understanding internally of how you can take some of these different features that really resonate in certain sectors, and then start to translate them into others. And I agree with you to Karl, I mean, I think that the brick and mortar is is incredibly important. We see this across the board. I mean, you had it Alpaca got bought not long ago, I know. What’s it called, Demant’s retail arm bought, HearingLife, they bought AudPractice Group, which is in the Carolinas for, you know, they had like 43 stores or something like that. So the there’s tons and tons of vertical integration that’s happening in this industry right now. And I think that the thesis that a lot of these manufacturers have his Yes, of course, the OTC market is somewhere that we want to be and we want to partake in. But we want to funnel those ultimately into the lifecycle of these patients and eventually make sure that they’re fit with our hearing aids as well. And so I do I think that the question for me, like, personally, I don’t really perceive OTC as being disruptive to the status quo really at all. Because I think it’s a separate market. I think it’s a growing expanding market, there might be a little bit of cannibalization, where some people decide to go the Self-fit route. But I, by and large think that the people that are going and seeing an audiologist today will continue to see an audiologist because there’s demand for that people want to see a professional and you see it in some of the MarkeTrak data that’s that shows that, you know, the satisfaction rate of seeing a hearing professional is something that people cite as being you know, I think like 86% of people or something along those lines, say that if you were given the option, again, would you go this route? They say yes, because they see a lot of value in that. So I don’t think anybody’s like suggesting that the role of the provider is going to diminish at all, I think the bigger question is, what does the role of the provider look like in this new market? And and that’s, I think that that the question that, like we as an industry are going to have to grapple with over these next few years is, Will providers by and large, want to just continue to cater to those higher degrees of severity, or will some of them really take it upon themselves to insert themselves into these lower degrees of severity, establishing those relationships, and having a more total offering that appeals to these people that maybe it’s not even device based, maybe it’s all service based, that’s around, let’s orient you and make sure we really understand where you sort of fit on this spectrum of hearing loss. And it’s knowingly a journey that, you know, we want to preserve what you have. And I’m going to be your trusted advisor along the way. And we’re going to flip you into different types of devices along the way, which initially might just start out with something as simple as hair have these AirPods Pro, you’re going to love them for all these different things, or whatever consumer brand out there. And I’m going to show you how to use a situational amplification feature called Chatable. That’s going to be great for these challenging situations that you’re describing to me, whether it be in the conference room at work, or it be you know, at the noisy dinner table, when you go out to eat with friends, you know, those are opportunities that I think the provider is well positioned to serve, because I don’t know who else is going to do that. Who else is going to educate these people, that these types of things exist? And so I’ve said this, like in a number of different ways throughout this in my podcast is just to say that I just think it’s all going to sort of fall on the onus of how much do the providers really want to insert themselves into this market. And it’s kind of upon them to determine that I feel like

Karl Strom 34:51
and I totally agree with it. I think it’s a different it’s a it’s a different market. I don’t think anybody’s you know, going be able to sustain a practice. For, you know, for very long selling a $400 $500 OTC device, but, you know, having your hand in that and being all things to you know it all along the journey all along the customer journey is a really important thing. And, and I think you’re absolutely right the the the the consumer, the consumers who have who recognize they have a serious hearing loss recognize it as a health problem which it is, and and want to go to a you know, by and large they, they they’re willing to try out something until it doesn’t work anymore or works less effectively. And then they’ll go to and then they’ll go to a healthcare professional for it, which is an audiologist or hearing aids specialist.

Giles Tongue 35:47
Yeah, totally. I agree with that. I mean, if I’ve got a problem myself, or my kids or my mom, I’m going straight to the audiologist, right? You know, that’s, that’s the expert, I’m going to the expert, I’m not going to mess around for weeks and weeks experimenting with stuff, I’m going straight to the expert. So absolutely, that’s, that’s the path that I think will will stay there. Broadly speaking, this interest in OTC is creating a real playground for new innovation. So with more interest, there’s more investment into new technologies. And hopefully, it creates more options, whether those are price points, form factors, new tech by cars, but it’s sucking in all of this stuff. And hopefully, that then creates this huge toolbox from which should an audiologist want to they can they can play with. So they’ve just now got a whole bunch of different options, as you said Dave different, you know, situate so if somebody walks in with a situation or, you know, struggling noisy restaurant or whatever, then there’s a solution for them, you know, and, you know, there’s plenty of options for the audiologist now to bring into their practice, should should they wish to, as you said, Karl, you know, this, this could be about, you know, you’ve spent some money bringing somebody into the clinic, you know, advertising, marketing, whatever, you know, advertising, hey, we’re here, we’ll help you in your, in your moment of need. In comes the patient, and now they’ve got this huge range of stuff that’s hopefully going to help deal with their problem. And then they’re on the books, and then you know, let’s keep talking over here as much like you would with the dentist or anybody else, you know, let’s just keep you know, pop in for next year. Let’s see how you getting on. And maybe we’ll move you on to a different solution.

Karl Strom 37:21
And then Giles, from you know, from a you know, from an investment standpoint, I mean, you’re you’re in you’re in that sphere. How do you see investments flowing into hearing a technology?

Giles Tongue 37:36
Yeah, so I’d love to say there’s a big sort of waterfall that I’m standing underneath. I think it will come I think, you know,

Karl Strom 37:49
not quite that way?

