Health features could be in the future of AirPods
Apple may be considering expanding the repertoire of its popular AirPods line beyond entertainment and into health.
Speculation about giving AirPods health chops was fueled over the weekend by Mark Gurman, who predicted in his Power On newsletter for Bloomberg that Apple would upgrade the product over the next two years. to make it a health tool.
“It’s a natural step for Apple. Health has been a priority for their wearables,” observed Mark N. Vena, president and principal analyst at SmartTech Research in San Jose, Calif.
“I think they might start moving AirPods in the direction of a smart hearing aid,” he told TechNewsWorld.
It’s not a question of whether Apple will bring health features to AirPods, but when, argued Julie Ask, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.
“Apple is playing a long game,” she told TechNewsWorld. “They have long been committed to health. And, like many consumer electronics companies, they will seek out and prioritize large-scale issues where they believe they have a competitive ability to make a difference.
One such area where Apple has committed significant resources is helping people with diabetes manage their blood sugar. The potential of this type of application is enormous. According to the US Center for Disease Control, 37.3 million people have diabetes in the United States – 28.5 million adults diagnosed with the disease and 8.5 million undiagnosed.
Likewise, the hearing aid market could also be important for Apple. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about 15% of American adults ages 18 and older, or 35.5 million people, have reported hearing problems. The institute estimates that around 28 million adults could benefit from hearing aids.
“If Apple wipes out the hearing aid market with a more dynamic and efficient $300 replacement, and my insurance pays, that’s huge,” Ask said.
“There are tens of millions of people with moderate hearing problems, and they don’t even know it. Or if they know, they don’t want to admit it because people who admit to a hearing loss problem are admitting to getting older and they attach a stigma to that,” Vena added.
“If Apple can integrate smart hearing into an AirPods-like device,” he continued, “it could remove the stigma of wearing a hearing aid for some people. That could be a tailwind for the product. for Apple.
The History of Apple’s Health Patents
About a year ago, The Mac Observer reported that Apple had filed a patent outlining advanced features for hearing aids running on devices designed for iPhones. The patent describes a method for creating configurations to control the volume of hearing aids based on environmental conditions. These configurations could be chosen automatically based on GPS and map information.
Patents to inflate AirPods with health features date back to at least 2014. During those years, Apple filed patents for using the ear and a photoplethysmography (PPG) sensor to monitor heart rate. a person’s heart rate and characterize its blood flow in the skin of the ear. It also offered electrocardiogram sensors, impedance cardiography, galvanic skin response, VO2 detection and body temperature measurement.
“There are new sensors that many companies are using today to monitor health conditions,” observed Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a technology consulting firm in San Jose, Calif.
“Adding health features gives Apple and others a way to differentiate their earbuds from each other,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Apple’s current generation of AirPods already have hearing aid technology. Live Listen, which works with Made for iPhone hearing aids connected to an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, allows users to stream audio, answer phone calls, adjust settings, and more.
A similar feature, Conversation Boost, is supported by Apple’s AirPods Pro. This allows an iPhone to be used as a microphone, making it easier to hear someone in a noisy environment by pointing the phone at the person you’re talking to; their speech is amplified when sent to the AirPods Pro device.
AirPods Pro (Image credit: Apple)
These types of features can replace hearing aids. “Think about how you can change the font size on your smartphone so you don’t have to use ‘readers,’” Ask explained.
According to José Adorno, writing for BGR, it may not be necessary to wait for future versions of AirPods to see health features appear on the devices, as the existing versions of the products have the hardware to support this. type of features.
“More recently, Apple enabled HomePod mini sensors to check room temperature and humidity two years after release so it could coincide with a new HomePod announcement, meaning the company could do the same with AirPods,” he wrote.
The AirPods are already loaded with sensors – dual-beam microphones for directional sound, inward-facing microphones to reduce background noise, a skin-detecting sensor, a motion-detecting accelerometer, and a motion-detecting accelerometer. of speech.
“These devices are full of sensors,” Ask noted. “What does that mean? You can squeeze more sensors into a smaller form factor and not decrease battery life and still get more utility.
If Apple wants to take health features aimed at hearing loss seriously, it may need to change the design of the AirPods, Vena argued.
“Over time, they may be able to measure the quality of a person’s hearing and give them information, via an app, that could allow a person to take preventative action about their hearing loss,” said he declared.
“It requires a different design,” he continued. “I’m not sure they can accomplish this stuff without some sort of in-ear solution. When you start to accurately monitor hearing ability, I don’t think you can get by without a mechanism in the ear canal.
Reduce device proliferation
Ask, however, noted that it’s hard to imagine Apple deviating from its existing model when adding health features to AirPods.
“Put them into a Pro version, charge a premium for the new hardware, and then gradually migrate those features to downstream products,” she said.
“They would also seek service revenue if they thought they could,” she added. “It could also be part of a longer-term game. As they roll out more services, they may eventually have a big enough wallet to get $5-$15 a month or more out of its users.
By making its AirPods a dual-purpose device, Apple could help reduce device proliferation. “We’re at the point where we have to carry multiple portable devices,” Vena observed. “If Apple can reduce that, that’s a big deal.”
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