Hearables are here. All of the big tech manufacturers you know – Apple, Samsung, Bose – and many start-ups you may not know yet – Bragi, Doppler, RippleBuds – are designing and selling all sorts of devices with incredible capabilities. Some of these devices let you focus on conversations in busy environments, maintain clear phone conversations, monitor heart rate and fitness, or countless other things – all at far more affordable price points than conventional hearing aids.
Thus far, the response from the hearing health industry has been… basically nonexistent? Sure, most of the big hearing aid manufacturers now offer made-for-iphone products, as well as their own accessory devices. Oticon’s IFTTT integration is interesting as well, but thus far, none have introduced anything that could be described as a true hearable. Instead, they’re still limiting themselves to hearing aids that happen to have some of the same capabilities as hearables.
But that’s not really enough in my opinion. Right now the average age of hearing aid adoption is 63, with the majority of first-time hearing aid users are aware of their hearing loss for several years beforehand. This scenario presents a unique opportunity for both hearing aid manufacturers and audiology practices to get their brands into the consciousness of those who are ready to adopt some technology, but not quite ready for conventional hearing aids.
Lets imagine a scenario to demonstrate what this might look like from the manufacturer standpoint. A hearing aid company designs and builds a hearable product that does similar things to other products out there. Maybe it doesn’t amplify in exactly the same way as their conventional HAs, but it addresses the needs of those with milder hearing loss by having programs for hearing in noise, adjustable directionality, media streaming at safe volume levels, and making speaking on a phone easier. The consumers embracing this product become familiar with the brand and hopefully form a strong positive association with them. They download the associated apps to their phones and tablets, and see the brand’s logo every day. Through their increased awareness of this brand, they may become aware of the manufacturer’s other offerings. In their minds, they may arrive at the internal belief of “This product meets my needs for the time being, but eventually I know I’ll need to upgrade to the hearing aid product from this manufacturer.” In this scenario, the hypothetical customer is not someone who would be purchasing hearing aids at this point in their life, so the manufacturer is not taking away business from themselves. Rather, its likely that if this customer didn’t purchase a product from the manufacturer, they would meet their needs by buying a product from a hearable company.
Many of these points are paralleled when examining the audiology practice’s standpoint. Typically younger patients leave the clinic having been told “Your hearing is poorer than it was, but you’re not ready for a hearing aid yet – let’s just keep an eye on it for now” and no commitment is made on the appointment day. If practices could provide an array of hearable options for the patient to choose from to address their needs discussed above, the client is making a commitment to the practice to return for follow-up services, and will be far more likely to return to that practice when they eventually decide to advance to conventional hearing aids. The absolute extreme example of this scenario is a practice that doesn’t even deal in hearing aids, but just hearables. (This exists already in fact – https://hearology.uk)
So what do you think? Are manufacturers and audiologists missing the boat? Or is jumping into the trend of hearables still too premature?