Apple has new plan to make hearing aids cool

Apple, a company that has long based its business on building a reputation for coolness, has announced a new plan to start building what most people consider a decidedly uncool device: a hearing aid. The company has teamed up with GN ReSound, a Danish hearing-aid manufacturer, to produce a new hearing aid that can sync wirelessly with Apple mobile devices.

The hearing aid, called the LiNX, will work much like a normal hearing aid when a user is not streaming audio from an Apple device. When a user does need to hear their device, whether it’s to make a call, listen to music, or hear turn-by-turn navigation directions, the audio streams directly from the device to the hearing aid. Users will also be able to use the iOS 7 accessibility options for the hearing impaired to control the volume levels streaming to the hearing aid, allowing users to set the optimum volume for each ear directly on their devices.

The announcement comes at a time when audiologists are scrambling to find ways to encourage greater hearing aid use. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, over 36 million Americans are suffering from at least partial hearing loss, but only one in five people who needs to wear a hearing aid will actually get one. In addition, statistics indicate that even those who do get hearing aids will wait until long after their hearing problem first develops to actually do something about—as long as eight years, on average.

Audiologists say that these numbers have a lot to do with the negative stereotypes that people have about hearing aids. Furthermore, the low rate of adoption can also be traced to a fear of aging.

Another problem that has been linked to the historically low rate of hearing aid adoption has been the high price of the devices, and LiNX doesn’t look likely to help with that problem very much. One A LiNX hearing aid will cost around $3,000, while also requiring the extra cost of owning an iPhone.

In addition, the new hearing aids won’t help people overcome what may be one of the biggest hurdles to greater hearing aid use: visiting a doctor’s office. Since the hearing aids are considered medical devices, Apple will not be able to sell them in stores. Consumers who wish to purchase LiNX hearing aids must still go through an audiologist for a hearing test and a device fitting.

According to Jason Hope, Scottsdale entrepreneur, (http://sens.org/outreach/outreach-blog/release-internet-entrepreneur-jason-hope-pledges-half-million-dollars-sens), Apple’s entry into the hearing aid market could play a powerful part in making hearing aid use more acceptable.

Hearing aids are definitely suffering from an image problem right now,” said Mr. Hope. “Many people still associate the idea of hearing aids with those boxy beige things they may have seen their parents or grandparents wear years ago. Hearing aid technology has definitely come a long way since then—the devices are both more effective and less noticeable—but getting people to forget their preconceived notions about hearing aids can be difficult. Having Apple get involved can only help.”

“No one likes to think about getting older, and getting a hearing aid is usually viewed as something that only old people do. It’s easy to see why people would have bad feelings about wearing them. However, Apple is a very youth-oriented consumer products brand, and by coming up with this new hearing aid, they’re clearly trying to show that there is nothing to be embarrassed about if you’re suffering from hearing loss. In fact, they’re making it possible for older people with hearing loss to take advantage of all the powerful gadgets that young people know and love. The only difference is that it’s going to provide a little bit of extra hearing assistance.”

In spite of the potential drawbacks involved, the new hearing aids could end up paying enormous benefits for the hearing impaired.

“Just making cell phone calls is something that has been very difficult for the hearing impaired to do in the past, so I think it’s great that Apple is working to make that easier. Obviously, there are still a lot of kinks to work out, but I’m excited to see what this technology can do.”

About the Author

Melissa Williams is a philanthropy and business writer.  As a native Texan, she began her career as a fundraiser for a non-profit organization.  Lured by the mountains and trail running, she relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona and works as a consultant for non-profit organizations.  She enjoys writing about philanthropy and entrepreneurs.

Photo credit: ReSound

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