Apple’s Growing Interest in Hearing Health and How it Could Reshape Public Perception on Hearing Loss

apple hearing health otc hearing aids
July 24, 2023

This week, Dave Kemp and Andrew Bellavia sit down for a conversation about recent rumors that Apple is planning to get further involved into the hearing space and whether or not the company would actually consider producing an OTC hearing aid.

Due to Apple’s massive size and cultural influence, they discuss how the company could positively influence societal perceptions around treating hearing loss and address stigma.

**Interested readers may also be interested in last week’s discussion on AirPods as a hearing aid substitute, with Dr. Nicky Chong-White from the National Acoustic Laboratories in Australia

Full Episode Transcript

All right, everybody,

and welcome to another episode

of this Week in Hearing.

I am thrilled to be joined by

the great Andy Bellavia. Andy,

thanks so much for coming

on today. How you doing?

Doing great.

My question for you is who’s the

host and who’s the guest here?

I guess technically I’m the host

and you’re the guest

on this one,

although I’m sure our roles will

continue to keep flipping

throughout the conversation.


It’s a pleasure to talk

together with you.

You and I haven’t done one of

these in quite a long time.

I know it’s been a little while.

We’ve done them on the Future

Ear Radio podcast years ago.

But it’s been a little bit since

you and I have had a chance to

sit down and just kind of banter

a bit about some of the things

that are percolating in our

worlds and kind of where our

thinking is with that.

You’re one of the people I

most enjoy to hear from,

kind of your feedback and your

thinking about the changing

Hearing healthcare landscape.

So for today’s conversation,

I thought it might be a fun one

to discuss some of these rumors

that are coming out around

Apple’s upcoming AirPods

refurbish or next model that’s

coming out. So Mark Gurman,

who is a Apple analyst and

usually pretty spot on

with his predictions,

put out a piece for Bloomberg

back on July 2,

just kind of talking about some

of the different possibilities

that he’s hearing about what the

next iteration of AirPods

can look like.

And he basically suggests that

we might be seeing more

sensors added.

So something you and I have

talked a lot about in

the past is like,

the ear being this really great

home for biometric monitoring.

And one example of this would

be body temperature,

because your tympanic membrane

obviously radiates your

body temperature,

so you can gather that metric in

a way that maybe is harder

to do at the wrist.

So we might kind of see again,

that theme of

data synergy and being able to

collect biometrics from multiple

inputs and then kind of bringing

it all under one roof

a la Apple health.

So that’s one interesting

possibility that we should

talk through.

And then I think also just this

whole idea that they’re moving

further and further into the

hearing health market.

He said that separately,

Apple is exploring how it could

better position AirPods

as a hearing aid,

a 10 billion a year market

that’s ripe for reinvention.

Apple has already added hearing

aid like features such as

Conversation Boost

and Live Listen,

but they don’t have regulatory

approval. Last year. The US.

Food and Drug Administration

eased hearing aid

purchase rules,

allowing for over the counter

sales without exam

or prescription.

That’s created more

of an opening.

And Apple has and has hired

engineers from traditional

hearing aid makers as

part of this effort.

And he goes on to suggest that

they might actually have their

own kind of like pure tone

audiometry test that could

be done. I mean,

right now you basically have to

use like a third party in there,

like a Mimi or something

like that.

But you can kind of

see with Apple,

they lay the foundation for

future generations of hardware

with the software.

And I think if you look

at Apple Health,

you can kind of see some of the

clues that they’re probably

going to move further

into the space,

namely with this example being

the opportunity for you to

upload an audiogram into Apple.

So it wouldn’t surprise me if

that becomes more of a first

party application instead of

being reliant on third

party applications.

So I think it just continues to

suggest that Apple is probably

looking at moving further into

the healthcare space in general.

It’s wearables.

I think that’s kind of the big

use case that they’ve landed on

with both the watch and then I

think it’s a possibility

that down the line,

AirPods become more of a health

based tool as they layer on

biometric sensors and some

of this different hearing

healthcare features

and functionality.

So I just wanted to have you on.

I think it’s just kind of

fun to think through.