Giles Tongue 37:51
Well, to some extent, we could call this a deregulation of a regulated industry, right. And that is going to be appealing to certain investors, we are talking about medical or you know, on the on the sides of medical. So that’s not for everyone. So there’s a bunch of age tech investors will be interested in the space AARP and others. And I think we’ll see more as the as the momentum gathers, probably what’s more, more likely at the moment is existing players, whether they’re earbuds or otherwise will be looking for new technologies, and that hopefully will help companies like ours, get some traction, get some movement, and then we can attract more traditional investment on the back of that traction. So without this all happening without the, you know, I can walk into most earbud companies now and they’re having these conversations, whereas maybe 18 months ago, they wouldn’t have been because there wasn’t the imminent arrival of OTCs so now they question themselves going, Oh, should we maybe look into these kinds of technologies, we might get some traction, and then we can go and raise on the back of that traction. So it does become affiliate for ongoing investment. But yeah, I haven’t found the magic money tree yet.

Dave Kemp 39:02
Yeah, um, you know, I think that to kind of just put a bow on this conversation. You know, I’m an optimist and as a glass half full. Look at this. I would say that what you said Giles is right, is that maybe the best way to really look at the OTC market from the vantage of the hearing health world is that it’s more investment, it’s more money toward innovation, that ultimately might lead to just a more holistic suite of solutions. I mean, it’s a all of this stuff, I think, is more ammunition for the provider, in terms of what they can do to service their patient. And I think that’s ultimately a really good thing because I think that it for a long time, this has sort of been a one size fits all sort of solution. And I think that we’re very quickly moving this in this direction where It’s lots and lots of optionality that’s starting to really enter into the market, different strokes for different folks. And, you know, we’ve seen time and time again, that the penetration rates sort of, of, you know, these types of products. And we see all these different alarming statistics about, you know, first it’s how prevalent hearing losses, and now we’re seeing all these potential comorbidities that are linked to it, the link between cognition and all of that. And so I think that we, the stakes are really high right now. And I think that we do sort of need a new approach. And it feels to me like the Calvary kind of is here. And it’s coming from this consumer electronics side of the market, because it’s finally become enabled to do so. And again, that goes back to what I had said earlier is the the iPhone came out in, you know, 2005 2006, whatever. So we’re like 15-17 years past that now. And what we’ve seen is this slow progression toward the peace dividends of the smartphone war, and all walks of life, consumer electronics, everything is becoming more and more feasible from a power standpoint, from an independent operational standpoint, you know, these things are just more and more viable than than ever before. And I think that just ultimately lends itself to again, there’s just going to be more and more things available to people to treat these things in ways that they actually feel comfortable with, rather than forcing something on them and saying, This is the only option you have.

Giles Tongue 41:34
Yeah totally. I mean, I see innovation coming from everywhere. And I was thinking about the Steelseries piece, when you were talking just there about how, you know, noise exposure, and noise induced hearing loss is going to become one of the big issues of this generation, you know, constant use of earbuds at excessive volumes, causing noise induced hearing loss. And I would imagine that gamers sitting there with headphones on for a long time is going to be an element of that. And I wonder if GN will take their expertise towards that. And look at the more preventative and hearing health, you know, as a pre pre activity, you know, how can we turn the volume down better quality audio at a lower volumes, still going to be as good, so let’s do that. So there’s really interesting thing there. And actually, on the investment, I just remembered, you know, Mimi raised 25 million, they’ve been around for a number of years. So that has obviously changed, you know, obviously, they’ve done well as a business and got lots of traction. But that’s not a small chunk of change. So yes, there is encouragement for new tech in the space and innovation coming from all sides from the incumbents and new players. And, you know, other people on the fringes are just sort of developing new tech. So yeah, really exciting space. Really, really exciting.

Karl Strom 42:51
And I think such a, you know, I mean, and like Giles said, I mean, that’s one of the themes, not the theme, but, you know, one of the underlying themes of a lot of the in a lot of the technologies being showcased at CES was hearables and had to do in some way shape or form could have something to do with our market. And and I you know, I think that’s, it’s all really encouraging. And it’s it just goes to show how we’re in a really interesting we’re in a really interesting space for, for a lot of different a lot of different things.

Dave Kemp 43:27
Couldn’t agree more. Well, thank you so much for joining today. This has been such a great thought provoking conversation, really appreciate sort of a recap of what you saw at CES. I hope that I can make it next year. It sounds like a more and more relevant event for those of us in the hearing healthcare industry. And I’ve been meaning to grab a beer with both of you. So some something to look forward to in the future. So thanks for everybody who tuned in here and we will chat with you next time.

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About the Panel

Giles Tongue, is the CEO of Chatable, an industry leading Artificial Intelligence start-up. Founded in 2017 with investment from US billionaire Mark Cuban and headquartered in London, UK.


Karl Strom is the editor-in-chief of The Hearing Review and has been reporting on hearing healthcare issues for over 25 years.


Dave Kemp is the Director of Business Development & Marketing at Oaktree Products and the Founder & Editor of Future Ear. In 2017, Dave launched his blog, FutureEar.co, where he writes about what’s happening at the intersection of voice technology, wearables and hearing healthcare. In 2019, Dave started the Future Ear Radio podcast, where he and his guests discuss emerging technology pertaining to hearing aids and consumer hearables. He has been published in the Harvard Business Review, co-authored the book, “Voice Technology in Healthcare,” writes frequently for the prominent voice technology website, Voicebot.ai, and has been featured on NPR’s Marketplace.


About HHTM

HHTM's mission is to bridge the knowledge gaps in treating hearing loss by providing timely information and lively insights to anyone who cares about hearing loss. Our contributors and readers are drawn from many sectors of the hearing field, including practitioners, researchers, manufacturers, educators, and, importantly, consumers with hearing loss and those who love them.

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