Apple’s newest health pursuit: Saving users’ hearing

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Apple new watchOS 6 will track safety noise levels
Image: Apple

The fact that Apple is diving into the health space is nothing new. Most of the company’s current efforts focus on monitoring users’ fitness levels or heart health.

However, the tech giant’s newest project has a different target: people’s ears. A tool built into the upcoming watchOS 6 will help users track the noise intensity around them and provide valuable insights on how to protect their hearing.

According to the CDC, 17 percent of adults suffer some level of hearing loss. Therefore, the wearable’s new feature may help prevent damage to one of the human body’s most sensitive organs.

“What Did You Say?”

Users will likely be surprised by just how easy it is to find themselves in an environment noisy enough to cause permanent hearing damage without thinking about it.

Trying to judge the surrounding noise level by ear alone can be extremely deceiving. Since volumes over 85 decibels (dB) can degrade hearing over time, understanding and avoiding loud environments is key to protecting the sense. To put things in perspective, a conversation between two people in a quiet room is usually about 60dB.

A noisy bar might not seem as harmful as a rock concert but volumes there can routinely top 80-100dB. Over a prolonged period, this level of intensity can cause permanent hearing damage.

Apple’s new noise measuring feature will reportedly be built into watchOS 6 as well as upcoming software versions for iPhones in the form of iOS 13. It will work by recording one-second snippets of sound in several-second intervals to measure noise levels in an environment.

Furthermore, users will have access to this data directly on the Apple Watch display and within the Apple Health app. In fact, the app will sync and analyze noise data from both the watch and MFi-connected headphones like AirPods. The watch will display trends over time, such as a steady increase in headphone volume, which may highlight the need for its wearer to visit an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor. To top it off, Apple Health will also provide in-app articles on protecting hearing.

Not the First

Apple’s impending hearing initiative seems to follow the company’s recent trend of replicating and simplifying previously available technology. Whether it’s the iPhone 8 copying the wireless charging that Samsung was using in 2015 or boasting OLED screens that have been available on Androids since 2010, Apple is no stranger to “borrowing” ideas.

Apps to measure ambient noise have been available to users previously. Meanwhile, Android’s open software gives device makers the option to include built-in warnings to alert users when their music is too loud.

However, considering Apple’s success, monitoring environmental noise levels might now become popular. Like most of the tech company’s features, this newest one promises to be simple to use within a beautiful interface. Will a wearable monitor like this prompt the majority of its users to start caring about their hearing health? Only time will tell as the feature rolls out.