Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Made for iPhone Hearing Aids: Intriguing News About iOS 6

A screenshot of Apple's information on accessibility.
Click to enlarge.
Note: See update on November 25, 2013

Yesterday, Apple announced new features coming to their newest version of their operating system, iOS 6. On their website they have a preview of the new operating system, which promises to bring a host of accessibility features to the system along with other features. One of the comments on the preview that jumped out at me, though, is this line:
And Apple is working with top manufacturers to introduce Made for iPhone hearing aids that will deliver a power-efficient, high-quality digital audio experience.
I can't find much more information about this online (not even who the "top manufacturers" are). The wording of this comment seems ambiguous. It could mean there will be "iHearingAids" sometime soon, or the wording could imply an aid to hearing - more accessibility features programmed with the input from manufacturers of hearing aids.

Lastly, and what I think might be the most likely, is that Apple is providing certain specifications that hearing aid manufacturers can meet in order to brand their products "Made for iPhone." This is similar to the way speaker manufacturers and other companies can brand their products "Made for iPhone."

I'm not a big Apple fan (Linux through and through), but the idea of a computing company manufacturing its own brand of hearing aids intrigues me. It may not be happening here, but I could easily see it happening sometime in the future.

What do you think? Would you seek out hearing aids specifically branded "Made for iPhone?"

33 comments:

  1. I just spotted that too and after googling it i found this page. I too am very interested to learn more about what this is about exactly, though at this time I only have what appears an in compatible iPhone 4.

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    1. As someone that has done a little research because of my Dad's hearing loss... this idea is not new. Yes, it is very innovative, but I know of at least one company, Audiotoniq, that plans on releasing a hearing aid that can be customized via bluetooth and smart phone application. I'm real curious to see how this plays out.

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  2. I can't see Apple making their own hearing aids (they are all about focusing on what they are good at and making platforms for others to augment their devices), but I can see this encouraging people who otherwise would ignore their hearing loss to look into it; with people treating a hearing aid as an iPhone accessory rather than a disability aid

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    1. I like your last line! "with people treating a hearing aid as an iPhone accessory rather than a disability aid" is a great way to think about it.

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  3. Being a 33 years old and wearing hearing aids this excites me. I'm hoping it will allow manufactures to make apps that will control hearing aids. Volumne or program changes. I have to carry a seperate remote for that and it would be awesome if my iPhone carried that feature for me. Also there is the streaming audio. Connect the hearing aids via bluetooth and the sounds come directly from the hearing aids. This really excites me.

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    1. Starkey Hearing Technologies already makes apps that can control volume and/or memory settings. It is available in most of their products (besides those with a remote) since 2009. As a matter of fact Starkey has more apps than another other manufacturer and several that help with aural rehab of those who wear hearing aids. Just go to the app store and type Starkey and they should all show up. Starkey also has a new device that will be available in the next week that allows the hearing aids to be the cellphone mics so that an accessory arund the neck is not necessary. THe device also acts as a remote, companion mic, conference mic, and bluetooth streamer.

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    2. The Starkey ap that controls the volume and memory of the hearing aids ONLY works with Starkey hearing aids. So - not too helpful if you wear one of the other major brands. But it's still cool to imagine all the possibilities!

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  4. I too was prompted to start googling "iPhone hearing aids" after the brief mention at WWDC. Although I found a lot of info I was unaware of, I found very little about "made for iPhone hearing aids". I am pretty certain that Apple is not going into the hearing aid business, but it will be some sort of certification process. It could have something to do with telecoil or Wifi technology. Some hearing aids are already able to receive input via Wifi (I was unaware of this). This could be ho-hum, or very exciting! We will see!

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  6. I am a current hearing aid user employing blue tooth technology compatablie with my two year old IPhone. The hearing aids pair thru existing IPhone settings available under "Blue Tooth" in the "General" menu within settings. The hearing aid have to have the capability necessary to produce the desired results....which are amazing in the ability to provide increased clarity and sound volume. I use Phonak hearing aids....and now Costco is offering Blue Tooth compatible hearing aids that will pair with a variety of existing phones.

    Al

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    1. Bluetooth does seem to provide really great sound quality!

