It seems that tech headlines as of late have centered on the young, their social media habits and hot gadgets gone lukewarm – from Facebook’s (FB) supposed “teen problem” to Apple’s (AAPL) “disappointing” iPhone sales. It’s earnings season, of course, and that means tech company shares rise and fall on quarterly metrics such as clicks per thousand and apps downloaded. But perhaps lost in the shuffle is the fact that there are some tech-centric trends emerging that are not only good for business, but good for improving quality of life, too.
While games like Angry Birds still dominate the list of app store best sellers, the next wave of software innovation to hit handheld computing is shaping up to be an actual game changer – “apps for life,” you could call them.
The wearable computer is already evolving into a role as home health monitor, diagnostic tool and exercise coach. Exercise bands can now bring heart rate, blood sugar and other medical data to the handheld device, giving physicians a regular record and consumers a more immediate sense of how well they’re doing with their diet or exercise programs. And as Apple points out in a recent video, the iPhone can control artificial limbs: yes, there is an app for that.
Now, the iPhone will be transformed into a hybrid “audio command” center and hearing aid. Due to debut in February, the app, and the hearing aid that will utilize it, should shine a spotlight on an under-served, and key market – not teens, tweens or millennials, but Baby Boomers.
It’s no secret that the Baby Boomer generation is spending a lot of time, and money, to combat the effects of aging. But it’s interesting to note that industry stats show more than 350 million people have appreciable hearing loss, yet the hearing aid industry, which has rather anemic sales growth in the single digits, has yet to make significant inroads to serve that population.
That’s at least partly due to the fact that nobody wants to look like a) they’re getting older and b) they need some assistive technology to function as they once did. But those concerns can disrupt real quality of life. Anyone who has ever worked with a colleague or relative whose hearing is failing knows how frustrating it can be for both parties to communicate with one another.
Currently, several hearing aids can wirelessly connect with other devices via Bluetooth technology. But they also use an intermediary, pendant-like device, which may attract attention, as it is certainly more noticeable than the hearing aid itself.
Enter Beltone First™, the industry’s first direct-to-iPhone hearing aid, which will be released this quarter and sold through Beltone’s network of more than 1,500 dealers worldwide (Beltone is a unit of GN Store Nord). The Beltone aid takes a different approach than many of its peers, and eliminates the “middle man” device. By syncing with the iPhone, the Beltone aid also functions as a type of “audio command center” which also allows users to stream audio from videos and music directly to the aids.
Due to its unobtrusive appearance and lack of bulky intermediary device, Beltone First may help in alleviating the perceived stigma of hearing aids. Certainly there’s a benefit to Apple as well, as the company can remain relevant to an aging user base (the ones who first bought Apple computers, say, 30 years ago).
The app itself will offer a range of personalization options that can fit just about any social situation. The iPhone will be able to adjust sound settings automatically for background noise. For instance, the app can “remember” whether a restaurant you frequent is noisy, or hushed, and adjust the aids’ setting accordingly, using the iPhone’s “geo-tagging” abilities.
There are other features that can be of use to Boomers, who may be starting find themselves a bit forgetful. Similar to the popular Find My iPhone app, you can actually find your lost hearing aids, first with GPS and then via direct connection.
Though the Beltone will initially be released to work with the iPhone, GN Store Nord is developing an Android version for anticipated release later this year. That means that Boomers will be able to use these “apps for life” no matter the device they choose.
Hilary Kramer is the editor in chief of the subscription newsletters: Game Changers, Breakout Stocks Under $10, High Octane Trader, Absolute Capital Return Portfolio and Inner Circle. Formerly, Hilary was the CIO of a $5 billion global private equity fund. She has an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and began her Wall Street career as an analyst at Morgan Stanley. Hilary is the author of The Little Book of Big Profits from Small Stocks (Wiley) and Ahead of the Curve: Nine Simple Ways to Create Wealth by Spotting Stock Trends (Free Press). To learn more about Hilary Kramer visit: http://GameChangerStocks.com.