iOS 18 could bring ‘Hearing Aid Mode’ to AirPods Pro — what you need to know

 AirPods Pro 2 in charging case.
AirPods Pro 2 in charging case.

Apparently it’s not just the AirPods Max 2 and AirPods 4 that are on track for launch later this year — Apple is also reportedly working on a new ‘Hearing Aid Mode’ for iOS 18 that would work on the current-generation AirPods Pro 2.

News of the feature was mentioned in Mark Gurman’s latest Power On newsletter that went out on Sunday and follows on years of rumors about this proposed accessibility feature. After reiterating that Apple plans "new low-end and mid-tier AirPods to replace the second- and third-generation models (which are either old or subpar) and tweaked AirPods Max headphones that trade in Lightning for USB-C,” Gurman said that anyone looking for new AirPods Pro hardware would be out of luck.

"The big news will be a major new hearing aid mode, coming alongside iOS 18."

Instead, Apple's planning a new feature via a software update, Gurman added: "The big news will be a major new hearing aid mode, coming alongside iOS 18.”

If it comes to fruition, the Hearing Aid Mode would build off of Apple’s work on iOS 15 that added Conversation Boost to its true wireless earbuds — a feature that was relatively well received back in 2021.

The FDA might have something to say about it, though

iOS 18 is expected to launch alongside the iPhone 16 in September of this year, a date that would also potentially line up with the release of the AirPods 4 and AirPods Max 2. However, Apple generally releases a beta of any major iOS update at its Worldwide Developer Conference. We'd expect to see an iOS 18 preview at WWDC 2024.

That said, it’s not as if Apple can just throw some additional audio processing software and call it a day: The company would likely require some sort of accreditation from America’s Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to market the earbuds as hearing aid alternatives.

In 2022 the FDA approved a new type of over-the-counter hearing aids called Personal Sound Amplification Products which require less stringent testing; the AirPods Pro might qualify for that for once the new feature is released.

Sony has recently taken an interest in that area, so it makes sense that Apple would be trying to follow suit as soon as possible.

Regardless of whether or not the feature helps the AirPods Pro clear FDA regulations, any additional accessibility feature that comes built-in to the AirPods lineup for no extra cost feels like a win for the users who need it. Like all purported features, however, we'll reserve final judgment until we can hear it for ourselves at some point later this year.

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