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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Apple is reportedly exploring ways to use AirPods as health devices

Apple’s health ambitions for AirPods might extend beyond using them to boost conversations. Wall Street Journal sources claim Apple is exploring multiple ways it can use AirPods as health devices. It might use the buds as hearing aids, but it could also use the motion sensors to correct your posture. A prototype would even include a thermometer to check your core body temperature, according to leaked documents.

The features wouldn’t show up in 2022 and might not be available at all, the sources said. Apple declined to comment.

Apple would face numerous hurdles to marketing AirPods as health gadgets. The company would likely require regulatory clearance for at least some features. A US Food and Drug Administration ruleset due in 2022 might make that possible, but it could still take months to approve the earbuds. Even Bose had to wait a long time before it could sell its FDA-cleared SoundControl hearing aids.

There are technical challenges, too. Right now, AirPods Pro won’t last longer than 4.5 hours for listening (with noise cancelling on), and 3.5 hours for calls — that just wouldn’t be practical for health wearables that might need to sit in your ears all day. They’d also need to be comfortable for long periods and adapt to varying types of hearing loss.

It’s easy to see why Apple might expand the AirPods’ usefulness, though. As with the Apple Watch, health could be a selling point that grow the audience beyond the enthusiast core. It might also court a relatively underserved market of people who may have mild or moderate hearing loss, but either can’t afford most hearing aids or don’t like the limited functionality and drab designs that often define the category.

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