The Future AirPods May Contain Health Features

    Apple could be expanding its AirPods range beyond entertainment to include health.

    Mark Gurman, a Bloomberg Power On newsletter contributor, suggested that AirPods would soon be upgraded to become a health tool.

    It’s an easy step for Apple. Mark N. Vena is the president and principal analyst at SmartTech Research in San Jose.

    TechNewsWorld’s he said that he believes they might move AirPods in a smarter hearing aid direction.

    It’s not about whether or not Apple will add health features to AirPods but when, stated Julie Ask, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.

    She told TechNewsWorld that Apple is a complicated company. They’ve been long committed to health. They will, as with many other consumer electronics companies, pursue large-scale issues where they feel they can make a difference.

    Market Opportunity

    Apple has invested significant resources in helping diabetics manage their blood sugar levels. This type of application has enormous potential. The U.S. Center for Disease Control reports that 37.3 million Americans have diabetes. This includes 28.5 million adults with the disease, and 8.5 millions who are not yet diagnosed.

    Apple could also benefit from the large hearing aid market. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications disorders estimates that 15% of American adults over 18 have difficulty hearing. This is 35.5 million people. According to the institute, hearing aids could be beneficial for approximately 28 million people.

    Ask stated, “If Apple wipesout the hearing aid market by replacing it with a $300 replacement that’s more dynamic and efficient, and my insurance covers for it, that would be huge.”

    “There are millions of people who have moderate hearing loss and don’t know it. Vena said that even if they knew it, they didn’t want it to be known. People who have hearing loss problems admit to ageing, which is why they attach stigma to it.

    He said, “If Apple can integrate smart hearing into an AirPods like device, it could remove the stigma associated with wearing a hearing aid for some people.” This could be a major advantage for Apple’s product.

    Apple’s History of Health Patents

    The Mac Observer reported a year ago that Apple had filed a patent describing advanced features in hearing aids for use with made-for iPhone devices. This patent describes a method of creating configurations that control the volume of hearing aids depending on environmental conditions. These configurations can be automatically selected based on GPS or map information.

    At least 2014 is the earliest date that patents were filed for the addition of health features to AirPods. Apple filed patents in 2014 for the use of the ear and the photoplethysmography sensor (PPG), to monitor a person’s heart rate and determine their blood flow through the ear. It also proposes electrocardiogram sensors and impedance cardiography.

    “There are many new sensors companies are using today to monitor health conditions,” stated Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies a technology advisory firm based in San Jose, Calif.

    TechNewsWorld’s He said that Apple and other companies can now differentiate their ear pods by adding health features.

    Apple’s current AirPods have hearing-assist technology. Live Listen works with Made for iPhone hearing aids connected to an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. It allows users to stream audio, answer calls, adjust settings and much more.

    Apple’s AirPods Pro supports Conversation Boost, a similar feature. The iPhone can be used as a microphone and makes it easier to hear people in noisy environments. Simply point the iPhone at the person to whom you are conversing; their speech will be amplified when they send it to the AirPods Pro device.

    Those kinds of features can act as a substitute for hearing aids. “Think about how you can change the font size on your smartphone so that you don’t have to use ‘readers,’” Ask explained.

    What are the Sleeping Features?

    Jose Adorno, writing in BGR, says that it is possible to have health features on future AirPods models without waiting as existing products already support these features.

    He wrote that Apple had recently turned on HomePod mini sensors for checking room temperature and humidity after two years. This could have coincided with a new HomePod launch, which could mean the company could do it with AirPods.

    AirPods already have sensors. They include dual beamforming microphones that can be used to direct sound and inward-facing microphones that reduce background noise.

    Ask pointed out that these devices are packed with sensors. What does this mean? It is possible to pack more sensors into a smaller size form factor without reducing the battery life and still get more utility.

    Vena suggested that Apple may have to redesign the AirPods’ design if it wants to be serious about hearing aid health features.

    He said that over time they might be able to assess a person’s hearing quality and provide feedback via an app. This could enable a person take preventive action to address their hearing loss.

    He said, “That requires a new design.” I don’t think they could accomplish this kind of stuff without an in-the ear canal solution. You can’t monitor hearing ability accurately without a mechanism in your ear canal.

    Reducing Device Sprawl

    Ask noted that it was hard to imagine Apple changing from its current model when it adds Health Features to AirPods.

    She suggested, “Put them in a Pro version and charge a premium to the new hardware. Then gradually migrate these features into downstream product.”

    She said, “They would also pursue services revenues if they felt they could.” This could be a long-term strategy. They may eventually build a sufficient portfolio to earn $5 to $15 per month from their users as they add more services.

    Apple could reduce the proliferation of devices by making its AirPods dual-function. Vena stated, “We are at the point where it is necessary to carry multiple wearable devices.” It’s huge if Apple can lower that.

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