It seems like everyone is working on a “hearable” device these days. This article, published by Wearable, provides a glimpse into rumored and planned products from Samsung, Google, and Microsoft. This isn’t the first time the hearing aid industry has attracted attention from major corporations, with past efforts from 3M, Bausch & Lomb, and Johnson & Johnson. Is, this time, different? The demographics certainly are, as the first of the 78 million “Baby Boomers” begin to celebrate their 70th birthday (the average age of a first-time hearing aid user) at the rate of 10,000 per day—every 8 seconds. But will they want to depart from the professional service and delivery model used for hearing aids in the past as they begin to experience difficulty for soft or distance sounds, even in the absence of measurable hearing loss? One thing that we know is that every time the Boomer generation becomes the dominant consumer in any commercial or health-care field, they require the market to change to meet their needs—rather than the other way around.
At issue is whether these types of products represent a threat or an opportunity. On the one hand, they may increase awareness for the importance of hearing as an essential health condition. On the contrary, however, they potentially minimize the importance of counseling, fitting, and follow-up as it relates to hearing health care. Thus, the double-edged sword of hearable devices—will they grow the market or set it back? Time will tell, but as long as audiologists continue to stress the importance of our role in the process, our role cannot be commoditized. Thoughts on hearables? We’d love to hear from you!
David Fabry, Ph.D., is the Academy’s editor-in-chief for www.audiology.org and Audiology Today magazine. He is also the vice president of audiology and professional relations for Starkey Hearing Technologies. Contact Dr. Fabry