What would the ramifications be?

None of us know the answers to

what Apple’s actually

going to do.

It’s just $3 trillion company

that I think is worth


especially with their

AirPods offering.

So what are your thoughts here,


in terms of how do you see Apple

progressing into the hearing

healthcare space? And just like,

broadly speaking,

what’s your sense of what we can

expect from Apple with regard to

the hearing healthcare world?

Yeah, that is, of course,

the question everybody would

love to know the answer to.

And Apple doesn’t do anything

for no reason,

so everything they

do has a reason.

And so when they integrated the

ability to import audiograms

from third party apps like Mimi

into Apple health and

then make use of it,

that pointed to a direction.

So in my mind,

it’s zero surprise that they

would then develop their

own hearing test app.

And maybe it’s initially just

part of the hearing health

ecosystem. In other words,

you can already monitor

your noise levels.

You can see on the watch what

the volume level of the music

you’re listening to

with Air pods.

And now you can get

a hearing test.

So you can basically have

a complete well,

not a complete because they’re

not doing digits in

noise or anything.

But you’re starting to get a

hearing health assessment as

well as tools for hearing

conservation. No surprise there.

The big question, I think,

is whether they formally go into

the hearing health space.

They have been skirting a line a

little bit where you can load in

a third party app and make some

tuning just based on, say,

Mimi test results.

Does that skirt the line?

We’ve talked about this before.

When you can get third party

hearing apps installed or on

devices which didn’t start out

as hearing devices in

the first place,

that’s tough for the

FDA to enforce.

But was that a precursor to them

actually doing over to

counter hearing aids?

That’s what we have yet to see.

It’ll take a redesign

of AirPods.

If you look at the

existing AirPods,

because they weren’t designed

for hearing,

you can’t get a lot of gain

before feedback out of them,

different reasons why,

but they weren’t designed

for that.

And so you have conversation

boost and just a little bit of

tone controls, essentially.

So what is the next step

and what does it mean?

I actually think,

and this is something you

and I can discuss,

I think if they do true

hearing features,

over the counter hearing aid,

if you will,

I think it’s more important that

they come out of the closet on

it and publicize what they’re

doing than the devices


Because Apple has the brand

power to change people’s

perceptions. Think about it.

I think even the Gurman

article mentioned it,

how when AirPods first came out,

everybody made fun of the big

stocks and thought it was the

most ridiculous thing

in the world.

They changed everybody’s


stellar functionality,

integration with their


and the brand power to make

people think that those

long stocks were cool.

They can do that for hearing.

I think that’s far more

important than the actual

numbers of people who buy it,

because it’s an OTC hearing aid.

When they tell people that

addressing your hearing is

something that all the kids on

the cool kids on the block do,

then it’s going to change

people’s minds about hearing

out. Yeah, no,

I think those are really

good points.

I think the first thing to

really think about is,

like you mentioned,

in my opinion,

what the OTC Hearing Aid Act

really has done has been to

really define what constitutes a

prescription grade hearing aid

and bifurcated the markets to

where you have that

it’s predefined.

And that’s kind of what

we’ve always had,

are these devices that are

medical grade FDA, grade one,

grade two medical device that is

required to be dispensed by a

licensed professional and that

is designed to treat moderate to

severe levels of hearing loss.

That’s kind of like,

in my opinion,

what the hearing healthcare

market has always been

catering to.

There are cases where you can

cite that obviously people that

have more mild losses or just

anomalous things that maybe

don’t just fit into that,

like cookie cutter, moderate,

severe, whatever.

But at the end of the day,

I think that has happened is

that we have this new market,

and people can say, well,

there’s always been.

The personal sounding

amplifiers, PSAPs.

And we’ve had this era where

you’ve kind of had these things.

But I think the point is that

they’ve never caught

on in a big way.

The people that are wearing

hearing aids for the most part

today are wearing hearing aids

that fall into that kind of

clinical grade device bucket.

And so I think that

because I think there’s a lot of

red tape that would

have to cross.

If they do want to

get into that,

obviously they’d have to

register their devices with the

FDA think there’s an argument to

be made that do you really,

as a $3 trillion company,

want to go after a $10 billion

hearing aid market?

