Apple Readies Health Features for AirPods

The tech giant is upgrading its wireless headphones with well-being in mind.

Sound on. Already generating upward of $12B annually from AirPods sales, Apple is developing new health-leaning features to crank up profits.

  • Playing different tones, an auditory test integrated with AirPods could screen for hearing issues.
  • By adding new sensors to its headphones, the company plans to measure body temperature through the ear canal.
  • Previous WSJ reporting said Apple would use new earbud sensors to track and improve posture, alerting wearers of slouching.

As part of an evolving strategy, in-ear monitoring would join Apple’s fitness, wellness coaching, and healthcare efforts. For now, the updates remain a work in progress with no firm launch date.

Hearables. Driving Apple’s interest, the FDA okayed over-the-counter hearing aids last year, giving rise to a billion-dollar market.

Despite 30M Americans suffering from hearing loss, stigma, cost, and lack of convenience prevent 80% of adults who stand to benefit from using hearing aids.

Joining Apple, a host of companies are scaling up to reduce prices and increase access.

  • Last fall, Yes Hearing added $10M for its online and at-home audiology platform.
  • In February, Tuned raised $3.5M to deliver hearing care as an employee benefit.
  • This April, TympaHealth secured $23M to expand its hearing assessment and diagnostic solution.

Consumer brands have also entered the hearables race, with Sony teaming with hearing aid technology WS Audiology, HP partnering with device maker Eargo, and Best Buy stepping up its OTC hearing aid offering.

Meanwhile, Apple’s litigious rival Masimo (known for its smart medical devices) acquired Nura, an Australian maker of headphones that adjust frequency based on its users’ ability to hear certain tones. And STAT’s cognitive dysfunction-tracking in-ear technology could open the door for next-gen hearables.

Punchline: For health tracking or hearing care, headphones are a low-cost wedge into growing markets. But, adoption for more serious issues or for individuals unfamiliar with the tech will require expert oversight.

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