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AirPods Pro reportedly will gain a hearing aid mode with iOS 18 - no hardware update needed

Will this make Apple's premium earbuds an FDA-approved medical device? Here's what we know so far.
Written by Artie Beaty, Contributing Writer
June Wan/ZDNET

Apple AirPods Pro have already proven to be an unofficial, more affordable alternative for hearing aids, but they may soon be capable of serving as actual hearing aids.

According to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, when iOS 18 is released this fall, the premium version of Apple's AirPods will get an official hearing aid mode.

Also: Apple's AirPods Pro might be an inexpensive solution to your hearing loss

AirPods do have an existing feature called Conversation Boost that uses a directional microphone to amplify the voice of someone directly in front of you. Some people have used that as a hearing aid alternative, but what the company has planned is apparently much more. 

Specifics weren't outlined, only that this mode is officially on the way. However, if the company is calling it specifically a hearing aid mode, we can take several things from that.

First, hearing aids are classified as medical devices and regulated by the FDA. However, a new category of hearing aids, called personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), debuted a few years ago – and these don't require FDA oversight. While hearing aids are for people who have medically diagnosed conditions, PSAPs are designated for people who have no hearing issues, but want an assist for recreation like birdwatching.

We don't know which side Apple will fall on. The former will be a lot tougher to implement, but if this is being advertised as an official "hearing aid" mode or as something to help people with hearing issues, it would likely have to be FDA-approved. Simply calling it a "hearing assist" mode or something similar -- and not touting benefits for those struggling with hearing issues -- may skirt the regulations.

Also: The best AirPods you can buy: Expert tested

Additionally, hearing aids share a lot of the same features as AirPods, like background noise cancellation, Bluetooth connectivity, and an app to raise or lower volume, so it's interesting to see what Apple might do to separate this hearing aid mode from the existing modes.

And finally, should this prove to be a quality offering, it would be significantly more affordable. Hearing aids can run around $4,000 for a pair or more depending on quality, but AirPod Pros come in at only $249

AirPods may already serve as a decent alternative to hearing aids, but if Apple can improve upon that functionality, it could have huge implications. 

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