2.4 GHz Bluetooth

Have you heard the one about a hearing aid from Apple?

November 25, 2013: 7:24 AM ET

According to Reuters, a miniature iPhone-compatible hearing aid will arrive by March 2014.

Source: Patently Apple

Source: Patently Apple

FORTUNE -- The report out of Reuters' Copenhagen bureau that moved on the wires Sunday was mostly about how Denmark's earpiece industry, which makes half the world's hearing aids, has targeted the aging baby boomer market.

But buried in the story are some details that could be of interest to Apple (AAPL) watchers.

According to Reuters, Apple has collaborated with GN Store Nord, the world's fourth largest hearing aid maker, to "develop a device packed with bluetooth-like technology that installed in the ear allows users to stream voice and music from their iPhones without the need for an intermediary device."

Apple is also said to be talking to the rest of the hearing aid manufacturers about how their 2.4 GHz earpieces could communicate with the 2.4 GHz Bluetooth technology in the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S.

Thanks to low-power transmitters, better batteries and custom chips, hearing aids can be smaller and more discreet than ever. Morgan Stanley called GN's second-generation 2.4 GHz hearing aid -- branded the LiNX -- "the first attempt to turn a hearing aid into more of a lifestyle product."

GN's first-generation LiNX. Photo: Heinz-Peter Bader for Reuters

GN's first-generation LiNX. Photo: Heinz-Peter Bader for Reuters

The iPhone-compatible LiNX is scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2014, according to Reuters, which I suspect would put it ahead of a watch or a TV or any of the other new devices Apple is supposed to be developing.

The global market for hearing aids is estimated to be $15 billion, with a lot of room for growth. The World Health Organization estimates that 5% of the world's population -- 360 million people -- have a disabling loss of hearing. That addressable market will only get bigger with each generation that grows up listening to loud music through white earbuds.

According to Berenberg Bank, only one in four Americans who could use a hearing aid wears one.

Done right, a tiny earpiece that can help you hear better AND communicate wirelessly with an iPhone -- taking phone calls, for example -- could be a cool product.

The price points are certainly attractive for a company like Apple that prefers markets with healthy margins. Premium hearing aids sell in the U.S. for about $3,000, and GN has said that it will probably launch LiNX with a 5% to 10% premium.

Patently Apple notes that Apple has filed at least two hearing aid patents this year, one in February and another in October that incorporated anti-noise technology.

"Hearing aid compatible (HAC) mobile phones are becoming more commonly available to the public," Patently Apple reported last month. "In addition to the typical acoustic receiver, HAC phones may also include a separate magnetic field radiator, such as a loop of wire, also referred to as a telecoil or T-coil, specifically designed for inductively coupling with the T-coil of a nearby hearing aid. Such phones are thus compatible with both the microphone of a hearing aid, as well as its T-coil."

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