- Published on 10 August 2023
Potential shake-ups of the hearing device market are coming slick and fast. Team-ups between traditional manufacturers and consumer electronic firms such as Sony, HP, and Sennheiser are bringing a rush of stigma-busting earbud hearing aids and lower-priced over-the-counter self-fitting instruments.
An unsurprising addition to this wave is looming from the direction of optics, those fashion-savvy and - more importantly - marketwise eyewear and eye care groups progressively incorporating audiology into their businesses - so far with undisputed success.
A move into hearing inspired by the founder's personal experience
EssilorLuxottica, the Franco-Italian group created through the €50bn merger in 2017 of the late Leonardo Del Vecchio’s eyewear group Luxottica and French lens manufacturer Essilor, is the biggest eyewear group in the world.
Now, this Paris-listed owner of Oakley and Ray-Ban sunglasses is planning a (late) 2024 launch of a tried and somewhat dusted idea: the hearing aid integrated into eyeglasses. But they will be blowing the dust off this one.
"One groundbreaking product" is how EssilorLuxottica is framing its planned combination of glasses and sound amplification. And the move into the hearing health territory, which is the group's first significant strategic change since the death of founder Del Vecchio in 2022, comes with its announcement of the 100% acquisition of the Tel Aviv-based hearing technology startup, Nuance.
This Israeli outfit's experience in finessing hearing in background noise bodes well in this venture. Combining this technology with Nuance's development of directed audio focus is certainly a promising start.
The Nuance tech uses acoustic beamforming technology, a signal processing technique that uses an algorithm to select the preferred hearing direction from sources with the highest acoustic energy, thus cutting through background noise and sonic clutter. Nuance says its hardware and software platform captures sounds, processes them, and plays them at a record speed of 6.25 milliseconds.
However, look and comfort may be the bigger clinchers. Indeed, EssilorLuxottica's founder Del Vecchio suffered from hearing loss himself and was known to complain that hearing aids were not comfortable to wear with eyeglasses, so the move may be inspired by the founder's own notes.
Invisibility of the hearing element - seemingly, just a pair of glasses
The size, market positioning, and experience of this giant player is another reason for people to suppose that this hearing aid eyewear might draw a fair proportion of the 1.25 billion consumers suffering from mild to moderate hearing loss. EssilorLuxottica will be working with known hearing aid companies on the marketing aspects of the venture, though it has not indicated which firms it is talking to. With consumers in 150 countries targeted, the venture wil either notch up big sales or be a notable flop.
But perhaps the key edge to the project's success is that past hearing aid glasses have looked as clunky and weird as shoes with wheels or amphibious cars, hardly a comfort for users worried about the stigma of revealing a disability. The EssilorLuxottica hearing aid eyewear will look like regular glasses thanks to the miniaturisation of the hearing aid within the frame stem.
“As we did in the vision space, we will be the first to remove the stigma of traditional hearing solutions, replacing it with comfort and style,” said the group's chairman and CEO Francesco Milleri.
“While sight remains our core business – and growing the optical market our strategy – we are uniquely positioned to open up a new avenue for the industry by addressing the need for good hearing with innovative technologies,” affirmed Milleri.
Source: Financial Times/Times of Israel