Apple Exploring Future AirPods’ Potential Use as Health Devices: WSJ

Apple could be looking into ways to bring health features to its AirPods.

A new report from the Wall Street Journal claims Apple is studying the possibility of using future AirPods to enhance hearing and monitor health metrics like temperature and posture.

However, these functions “aren’t expected by next year and might never be rolled out to consumers or the timing could change,” notes the report. In other words, it sounds like the Cupertino company is just exploring these new health features, rather than actively working on integrating them with products due out in the next year or two.

Apple would face numerous hurdles to marketing AirPods as health gadgets as 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, and 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 of current market options.

Bringing these types of capabilities to AirPods would be the latest way Apple is making a push into health. A September report also from the Journal said that Apple might bring a thermometer and blood pressure tool to a future Apple Watch. Another September report from the Journal said the company is also looking at how to use the iPhone to detect depression and cognitive decline.