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Samsung to enter hearing aid market

Samsung look set to enter the hearing aid industry, they will probably unveil a new hearing aid in 2016 and it will almost certainly tie in with a release of their Galaxy smartphones.

Samsung are creating quite a stir in the industry, with lots of speculation about their pending products. They have filed a number of hearing-related patents in the US, which got tongues wagging. They had a number of people attending International Hearing Aid Conference (IHCON) back in 2014 where they were apparently photographing everything and gathering as much information as the could. According to the press in Korea, they purchased $13.9M worth of hearing aid amplifiers in April 2015, which is a large order, so whatever they have planned it seems like they are going for it in a big way.

More choice and possibly ground-breaking innovation from a new player in the hearing aid market can only be a good thing for us consumers.

So what are Samsung’s hearing aids going to look like, how will they work, how will they be sold and how good will they be? No-one knows yet. Another unanswered question is whether Samsung will seek FDA approval for their devices or whether they will market them as “personal sound amplifiers” rather than medical devices, thus avoiding the regulatory process.

There are long-established hearing aid styles, namely in-the-ear and behind-the-ear, and the various flavours of each, and I would imagine Samsung will stick with the tried and tested models. I don’t expect them to come out with anything that looks radically different to what we wear today.

Samsung are the second biggest player in the smartphone market, behind Apple, so the obvious thing for them to do is to make their new hearing aid(s) work in unison with their phones. Apple already have their Made For Iphone system, which currently works with ReSound, Starkey, Beltone and some other hearing aid ranges – it is certain that Samsung will follow suit and make their latest phones and hearing aids work together. This will probably mean the best possible hearing experience on calls and when streaming music and video from your phone but will likely allow you to control your aid with your phone. I see this going much further than just being able to change the volume and programmes, I wouldn’t be surprised to see in-built hearing tests that record your audiogram on your phone, location aware hearing settings using the phone’s GPS, easy connection to a hearing professional for tuning your aids remotely, among other things. Smartphones these days are so powerful, when tightly coupled to a hearing device, the sky is the limit.

How will they be sold? That largely depends on whether Samsung get FDA approval or not. My feeling is that they will not get approval and will not sell them as medical devices, this will free them up to sell online and via other channels without the need for the patient to seek help from a hearing professional. I’m not sure whether the lack of FDA approval makes any difference to what features the devices can have, seems to me that the FDA approval controls more how you market and describe your product rather than what the product actually does: i.e. hearing aids are “medical devices” that try to “correct a hearing loss” and “are fitted for an individual’s medical condition” whereas PSAPs are more simply defined as “devices that enhance some sounds in specific situations”. I wonder if Samsung can bring a fully-functioning hearing aid to market but call it a PSAP?

Samsung’s entry into the hearing aid market will be interesting, I hope they bring some innovation with them.