So are there incentives there?

But I think that it still begs

the question of this

newer market.

And I think that the first thing

to kind of think through is

would Apple even ever market

these as hearing aids?

Just those words alone are kind

of like where that

stigma is rooted.

As soon as you say that people

have these connotations in their

mind of older adults geriatrics

growing older,

those are the connotations that

people have that have this

stigma baggage for

better or worse.

That’s just kind of the reality

of it. And so for me,

the way I think of it is if

Apple did decide to just

continue to kind of migrate

further to the border of that

clinical grade line and the

thresholds associated with that,

would they ever even position

them as AirPods hearing

aid version?

Or would they just be AirPods

version three with audio

enhancement tools like

Conversation Boost?

And I think that goes to

what you were saying,

which is I think Apple has a big

opportunity here to help combat

the stigma associated with

treating your hearing

loss more or less.

And I think that by operating in

that end with the people that

are going to be most, I think,

adverse to this whole idea

because the problem hasn’t

festered to the point to where

you really need prescription

grade hearing.


I think there’s a gigantic

role that Apple can play.

There is basically helping to

usher in an era where it’s cool

and it’s a different mindset of

how people view these more or

less hearing healthcare features

that reside in a consumer

product that might never be

marketed as hearing aids

or something like that,

but more around what they’re

doing with conversation boost

and just the way in which

they’re positioning these

features to look more like

their enhancements.

And the subtleties around the

way they’re positioning it,

I think is equally important

too. I completely agree.

And my bet we’ll come back in

the future and see if I’m right.

My bet is they don’t actually go

to market as a hearing aid,

that it’ll be an OTC device from

a regulatory point of view.

But the way they sell.

The features will be an

extension of what they do now.

Right? AirPods,

great music quality integrated

with the Apple ecosystem.

You have like the new model,

you’ll have adaptive ANC.

So the ANC characteristic

changes as you go from the train

to out on the street.

And then when you go in

a loud restaurant,

you’re going to get an ANC mode

with conversation boost and

you’re going to get some

assistance through gain

adjustments according to the

hearing test you took.

And it’s going to make

everything sound better in any

environment you’re in, period.

Never mentioning the

word hearing aid,

that would be my guess.

And they have some structural

advantages because one of the

things the present OTC hearing

aid players combat is the return

rate because they’re going to

market as hearing aids.

And so people are evaluating

them as hearing aids and if

they don’t work for them,

they’re going to turn them in.

And the return rates,

from everything I can tell,

are fairly high right now.

But AirPods are AirPods.

People buy AirPods because

they work okay?

Of course you don’t know what

Apple’s return rate

is on AirPods,

but I guarantee you they’re

nothing like the kind of 30%

number that’s getting thrown

around for the present

generation of OTC.

People are going to buy them

because they want AirPods for

all the things that

AirPods does well.

And they’re going to get some

hearing assistance at the same

time and it’s going to

be an added benefit.

And in the ideal case,

they’re going to build that

around messaging about hearing

health the same way they are

with other aspects of health as

they monitor through the watch.

So in other words,

AirPods are going to improve

your lifestyle.

Here’s how they’re going to

improve your lifestyle.

They’re going to protect your

hearing because of the way they

operate when you’re streaming.

They’re going to protect your

hearing because when you’re

using the external microphones,

they’re going to limit

the input level.

You’ve seen people starting to

use them as hearing protection

devices at concerts because

the ambient awareness

mode is pretty good.

And so they’re going to build

the messaging around that,

that these are also health

devices even before they

put other sensors in.

If they start to do hearing,

it’s going to be part of their

hearing health ecosystem.

Already have.

Monitor your noise levels

on the watch.

Protect your hearing

with AirPods.

Improve your lifestyle by being

able to hear better in

noisy situations.

That’s my guess where

they’re going.

And they won’t be so overtly

advertised as hearing AIDS

even if they are. Yeah,

and I think that point there

about kind of the adaptive ANC

and those kinds of features

I think can be positioned,

like you said,

as health features.

And I’m with you.

