Apple upgraded the AirPods Pro last year, but Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman says another minor hardware update is coming soon. The iPhone 15’s switch to USB-C will also bring new USB-C cases for the AirPods Pro 2. While that will be a minor update for the popular product, Apple is reportedly working on brand new features for a future generation. The 3rd-generation Pro model might offer two big health-tracking features. The AirPods Pro could measure temperature and help diagnose hearing issues via a built-in hearing test.
The hearing health test is something I’d appreciate right away. I already pay attention to Apple’s noise level warnings built into the iPhone’s Health app. Getting an early sign that I might need to have my ears checked (or rechecked) would be even better.
As usual with rumored Apple features for unreleased devices, there’s no telling whether the AirPods Pro 3 will get the hearing test feature. But Gurman said in his Power On newsletter that Apple is already developing new health features:
The company is working on a new hearing test feature that will play different tones and sounds to allow the AirPods to determine how well a person can hear. The idea is to help users screen for hearing issues, not unlike how the Apple Watch ECG app checks for heart problems. The hearing test could ‘Sherlock’ — or make irrelevant — existing apps like Mimi. (Apple held a meeting with its developers a few years ago.)
I’m looking to take advantage of the rumored AirPods Pro’s hearing test feature immediately, not at some point much later down the road. I’m already experiencing hearing issues, which I want to address as soon as possible. I won’t wait for these next-gen AirPods to arrive for a diagnosis.
But the ability to perform regular hearing tests could turn out to be invaluable when it comes to treating any hearing loss or other issues down the road.
The Apple Watch lets you track your heart rate, and some models take EKGs. These extra data points should come in handy when visiting your cardiologist. Similarly, AirPods Pro-powered hearing tests could help better manage hearing conditions.
I wonder whether the hearing test feature will be available only on new hardware. Or whether Apple will use software to enable hearing tests on older versions.
I will point out a recent study that found AirPods Pro are used as hearing aids. People with hearing issues are taking advantage of a few built-in features that let them boost sound around them that is.
The AirPods Pro aren’t genuine hearing aids, as Apple lacks regulatory approval from the FDA to sell them as such. Until then, features like Conversation Boost and Live Listen could do the trick.
Gurman says that Apple is exploring how to position the AirPods as hearing aids. But it could require approval from the FDA. As a reminder, the FDA released new rules for hearing aid purchases last year. You can buy over-the-counter hearing aids without an exam or prescription.
The hearing ais business is a $10 billion-a-year market “that’s ripe for reinvention,” Gurman points out.
Also interesting is the ability of AirPods Pro to measure temperature from the wearer’s ear canal. That sort of feature could complement the data from the Apple Watch Series 8 and Ultra models. Currently, Apple monitors the temperature to track fertility and sleep without giving actual temperature readings.
But in the future, temperature sensors inside wearable devices could catch the first signs of an infection or other illness by spotting a higher temperature than usual early.
That said, it’s unclear when the hearing health and temperature features are coming to the AirPods Pro, and if the next-gen model will have them. Again, aside from the USB-C upgrade for the charging case, I wouldn’t expect a major product refresh this year. Keeping in mind, however, that Apple will add new software capabilities to the current AirPods Pro this year, as announced at WWDC 2023.