Daily Updates, Future Ear Radio

Future Ear Daily Update: 4-18-19

The Future of Wearable Tech Is Called a Hearing Aid

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Image: PIPPA DRUMMOND FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

Today, Bloomberg published a lengthy article on American hearing aid manufacturer, Starkey, and the way it has reinvented itself as a company following a rather nasty trial in 2016. The former leadership team was largely removed, either through convictions in the trial (lots of embezzling) or fired, and replaced by a number of industry outsiders. One of the most notable hires was Achin Bhowmik, formerly of Intel’s Perceptual Computing group, who came on board as the Chief Technology Officer.

Achin seems to be the brain behind Starkey’s new flagship hearing aid (which they’ve dubbed “healthable”) Livio AI, which in my opinion is the truest version of an “ear-computer” that we’ve seen to date. I’ve written a lot about Livio AI and won’t rehash here why I think this is such an important device not just to the hearing aid industry, but to the entire tech industry. Instead, what I want to write about today is an excerpt from the article near the end that is very revealing about true hearable adoption (emphasis mine):

“The next day, the audiologists go back to their practices to begin selling the Livio AI to patients. Which isn’t hard. Within just four months, the device will account for 50 percent of all product sales worldwide at Starkey. For 2019, the projection is 80 percent.

Since Starkey is a privately held company, we don’t see the type of public disclosures that reveal unit sales. So, to see that Livio AI is driving such a massive chunk of the company’s revenue is incredibly revealing. As bullish as I have been on hearables and the trend that we’ll all be adopting mini ear-computers across the next 5 years, I had absolutely no idea that Livio AI was thriving and penetrating the market as quickly as it is. This is evidence that the market is hungry and ready for sophisticated in-the-ear wearable devices.

The title of this article might seem odd and off-base, but as counter-intuitive as it seems, hearing aids really are on the bleeding edge of wearable innovation. We’re talking about a nearly invisible device, that offers 45-hours of battery life, a tandem of smart assistants that work in conjunction (Thrive Assistant for local queries; Ok Google for general, cloud-based queries), live-language translation in 27 languages, embedded inertial & heart rate sensors, and a companion app to support and visualize all these features and data. What other device on the market is capable of all that?

I understand that the price point is considerably high today, but in light of the sales volume of Livio AI, I would guess that the consumer market and fellow hearing aid manufacturers are going to follow the path that Achin and Starkey are blazing. My hope is that competition will lead to lower costs and make this type of technology accessible to the masses. With that being said, I would imagine that Starkey is going to continue to double-down on Livio AI and continue to transform in-the-ear devices into computers, the same way the iPhone transformed the phone into a pocket computer.

Who would have guessed that the humble hearing aid would one day be the poster child for body-worn technology and computing?

-Thanks for Reading-

Dave

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