I think that the ability to

whether it’s just the.

AirPods or if it has to be done

in tandem with the watch where

it can detect loud,

sudden noises,

that it could basically

automatically turn on

your noise cancellation

to protect your ears,

I think is actually

really compelling.

And I think that’s just one

example of that use case that

could be we could see multiple

iterations of it where you’re in

a situation where it’s detecting

speech and noise, right?

So you’re at a loud setting,

you’re wearing these,

and then it’s got the

directional mics that gets

activated more or less


So I kind of see that being an

opportunity that we could

see more and more of.


it’s this creep of the consumer

brands that are creeping into

the hearing healthcare space.

Because, to your point,

I think that’s actually an

extremely important detail when

considering why these consumer

first products might have more

success in this space,

which is they’re in line with

the expectations of

the consumer.

Which is to say that if you’re

positioned as an OTC

hearing aid,

your number one expectation is

that they need to provide some

value in that regard.

Whereas with AirPods and some of

these other consumer

first products,

the first thing that they’re

positioning toward is like the

sound quality, the comfort,

the fit for all audio that

you’re consuming on your phone

and then, oh, by the way,

they have these additional

hearing healthcare features.

So I think that it helps to

level set with the expectations

of why people are buying these

things in the first place and it

gives them more opportunity

to creep into the hearing

healthcare space because again,

in the eyes of the consumer,

I think it’s just like added

gravy. It’s like, oh, okay,


I bought these things for this

purpose and with three

subsequent software updates,

it’s now capable of doing a

handful of new things that I

didn’t even know were there

when I bought the device.

So it seems to me that that’s an

important point to consider,

is like Apple and a lot of these

consumer brands, I think,

have a real opportunity to

slowly migrate into the hearing

healthcare space as

an added bonus,

rather than being that be the

primary use case that they’re

positioning you with.

Because I think that can,

if those things aren’t executed,

if those types of devices aren’t

executed flawlessly,

that can lead to some

dissatisfaction from the

customer and that might be the

root of the return rate.

Well, that’s right. And also,

if you lead with the premise

of being a hearing aid,

then you’re combating the

stigma denial factor.

So if we refer to the three

common reasons people talk about

why people don’t address

their hearing health,

it’s usually access,

price and stigma denial. Okay?

And so when you look at some of

the OTC hearing aids that

have been done today,

especially the ones that are

coming from the traditional

hearing aid companies,

they’re addressing the access

issue because you can

get them online.

And some of them are even

offering telehealth with

an audiologist.

So access taken care of,

but certainly not stigma denial.

If you’re going with a rick

design that looks like

a hearing aid,

just because I can get it online

doesn’t help that stigma

or denial.

You have to admit you have

hearing loss and you have to be

ready to do something about it

before you either go into an

audiologist or you order one up.

And not so much the

price either.

When you see some of these units

near to or above $1,000,

you’re starting to get into the

range where you can buy hearing

aids at costco and get them

fitted by somebody.

And so not so much price

a little bit,

but not so much access is the

big thing but that doesn’t crack

open the market because the

other factors are equally

important or as important.

And until you get it all three,

we’re not going to get at the

vast number of people who could

use some sort of hearing

assistance but aren’t getting

it right now.

And over time I would say the

traditional prescription hearing

aid companies have not chosen to

aggressively address that market

and so it’s left to the consumer

companies to do that.

And I actually think it is

a lifts all boats kind of

situation because if I get a

pair of AirPods Pro Four or

whatever version has true

hearing features in it and I get

some improvement even if,

let’s say my hearing loss is

already drifted into severe

because people are notoriously

unable to determine their

hearing loss level.

So let’s say they’re already

severe to get some improvement.

Now maybe as they get used

to them they realize

this is really good,

I wonder what else is there?

Maybe it’s worth going to an

audiologist to get this just so

but they’re not going to throw

away their AirPods in the

meantime because they still

work like AirPods,

they’re really good and their

music quality still sounds

better because they’re getting

it EQed for your hearing profile

and you can access Siri

and all the rest.

