The world of hearables is undergoing a massive disruption, and people who use hearing aids will be the beneficiaries.
As tech giants like Google, Amazon and Apple respond to consumer demand by developing hands-free wearable technology, virtual assistants like Alexa will be going mobile — right into your ear. Soon, AI-enhanced hearables will do the same things as your smartphone does currently, and more.
The goal is that with your Bluetooth earbuds, you’ll be able to shop online, order food, ask questions, get reminders, make appointments, and stream music or podcasts, all without touching a device. Plus, the wifi-enabled ear wearables of the near future will have noise-cancelling properties and be able to amplify specific voices.
While these market titans lead the charge in earphone technology — changing at the same time public perception of earpieces from that of stigma to must-have wearable tech — the question of battery life and convenience will finally be conquered.
Rechargeable Batteries are Getting a Boost
Hearing aids are only as strong as their batteries.
When you’ve got a more complex device, such as one that uses Bluetooth technology for streaming and making calls, you need batteries with increased energy density and capacity.
Consumers want more too: They want batteries to hold their charges longer and they want batteries that are as environmentally neutral as possible. They want the convenience associated with their smartphones and smart homes.
And the answer certainly isn’t batteries that need to be discarded and replaced every three or four days. The answer is rechargeable batteries, which means rechargeable hearing aids are primed to become the market norm.
The Contenders: Lithium-ion and Silver-zinc Rechargeable Batteries
Lithium-ion batteries are designed to be small and lightweight, but still have the high energy density necessary for complex hearing aids. Once fully charged, the unit will function for up to 30 hours before needing to be recharged, with a voltage as much as three times that of other rechargeable batteries.
They have a low self-discharge and can be recharged hundreds of times in their typical lifespan of six years, with no battery deterioration over time.
Sealed into the unit case, the battery is protected from elements such as moisture and dust. If you’re sweating in the garden or doing renovation work, you won’t have to worry about your wearable!
Silver-zinc rechargeables also provide all-day power, but the lifetime is only one year instead of six. Depending on how depleted the battery, a full charge can take up to seven hours. Because silver-zinc batteries are not available to purchase online, consumers have to go to their hearing care provider to buy new ones.
However, they surpass lithium-ion batteries in terms of energy density; the technology allows much smaller sizes and the batteries are non-flammable, non-toxic and can be recycled.
Silver-zinc batteries can be removed and replaced with zinc air disposable batteries. This is useful if you’ve forgotten to charge your hearing aids at night or are away from home and didn’t bring your charger with you.
Things to look for when buying rechargeable hearing devices include portable chargers. These are great for travel, especially when you’re going off grid. The best would be a unit that allowed at least 3 full charges.
Another convenience is an auto-on feature, which simply means that the hearing aids are fully functional when removed from the charger. The lack of on/off switch is appreciated by users with vision or dexterity issues.
Get the Most Out of Your Rechargeable Batteries
Before rechargeables, disposable zinc-air batteries were generally tossed when the hearing aid wasn’t working efficiently. With a rechargeable system, the battery isn’t the first thing blamed, and the entire unit needs to be evaluated.
Some best-practice tips, though, include charging the hearing aids nightly and don’t deplete the battery by skipping days. When you’re not wearing them, whether for a few minutes or a few days, keep your hearing aids in the charger: it won’t overcharge them, but will make sure they stay fully charged.