Sony announced today that it has partnered with Danish hearing device experts WS Audiology to develop consumer-friendly, over-the-counter (OTA) hearing aids that users can “just pick up and use as naturally as contact lenses,” Sony’s Osamu Hajimoto says in a video from Sony Global.
According to the press release, the companies — one known for industry-leading earbuds like the WF-1000XM4s, the other for brands such as Widex, Signia, and Rexton — already have their first product in development, which will sell under the Sony brand name for the U.S. market. No further details were included. “Through the partnership, Sony and WSA will combine their respective technological and medical expertise to create solutions that will shape this new field,” the release says.
This “new field” of more affordable and easier-to-obtain hearing devices received a significant boost recently when the Food and Drug Administration confirmed its ruling allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter or through online retailers without a prescription or medical exam. OTC hearing aids are intended for those with “perceived mild to moderate hearing impairment,” and the FDA’s move could mean lower prices for millions of Americans.
The ruling takes effect in October, but it’s clear from the Sony announcement that companies will be clamoring over each other to get in on what could be a lucrative new market. Several consumer technology manufacturers, such as Ergo, Jabra, Olive Union, and Bose have already entered the fray.
“The partnership will leverage Sony’s longstanding audio and product miniaturization technologies, its brand, and its broad consumer sales and service infrastructure … in conjunction with WSA’s hearing aid technology and innovation strength,” the release says.
And WSA has indeed been a pioneer in the hearing technology industry, with more than 140 years of experience developing solutions for the hearing impaired. “We have always wondered if we could do something to improve the quality of life for hearing aid users,” Hajimoto tells WSA’s Chief Marketing Officer and President OTC, Dr. Maarten Barlmentlo, in the video. “That’s why we approached WSA because you are the experts in this field.”
By setting their sights on the OTA hearing aid market, “both companies are trying to build a world where top-of-the-line hearing aids can be obtained more easily and by all people who are seeking solutions for better hearing with easy-to-use features that personalize the hearing aid.”