Today is World Hearing Day and the World Health Organisation has taken the opportunity to launch the first-ever “World Report on Hearing”. In it, they warn that more than 1 billion young people are at risk of avoidable hearing loss, with the total number of people predicted to develop hearing loss rising to around 2.5 billion by 2050. A key message is prevention, warning of the immense social and economic cost of hearing loss if this increase continues.
Yesterday, Apple pre-empted the report by releasing findings from the first year of their Hearing Study. Their report shows that the average weekly headphone exposure for one in ten participants was higher than the WHO recommended limit. They remind listeners that “while catchy tunes can be tempting, you should consider listening to music and other media at the lowest enjoyable volume”. It’s a useful piece of research, as it is collecting real data about usage, providing some of the most accurate information we have on what people actually do.
In contrast, Spotify is still urging users to turn up the volume. Last week, at its virtual “Stream On” event. Spotify announced “a new HiFi service, which will deliver music in a CD-quality, lossless audio format”. It claims that “fans will be able to experience more depth and clarity while enjoying their favorite tracks”. To promote the new service, they’ve commissioned a short YouTube video from Billie Eilish and FINNEAS, which contradicts almost everything that the WHO is trying to do promote hearing health. It appalls me that anyone at Spotify released it. Here’s a transcript and a brief analysis of the opening conversation.
In October 2020, the hearables industry acquired its first unicorn. Eargo, a startup making hearing aids, had a successful IPO, with its market valuation rising to $1.3 billion. It’s been on a roller-coaster ever since, nudging $3 billion last month before sliding back to $2.3 billion. Some might argue that it’s not the first hearables unicorn, as Apple acquired Beats for $3 billion back in 2014, but Beats was never really a unicorn. Beats had received a $500 million investment from Carlyle the year before, which gave it a valuation at just over $1 billion, but a large chunk of that valuation was based on their music service, not their hardware. Ironically, the success of Airpods means that Apple now almost certainly outsells its acquisition, making Beats the junior hearables partner. We’ll probably never know whether Beats played any part in the Airpod’s development, or whether it was a purely internal Apple development, but that’s history. The question on everybody’s lips in the hearables industry is “Who will be the next unicorn?”
The UK Government has just announced its latest initiative to make us into a technology heavyweight – the ARIA project. What we don’t know yet is whether the fat lady singing the aria is destined to be a consumptive Mimi or a brash Anna Nicole? If the scheme is set up and run by the same people responsible for previous UK tech development initiatives, it’s more likely to be a cut-price Florence Foster Jenkins. Which would be a great pity, as there’s a lot to be said for having a decent funding scheme.
Just before the Christmas lockdown, we were lucky enough to get out to see a revival of Sasha Regan’s excellent, all-male Pirates of Penzance in the West End, as well as treating ourselves to a meal at one of our favourite local restaurants. Having been confined to home since then, it started me wondering what would happen if you tried to combine the two experiences?
Last year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was the last big technology event to take place before Covid hit. The following month, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was cancelled, heralding in a year in which the traditional platforms for product announcements disappeared. That hasn’t stopped new products appearing, not will it; the design lead times for phones and TVs are at least two to three years, so even next Christmas’ products will have started off before Covid. The design departments for major high-tech companies are a bit like supertankers – they’re difficult to stop or change direction. Where the absence of exhibitions may be more keenly felt is within smaller companies and startups, who typically use these events to gauge interest in their products and visions.
Last October, Hackney Council in London suffered a major cyber-attack, which took many of its customer-facing services offline. Three months on, many of those are still not available. The council has been coy about exactly what happened, but has just released a statement telling Hackney residents that some of the data which was stolen in the data breach has now been released by the hackers.