Hearing Health in WatchOS 6 is going to open our eyes and plug our ears

Apple is yet again bringing our attention to health issues that we normally would overlook using the Apple Watch.
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer

Apple Watch started as an iPhone accessory that acted more like an extended display capable of showing notifications and dumbed-down apps when it launched in 2015. A few generations later, Apple Watch has evolved into a device that's almost broke free of its iPhone chains, between its own cellular connection, audio streaming capabilities, and with the upcoming release of WatchOS 6, the addition of the App Store on the wrist-sized display.

Forget notifications, apps, music and podcasts. Apple Watch's killer feature is making us more aware of our health. Sure, it can count steps, count calories, monitor your heart rate, and remind you to get up and move every hour; staple features for any activity tracker available right now.

Where Apple Watch pushes health monitoring forward is in features like fall detection, which will call for help if it detects you've fallen. There's also an ECG feature that monitors your heart's rhythm and alerts you if it detects anything abnormal. 

When the ECG app released last year, it only took a couple of days for stories to emerge about Apple Watch saving lives. Our own Jason Perlow had a life-changing experience with Apple Watch -- even before the ECG feature was released.

When Apple releases WatchOS 6 later this year, we're going to see another round of stories about how Apple Watch improves lives. More specifically, how Apple Watch can save your hearing.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

A new app in WatchOS 6, called Hearing Health, will automatically monitor the ambient noise of your environment at all times. When Apple Watch detects the decibel level rise to a level that could either temporarily or permanently damage your hearing, it will alert you with a tap on your wrist and information about how long it takes for the noise to cause damage to your hearing.

When Apple announced the feature during the WWDC 2019 keynote, I didn't give it much thought. It wasn't until Jason Perlow talked about WWDC in our recent filming of Jason Squared (embedded at the top of this article) -- when he detailed his experience about receiving a Hearing Health alert in a loud restaurant less than 24 hours after installing the beta -- that I started to realize how big this feature will be.

Perlow theorized during our talk that "Once [WatchOS 6] is on hundreds of thousands of watches, we're going to start walking up to the front desk at restaurants in droves, saying, 'This volume is way too loud. You need to reduce it.'" He's right. 

Perlow also mentioned how could Yelp show whether a place is loud on its business page, but I think it could take it further than a simple label, by allowing users to report dB levels and creating a graph of the dB level based on time of day. Think along the lines of the same graphs that show you when a business gets busy -- but based on noise level. 

There's a lot of potential for this sort of data to be integrated into other apps and services. 

Not only is Hearing Health going to change the way we react to noisy public environments, but it's going to change how we look at noise levels where we work. 

Reddit user Cheeseler posted a picture of a Hearing Health alert on his Apple Watch while at work with the following caption: "The day I started to wear hearing protection at my job. Thanks WatchOS6!" He explained that he's worked in this same loud environment for the past six years without wearing earplugs, and he asked for suggestions of comfortable reusable earplugs.

These are just two examples of users made immediately more aware of their environments after installing a beta version of the software, and reports like these are only going to become more common after the launch of WatchOS 6 later this year. 

Apple Watch's heart features instantly made people more aware of AFib and irregular heart rhythms, and now Hearing Health will, hopefully, help us remember to take care of our hearing. But that's been Apple's approach with its watch all along: Slowly adding new health features that bring awareness to conditions and situations that normally wouldn't even cross our minds. 

Apple WWDC 2019 keynote: Scenes and surprises

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