So I actually don’t think it’s a

bad thing that the consumers

companies come in and truly and

publicly build awareness for

hearing health and the benefits

of having your hearing

loss addressed.

So it’s good for everybody when

they do but it’s going to take

that to really crack

this market open.

I couldn’t agree more

about that.

I think that it is in a ‘lift

all boats’ sort of scenario

especially because of this

delineation between how

far they can go.

I think that there will always,

as long as the rules are intact

like they are now,

I think that there will always

be this bifurcation and there

will be this clinical market.

But I do think that

to your point,

the number one obstacle for

increasing adoption is I think

people become aware of how much

their hearing has regressed

and I think that.

Exposure event like people with

their consumer grade devices

with these subsequent updates,

or even just the hardware that

you upgrade over time,

it has these new features.

I think that’s such an important

aspect of these is like that’s

not really why people are buying

them. But if it’s an oh,

by the way,

and it gives people that

exposure to here’s what this

audio enhancement

sounds like,

that’s probably going to be more

effective than just about

anything is to truly be able to

I’ll believe it when I kind of

hear it type thing is like

giving people that first hand

experience of what this sounds

like is going to probably be a

lot more effective than

any other method.

And we know this to be one of

those types of health conditions

that just very slowly,

typically speaking, regresses.

And so it’s very hard to

actually detect that

this is occurring.

But if you had a way to

objectively do these

measurements and that’s

why I think, again,

especially here in the US.


with as dominant as the

iOS ecosystem is,

you have to look at the totality

of what apple’s doing

across all of its

you know,

the wearable ecosystem is

incredibly important to apple’s

future because it’s essentially

another moat for them to lock

the user base in for a greater

period of time.

Because the Apple Watch and

AirPods just work seamlessly

with the iOS handheld device.

And so I think know

because of you.

You can imagine a scenario where

as Apple Health becomes more of

a hub for all of your different

health inputs,

and you can see this happening

at the wrist right now

or with these rings,

these third party wearables,

where a lot of that data is

becoming accessible

in Apple Health.

And it’s this hub and this

repository of data,

I think AirPods will very much

fall in line with that.

And so you can kind of, I think,

envision a scenario where Apple

is a really powerful

vehicle for people,

like through these proactive


It’s like issuing a hearing

test. And sure,

maybe this won’t be

up to snuff and at par with the

kind of clinical hearing test

you would get in an

audiologist’s office or

something like that.

But even having a semblance of

this to be able to objectively

show people that what’s

happening on a longitudinal

basis over the last three years,

across 24 tests,

here is what your hearing

profile has looked like.

And we’re seeing this slight

downtick of that. For me,

that’s the power that Apple

could have in this is to really

motivate people to understand

what’s happening with their own

bodies and then having the

motivation with their own kind,

kind of seeing, okay,

here’s what’s happening

with my data,

here’s what it sounds like to

have these enhancements. Sense.

And to your point,

I kind of think that is that

lift all boats scenario where

people then are saying

to themselves,

I probably should have a

professional go and

check this in.

And because Apple is building

this diagnostic health


it’s perfectly in keeping for

them to recommend the point

where you get professional

assistance just as they do

for your heart function.

They’re monitoring different

parameters related to your heart

and they will tell you when they

think there’s something wrong

that you should seek

medical attention.

There’s no reason why they

should do that with hearing

either. In other words,

they’re not going to reduce the

sale of AirPods because they

tell you your hearing loss is

out of the bounds of an OTC

device and we recommend you seek

professional assistance.

And so they can be a positive

force there.

And for that reason,

I think that the hearing care

professionals in the driver’s

seat here that building health

features or hearing health

features into AirPods is not

going to be a danger to hearing

care professionals. If anything,

it may send more people

towards them.

Even people who might be within

the bounds of OTC hearing aids

may be encouraged to seek a

professional assessment so they

know exactly where they are and

others may be recommended to do

so based on the hearing test

results that Apple health

delivers to you.

So I think actually it’s a great

spot for hearing care

professionals to be in.

Plus they have other ways to

improve a person’s lifestyle.

Something we’ve talked

about before.

Traditional hearing aids like

the ones I’m wearing,

the music quality is not

very good at all.

