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Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right…
Many of us who are Audiologists are familiar with the “vertical integration” of the hearing aid market. This involves manufacturer-owned distribution, and knowledge of this has been the source of much anxiety for Audiologists in private dispensing practices. Many Audiologists feel betrayed by the companies they have supported.
Interestingly, the manufacturers may be facing their own new challenges.
Samsung, the second largest player in the cell phone market, is reported to be poised to enter the Hearing Aid market, possibly this year. They have filed hearing-related patents in the US. They have been gathering information about the current market, as implied by their representatives’ attendance at the 2014 International Hearing Aid Conference, during which they were observed to be taking pictures of equipment. More importantly, Samsung purchased $13.9 million worth of hearing aid amplifiers in April 2014. It’s not clear whether Samsung would market these hearing aids, which corrects impaired hearing, or as Personal Sound Amplifiers (PSAPs), which enhances hearing.
If this potential product is introduced as a hearing aid, rather than a PSAP, David Kirkwood, Editor of Hearing Health and Technologies Matters, believes that Samsung would be positioned to be one of the largest producers of hearing aids in the World, on a par with GN ReSound and William Demant, for example.
Ironically, the manufacturers have enabled technologically-driven companies,
like Samsung, to be ideally positioned to challenge them in their businesses. Fan-Gang Zeng, Ph.D., in “Do or Die for Hearing Aid Industry” in the Hearing Journal (December, 2015) stated that the hearing aid industry has emphasized development over research. Dr. Zeng believes that the industry must conduct a thorough cost-utility analysis, in order to justify a cost consistent with the benefits of the equipment. He further pointed out that not only Samsung, but also Apple and Qualcomm had 816 hearing aid-related patents in 2015, compared to 1600 for all big six manufacturers in the same period.
The final irony of this is that the electronics industry
may use their research to produce products which may be released as PSAPs, circumventing FDA oversight, or may also go to hearing industry secondary companies, such as SoundHawk, AuStar or iHear, competing directly with the Big Six, according to Zeng.
Margaret Hutchison PhD