Apple wants to stop you losing your hearing — and to help if you do

When you hear about devices being used to improve health, thoughts inevitably gravitate toward fitness apps. But with Apple Watch and the iPhone Health app, Apple increasingly looks at health in a holistic manner.

As of watchOS 6, Apple started to more fully explore hearing health. Prior to this, Apple had mostly concentrated on volume warning indicators that appeared when you ramped your iPhone’s audio output up too high. But last year, Apple started considering all the noise around you as well.

Noise annoys

The watchOS 6 noise warning system is simple. When in an environment where noise levels are potentially harmful, you can have your Apple Watch alert you. The threshold can be set, and on Apple Watch and iPhone Apple outlines how much exposure to each decibel level the average person can cope with before potentially damaging their hearing.

It works. If you’re at a rock gig, your wrist will repeatedly get a nudge, perhaps making you reason earplugs would be a good idea next time. More surprisingly, you discover everyday actions — commuting on a metro — have the capacity to cause long-term harm. Rather than all this feeling intrusive, it comes across like technology that cares.

Turn it down

This year, Apple’s taking things further by working with the audio that gets pumped directly into your ears. On iPhone, you can in the Sound & Haptics section of Settings reduce any sounds played over a user-defined decibel level. To Control Center, you can add a Hearing control that gives you real-time measurements — and warnings if you’re playing music too loud.

These new features work in tandem with weekly listening notifications, nudging you toward the Health app to check your stats, and to see whether your habits might cause problems years down the line.

Hearing aid

But what if you already have problems with your hearing? On iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, the new Sound Recognition accessibility feature have your phone alert you when it hears specific sounds, such as sirens, animals, doorbells, or a baby crying. (Each of these can be toggled in the Settings app.) And if you’ve compatible headphones, Headphone Accommodations let you adjust balance and certain frequencies, potentially making the audio from music and movies clearer. If you’ve AirPods Pro, it’s even possible to tune the local environment, boosting quiet voices.

Naturally, these things require a certain amount of investment and will most benefit those heavily immersed in the Apple ecosystem. But it’s good to see Apple doubling down on personal wellbeing. These new features aren’t amusing baubles that look good in stills, but functionality that could save your hearing and help you make the most of what you have left. If you’ll pardon the pun, this comes from a company that feels like it’s listening, rather than churning out cold, hard tech, only ever keeping an ear out for yet more profits.