Apple’s new Health feature tracks unsafe headphone volumes

According to recent numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO), roughly half of people aged 12-35 are at risk for hearing loss. That’s due in no small part to the explosive growth in “personal listening devices” like smartphones. Young people are cranking up the volume on their headphones and could be doing irreparable damage to their hearing in the process.

One of the health features Apple didn’t get around to discussing onstage yesterday tracks headphone volume levels over time. The feature, which is available as part of the Health app, is able to track listening levels on calibrated and MFi headphones (including AirPods, Beats and the like). That information will be logged as either “OK” or “Loud” based on guidance from the WHO. 

The feature joins the new Noise app, which uses the Apple Watch’s built-in microphones to measure ambient noise. That app will send notifications if sound levels reach 90dBs — the level at which sustained exposure can lead to hearing loss.

The headphone health feature is less proactive — presumably because users have to opt into loud headphone volumes. Still, there’s something to be said for the ability to receive notifications when levels get loud, particularly over a sustained time period. I know I’ve certainly been in situations where I’ve unknowingly cranked the volume up on my headphones at, say, the gym where I’m using my own music to counteract whatever they’re pumping through the PA.

As this generation ages, this issue will likely only become more critical. But by the time many begin to discover the problem with prolonged volumes, it could be too late.