Apple tipster says AirPods Pro are getting a new hearing aid mode in iOS 18

AirPods Pro
(Image credit: Future)

Although we're not expecting to see any new hardware for the AirPods Pro 2 this year – the lesser AirPods will be getting USB-C and other improvements in 2024 but the next AirPods Pro refresh isn't reportedly planned until 2025 – it looks like the AirPods Pro series could be getting a massive feature upgrade in iOS 18 that could likely upset some existing audio companies.

According to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman as reported by 9to5Mac, this year's iOS 18 upgrade is going to bring a new Hearing Aid Mode to Apple's best AirPods. We've suspected something like that would be coming for some time now after Gurman said last year that a hearing test feature was in the works alongside other hearing health features.

Many have already found AirPods to be surprisingly cheap hearing aids – in fact, here's a breakdown of how to use your AirPods Pro as hearing aids – as current models have audio features like a Live Listen mode, which can better focus on individual speakers, and Conversation Boost mode, which amplifies the sound of the person in front of you. Those features already compare very well to some existing hearing aids.

This new Hearing Aid Mode will apparently go much further, although as yet Gurman doesn't have any specific details. But it's a very interesting development for anyone whose hearing could do with a boost.

Why a hearing aid mode could be a really big deal

Hearing aids are ruinously expensive, but at heart they're not very complicated technology. And that means the industry is ripe for the tech industry to come in and improve. But until very recently the tech industry couldn't do that, because in the US hearing aids were classed as medical devices and regulated by the FDA. As we reported last year, "that adds cost and complexity that simply doesn't apply to regular earbuds, and it has a side-effect of keeping competition out".

That changed in 2022, with the FDA allowing over-the-counter hearing aid sales. Apple reportedly hired engineers from existing hearing aid firms, and of course it already has years of audio experience through its AirPods division. So it was always a question not of if Apple would come for the hearing aid market, but when. 

By combining Apple's excellent AirPod integration with more traditional hearing aid features, it could create audio aids that are really compelling. That's good news for Apple, because it means it'll sell more AirPods. But it's also good news for us, because it should massively bring down prices. You know a market has been protected for too long when Apple prices look like the budget option.

Such AirPods would also fit nicely with Apple's long-term goal of helping its customers live better, healthier lives – and of making AirPods more than just earbuds by adding additional health tracking features too. That's a long-term goal rather than something we'll see this year, but the arrival of a hearing aid mode in iOS 18 is a shot across the bows of existing manufacturers that they'll hear very clearly.

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.