With iOS 12 and AirPods, you can turn your iPhone into a remote mic

Apple's wireless earbuds are getting a feature previously found only in Made for iPhone hearing aids.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
2 min read

With iOS 12, Apple's AirPods will now work with a feature that turns an iPhone into a directional mic. 

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

Apple's AirPods are about to get a feature that helps you hear better. 

The next version of Apple's mobile operating system, iOS 12, will include the capability to turn your iPhone into a directional microphone. The feature, called Live Listen, has been offered in Made for iPhone hearing aids for years and has let people with hearing problems better pick up conversations being held around them. 

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With Live Listen, your iPhone works as a remote microphone to home in on sound in noisy environments. You can place your iPhone at the other end of a conference table or the other side of a crowded room and then pipe the sound directly to your ears. Some hearing aid companies, like Starkey, even enable the microphone feature to record conversations.

Apple didn't provide more details about the feature, which will launch with iOS 12 later this year. The software is currently available in beta for developers. A public beta will launch in the coming weeks, followed by a full release this fall with the next crop of iPhones.

Apple's move to make Live Listen work with AirPods is the latest push by a tech giant into augmented hearing. Many companies are releasing so-called hearables -- wearables for your ears -- that do more than stream music. Some pack in smarts to give you directions or share information about something you're facing, while others integrate features to make them more accessible for people dealing with hearing loss. 

It's a large crowd. Roughly 48 million Americans, or a fifth of the country, deal with some degree of hearing loss, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. It's not just age-related hearing loss; it affects 15 percent of school-age children as well. 

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