Whereas AirPods music quality,

especially if they then start to

EQ the music to account for

your hearing profile,

the music quality will

sound way better.

And so that’s an opportunity for

a hearing care professional

to say, look,

you need these prescription

hearing aids for conversation,

but when you’re listening

to music,

you’re going to enjoy it a lot

more if you use these devices.

So there’s a lot of ways that

Apple’s moves could potentially

intersect with professional

hearing care in a positive way.

Yeah, I mean,

just to go off that point,

if you think about you have kind

of two sets of audio that you’re

consuming on a daily basis.

You have your ambient physical,

real world audio that you’re

just encountering on

a daily basis.

And then you have all this

digital audio that you’re

increasingly consuming more

and more. You know,

I think of one really intriguing

possibility here is that Apple,

by being the hub for your

hearing healthcare profile,

kind of brings to fruition this

hope that has kind of been

on the periphery here.

And I know a couple companies

that are striving to achieve it,

which is to basically create a

hearing profile that can be used

on a variety of your different

apps. Netflix, YouTube, Spotify,

all of the different things that

you’re like using through your

phone, your iPad, your Smart.

TV, whatever.

What if you had the ability to

have this profile in

tandem with that?

That can be the EQing of what

you mentioned there,


the mixing of the audio itself

and how it’s being consumed

through your AirPods is as much

being done at the smartphone or

at the iOS level than it is at

just the hardware level.

So I think that, again,

I’m with you in the fact that I

have a hard time imagining Apple

will take it upon themselves to

full blown move into the

hearing aid market,

the prescription hearing aid

market. I could be like,

maybe they have motivations

there that are not being

accounted for.

They want to just get more

broadly into the hearing

healthcare space.

And this is a good way to maybe

cater to just like older

adults in general.

And maybe their interests

are just broader.

Maybe they’re looking at how to

redesign the Apple Genius stores

in their just general footprint.

It’s really hard to predict

these things.

We don’t know what a $3 trillion

company like that has

the capacity to do.

Maybe they just add a healthcare

center to every single one

of their retail stores.

That could be a giant stretch

right now, but in time,

maybe something like that

comes to fruition.

But my point is that I think

that we would be foolish to just

completely dismiss Apple’s role

here. And to your point,

I look at this and say this is

probably going to be

a net positive,

because I think all it does is

it’s going to bring a whole lot

more people into the fold the

further they get into this,

because they’re one of the very

few companies that I think has

the ability to change culture.

And that seems to be actually at

the root of what needs to happen

in order to get more

people here,

is that we as a culture need to

embrace treating your

hearing more.

And I think that it might

require a big brand like them to

kind of reimagine this in a way

that people are willing to think

differently about what it means

to wear a device for those

purposes and trying to combat

the stigma from the consumer

side up. Yeah, absolutely.

We’ve come full circle to the

beginning part of the

conversation that

the true value,

if they move into the hearing

space is going to be changing

people’s attitudes about

hearing loss.

And other companies are at it

too. As you mentioned earlier,

I had Win Cramer,

the CEO of JLab on and talked

about their moves because

they’ve already publicly

announced all their new earbuds

will have a listening safe mode

so you don’t exceed 85 dB

when you’re listening.

They’ve got passive hearing

protection devices and announced

two over to counter

hearing aids,

neither one of which

are out yet,

but will be before the

end of the year.

So we know they’re publicly

getting in the game.

And they also have the ability

to influence consumer behavior.

So you have one company coming.

In for sure.

You have the larger one,

Apple potentially coming in,

certainly sending signals that

they’re going to in one

form or another,

and who else will follow all

these together are going to

change how people think about

addressing their hearing loss.


I couldn’t agree more with that.

So as we kind of come

to the close here,

any closing thoughts in terms

of where you see,

you know,

kind of the rest of this year,

shaking out what’s on your mind

in terms of this OTC space?

And kind of catering to the

mild end of the market.

Just, broadly speaking,

where’s your head at with this

space and some of the things

that you’re anticipating?


I think it’s worthwhile to talk

about a key difference between

over the counter and

prescription hearing aids is how

people are going to wear them.

