Apple AirPods are the lightweight wireless headphones that provide wireless connection, easy pairing with Apple devices, and good call quality. The devices also include a compact case that charges the AirPods. Can they also function as a useful listening tool or possibly replace hearing aids? Apple intends to support AirPods as a listening tool. An accessibility feature is available that will make AirPods an inexpensive way to hear a normal conversation. This feature, known as Live Listen, enables AirPods and the iPhone or iPad to work together for enhanced hearing in noisy environments. The pairing allows you to use your smartphone as a microphone which streams audio directly into your ears. The phone can be given to another person to speak directly into the iPhone for the listener to better understand.
To use Live Listen with your AirPods, you pair them via Bluetooth on your IOS 12 device. In your settings go to control center, then customize controls, and then tap hearing. Place the AirPods in your ears, pull up control center on the phone then tap hearing. Finally, push Live Listen. The directional microphone on the iPhone amplifies sound. Placing the iPhone next to the person you wish to hear will enhance their voice and block unwanted noise.
As useful as the AirPods are, there exist concerns regarding its use as a hearing aid. The first step for a hearing-impaired individual who requires treatment is a comprehensive hearing evaluation with a hearing healthcare professional. If hearing aids are needed, a hearing aid fitting follows that custom fits a person with a hearing device tailored to their specific hearing needs. This custom fitting process is far different from the AirPods which are one size fits all. Even if a patient can self-diagnose themselves and use AirPods, there is no way of measuring if the device is sufficient for their particular hearing loss. Furthermore, the users of AirPods do not have access to verification equipment. If your hearing is deficient in specific frequencies, the AirPods will not selectively boost those frequencies. Traditional hearing aid battery life can last up to two weeks whereas AirPods can only function 5 hours per charge. There is also the concern with delay, as listening through an iPhone is slightly delayed compared to hearing aids and can make communication complicated.
Apple does not claim that AirPods are a substitute for traditional hearing aids and they advise people to consult with a hearing healthcare professional if they have concerns regarding their hearing ability. Currently, it is unlikely that Apple will receive FDA approval to market AirPods as a hearing aid. It is more probable that the device will receive classification as a Personal Sound Amplification Device (PSAD). Although it is true that the sound quality of the AirPods does not match the high-tech hearing aids available today, the AirPods are considerably cheaper in comparison to traditional hearing aids. The pods do eliminate the stigma of wearing a hearing aid that often deters people from using hearing aids and encourages people to address their hearing problem. Although they are not a substitute, they are indeed a step in the right direction for the future of hearing technology.