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048 – Kat Penno & Andy Bellavia – Lifestyle Enhancement Devices

The next episode of the Future Ear Radio podcast features Andy Bellavia, Director of Market Development at Knowles, and Kat Penno, Founder and Principal Audiologist of The Hearing Collective. In an effort to help keep each other and the audience abreast with the fast-moving hearables industry, we’ve decided that the three of us will get together every few months to do a recap of recent hearables news. My hope is that the audience finds these conversations helpful in staying up to date.

From left to right: Audeara Headphones, Nuheara IQbuds² Max, Jabra Elite 75T, BeHear Now, EVEN Headphones, Nuraphone, AirPods Pro

We start with a high-level overview of some of the most interesting hearable products on the market today. It’s fantastic to watch as competition breeds innovation, and it’s quite stunning the overall improvement in quality that has been made in this product category in the span of a few years. Additionally, as consumer devices provide feature sets that augment and tailor the device’s audio to one’s hearing profile, we’re seeing innovative and creative approaches to the hearing test itself. It’s so cool to see all traditional facets of hearing care being reimagined as the market grows with new product offerings.

Kat’s been at the forefront of experimenting with using hearables as non-traditional hearing loss solutions with The Hearing Collective, which is why I find her perspective so valuable. While Andy and I might have some ideas as to how hearing professionals might utilize some of this new technology, Kat’s actually doing it. As she points out, building a strong understanding of these new product offerings allows her to better match each solution to the patient depending on the situation. This has been a reoccurring theme on the podcast lately – hearing aids are just one tool in the tool box.

Perhaps the most interesting comment of the podcast came from Andy as it relates to how these entry-level hearables can be positioned by the hearing professional:

“I think the (provider’s) message is as much about lifestyle as anything else. You don’t need hearing correction because you’re old. You want hearing correction for lifestyle improvement purposes. When you go into a noisy restaurant and you struggle to hear, I can take care of that for you. When you’re on Zoom meetings all day long, do you feel overly fatigued? Lifestyle is everything for many people and by addressing their hearing loss, they’re going to enjoy tangible benefits.”

The second half of the conversation begins to delve into the topic of new things one can do with their devices. What’s so exciting about the mass proliferation of AirPods and all its competitors, is that there’s more incentive than ever for developers, designers, and content creators to build applications or create content, specific to our ears. Devices that are designed to provide hearing correction, also get the benefit of being conduits to this burgeoning audio ecosystem.

This is why I am such a big AirPods proponent – we in the hearing care industry get all the benefits of the app & content demand being generated from the hundreds of millions of people who are outfitting themselves with intelligent earbuds.

For example, look at what Foursquare rolled out this week with its Marsbot audio AR platform. Essentially, this platform allows any business or user to create audio snippets, which are then “dropped” into a location. So, if I am a huge fan of a coffee shop, I might leave a quick audio snippet, and when others who have Marsbot activated on their hearable walk by the geo-location of the audio I have “dropped,” they’ll hear my snippet.

Now imagine this at scale. You’re walking by a row of shops, and I’m getting a combination of the shop owners issuing promotions or the special of the day or whatever incentive to get me into the store. In addition, I’m hearing all the content that my friends or fellow users are dropping. It’s tantalizing for retailers and brands from a promotional standpoint, and it creates a totally fun new experience when I’m wearing my AirPods, hearables or hearing aids.

Are you starting to see what I mean when I say that we’re going to see all types of applications built for our ears? We’re only getting started. Things will only get more interesting from here and I firmly believe that professionals who continue to push themselves to be as knowledgeable about these emerging products and use cases, will enable themselves to be invaluable in their patients’ eyes.

The biggest winner of them all, however, is the consumer who’s going to have a plethora of solutions that will only get better, more affordable and more capable in time.

-Thanks for Reading-

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