Because many of the people who

are in OTC territory feel

they’re fine understanding

people in conversation.

When they’re one on one

in a quiet setting,

they can hear okay,

so they’re looking for

situational help.

And that leaves a big opening

for consumer devices.

And I would say this about Apple

too. Current AirPods Pro,

five 6 hours battery life.

And so to make that leap to

18 hours battery life,

it’s a huge development effort.

And this is where the

traditional hearing aid

companies shine,

because they develop the custom,

asics the custom chips.

Specifically to be able to do

discrete devices that run at

exceptionally low power

so you can go all day.

That’s a breakpoint in the

roadmap that I don’t think Apple

or the others are going to do

when they can do so much good at

the milder end with situational


So that’s where I think it’s

headed. Jlabs devices,

for example.

They’ll be situational devices,

they won’t be 18 hours devices,

but they don’t need to be.

Listen to the music

on the train,

turn on the ANC while

you’re there,

walk into the crowded


flip it into restaurant mode,

and all the while you’re getting

milder end of hearing correction

to assist you in various

situations. Perfect.

I think that’s where it’s going.

And when these consumer

companies come in,

then I think we’re going to see

completely different

set of messages.

So that’s what in the next, say,

twelve months,

I would say I wouldn’t

necessarily put it before the

end of the calendar year,

but say in the next

twelve months,

when we start to see these

things go to market and the

messaging that goes around it,

then it’s going to be

really exciting.

I’ve already written in my mind

probably ten times the Apple

commercial I would make if I was

responsible for bringing hearing

features and AirPods

Pro to market.

A variation of the current one,

where you see that the hip

person is walking on the street

listening to music.

They opened the door to a crowd.


A clearly attractive person over

there looks at them and

they touch their ear.

All the noise goes away and

they greet that person.

It all looks very cool

and stylish. Boom.

Game changer right there.

That’s what I’m looking forward

to in the next year.

Yeah, for sure. And that whole,


you make such a good

point because

I think that the answer here

isn’t necessarily to make like

a watered down hearing aid to

solve for these situational


Like you said,

one of the biggest limitations

that a lot of these DSP based

products are going to run into,

if you are comparing them

apples to apples,

is going to be the battery

power. But to your point,

it might just be that you need

something that’s situational

that you can use these little

pocket chargers, pop them in,

pop them out for those times.

But that kind of begs the

question, I think the noisy,

crowded restaurant is the best

real world scenario to think

through of what would a consumer

actually want to solve for that?

Because you kind of present

another issue which is sure,

if the hearing aid rick form

factor isn’t going to

necessarily be the one that you

want to use for that situational


Do you need something that looks

like an AirPod and then does

that kind of present

a challenge?

Because people are like,

I don’t want to have something

that draws attention to myself.

And people are like,

what are you doing wearing know

bluetooth headset at? And like,

again, like,

I think that’s where Apple has

the ability to usher in this

whole idea in a big way.

I think that someone’s going to

have to start to kind of plant

that idea in the masses minds of

there is an option that exists

for these noisy situations.

Do we need something that’s sort

of analogous to cheaters?

And it’s like similar

price point.

Could we get those JLab

situational devices for

$50 down the road?

And is it a single application

that’s being used there?

And how does this become

made aware for people?

In the same way that you can

go to a nice restaurant,

you can request cheaters to be

able to look at the menu?

Will we look at a scenario in

the future where that same

restaurant might have some

of these different

cheaters for your ears that are

designed for people that

struggle to hear in the so,


that’s what’s going

through my mind.

A lot of the technology is there

or it’s percolating and

it’s almost there,

but it’s these cultural

challenges that I think are the

big uphill battle and why I’m

actually really excited about

Apple moving further into this

area because I think that from

a cultural standpoint,

apple is going to

be able to make.

Really big impact here

because without that,

I think

you’re still presented with

issues where I don’t know how

these kinds of things

get solved.

For in light of the fact that

the social behavior around it is

a little alien to what we

do right now. Yeah,

and you make a really good point

there because earbuds have a

little bit better off because

even hearing at companies are

starting to make earbud type

wholly in the conscious type

devices. And of course,

new Hero has been added for

a long, long time too.

But AirPods specifically have

been advertised heavily as

consumption devices,

streaming music.

And a lot of people will say,

oh, look,

there’s no stigma about wearing

these devices because people

walk around all the time

with AirPods on,

they walk around all the time

with AirPods on when they are

functionally alone out on the

street where they’re

not interacting.

But there’s still a cultural

barrier to wearing them

in social settings.

But if they go public with the

hearing features and they show

somebody walking into a

restaurant and flipping them

into restaurant mode or using

them as a hearing device,

they will also change the

attitudes of people who aren’t

wearing them. So in other words,

I may not need a hearing device,

but I see Apple advertising

people wearing these in

a restaurant. Well,

when I see people wearing

them in a restaurant,

I will have already gotten the

message that they’re doing it

because they want to

hear me better,

not because they want

to tune me out.

And this is where I think all of

the consumer brands will play

a role when they go public.


it looks pretty clear to me that

JLab is going to be first in

terms of mass market consumer

brand coming to market

with hearing devices.

So I’m really interested to see

how they bring it to market and

how successful they are.

Their preset device will be $99.

They announced

their self tuning device will

be something higher.

They haven’t publicly

said the price yet.

It’ll be something higher,

but clearly consumer level

pricing maybe $200 or $250.

That’s my guess based on

what they offer today.

So we’re really going to

see how that plays,

how they bring it to market,

and how people’s attitudes

change, how the press covers it.

And that’s going to be an

exciting start to the consumer

entering the hearing space.

And at $99,

you start to think

more globally.

We’ve been talking about

the US with OTC,

but when you talk about

the global situation,

it’s going to take devices at

those low price points,

$99 and down if you really want

to drive into the global

underserved market.

I think the runners have run the

preliminary lapse and now we’re

going to head to the starting

line and the starting gun is

going to go off or we’re really

going to see how well OTC

devices change people’s

minds about hearing.

So a gun hasn’t gone off yet,

but I really look looking

forward to the race when it

does. Yes, I’m with you.

And I do think that

it’s yet to be.

Seen if these will over

the course of time,

we could actually see the whole

notion that these are over the

counter hearing AIDS might kind

of fall by the wayside as they

become more consumer products

with added hearing healthcare

functionality. Again,

it’s semantics.

But I think this stuff really

matters in terms of how it’s

positioned and marketed to the

consumer because I think that

there is such an underlying

level of stigma with

this whole thing.

And I think that what’s most

exciting to me is I kind of am

starting to feel like I’m seeing

things come into focus of maybe

how we ultimately can

combat that stigma,

like broadly speaking.

And I personally feel that it’s

probably going to come from

these big consumer companies

that from the bottom up will

kind of help people to rethink

what these devices can

be intended for.

And all of the value that those

things provide so that people

start to we move to a point

to where we treat hearing

healthcare in the same way

that we do our vision.

Which is to say that nobody

really bats an eye when they see

people wearing eyeglasses.

I kind of think that’s the

goal here. And for me,

I think that there is some

really exciting things to be

thinking about about how

maybe that happens.

Wouldn’t agree with you more.

I think that’s a great way to

close off the conversation.

Just what you said. Fantastic.

Well, Andy,

thanks so much for chatting

with me today.

Thanks for everybody who tuned

in here to the end.

We will chat with you next time.

Cheers. Bye.


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About the Panel

Andrew Bellavia is the Founder of AuraFuturity. He has experience in international sales, marketing, product management, and general management. Audio has been both of abiding interest and a market he served professionally in these roles. Andrew has been deeply embedded in the hearables space since the beginning and is recognized as a thought leader in the convergence of hearables and hearing health. He has been a strong advocate for hearing care innovation and accessibility, work made more personal when he faced his own hearing loss and sought treatment All these skills and experiences are brought to bear at AuraFuturity, providing go-to-market, branding, and content services to the dynamic and growing hearables and hearing health spaces.

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,, 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,, and has been featured on NPR’s Marketplace.

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