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  7. iPhone 4 and 4S have the function provided by the Audience earSmart chip. Discrete in 4 and incorporated into the A5 processor in 4S. This will provided a measure of noise cancellation of all audio/voice picked up by the built-in mic. Connecting my Phonak TX transmitter to the 3.5 mm jack, which sends the signal to my hearing aids via FM will provide directional audio. - In order for that to function, and have the mic active, one needs to have an app loaded. So far I have only tested "Hearing Aid", by TiAu (Gernany) which activates the built-in mic and provides some additional functions. - I think the key is the Audience chip. which I was unable to buy from them to make my own little noise cancellation box without having to go through a cell phone. - That chip is also present in a bunch of Android phones - listed on the Audience web site.
    Audience is not only unwilling to support hearing aids (market too small) but their marketing is lousy. One out of five guys at Apple Genius Bars ever heard of it. None knew how to "activate" the built in mic with an app. - It was a long slog through the Internet.

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    1. @Gunther: The problem with the Audience processor is one that plagues most all audio processing schemes that are NOT optimized for hearing aids: Latency. You need no more than 10 mSec of latency else the comb filter effect and loss of synchronization of lipreading cues~

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  8. Hi Megan,
    It is good news that Apple will assist in those of us with hearing loss.

    On a side note, did you know that Apple software is just a GUI on a Unix platform? And Unix and Linux as virtually the same (think British English vs. American English). By going to a Terminal window, I can perform Linux/unix commands that I normally can't do with the Mac GUI (Join MP3s, delete files using a mask, etc.).

    Just thought you'd like to know!

    Tony

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    1. Thanks Tony! Yes, I was aware of the Apple OS relation to Linux. I'm a big fan of open source though. Apple products are just too closed down for me. I do respect their marketing though, ha-ha. They know how to generate buzz. :)

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    2. Closed as compared to Open does what for most people. Closed can be positive. It means the third party apps downloaded from the walled garden App store are curated. Free of malware and viruses. Android devices and Windows OS need anti virus as we all know. If one is a geek you can root your iPhone to be able to run all the independent stuff available for it.

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  9. Actually, Audiotoniq makes an app to program and control your hearing aids.

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    1. Just checked the Audiotoniq website, but they don't seem to have any real products yet?

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  10. Hi Megan,
    Last night, I just got a new cell phone (not an iphone). I was surprised to find in the manual a section called "Hearing Aid Compatibility Information". The first two sentences are as follows: This phone has been tested and rated for use with hearing aids for some of the wireless technologies that it uses. However, there may be some newer wireless technologies used in this phone that have not been tested yet for use with hearing aids."
    It continues with wording about the importance of testing the phone's features and trying it in various locations to check for noise interference.
    Do you think this could be related?

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  11. My 94 year old mother has Oticon hearing aids which she has been using with her iPhones for several years through Oticon's streamer - an iPod size device which she wears on a cord around her neck and which connects through blue tooth to her hearing aids. This works with iPhone 3G and 3Gs. We also have a blue tooth streamer connecting device on the land-line and on the TV so she can use the streamer to listen to both through her hearing aids. It works pretty well. It would be nice not to have to use the Streamer (the neck cord is a bit touchy - you have to be careful not to bend the wire inside the neck cord) and have the hearing aids connect directly to the iPhone without going through the Streamer

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    1. As a 60 year old individual who will be looking for hearing aids in the future, I'm glad to see these products linking up to phones are coming to the market (I'm still worried about radiation-but that's a different subject); however, other than wireless, and probably the quality of the mics, you all should realize that the state of these products has really not progressed that much further than when they started back in the late '30s, early '40s - my dad was fitted with one of the earlier aids when they came out then. These were purportedly wired ear-phones hooked to almost a brick-sized box attached to the belt. The first one I remember seeing was in the '50s - about the size of a zippo lighter my dad clipped to his undershirt.

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    2. are you kidding me???? hearing aids haven't progressed much since the 1930's????? As an audiologist for the past 20 years, you couldn't be more wrong. The invention of digital chips had advanced the technology 100-fold. And they're only getting better each year.

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    3. Agreed with the second Anonymous poster here. Hearing aids are one of many technologies that has advanced extremely far since the 1940s.

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  12. One partner for Apple will be GN Store.

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  13. I just found out from an Insider at one of the "Big Six" hearing aid manufacturers that they are indeed working with Apple. But, as well know, Steve Jobs imparted a culture of paranoia, so little is known at this time.

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    1. Steve Jobs did not impart a culture of paranoia. Apple, as a like every other corporation is responsible to its owners, the shareholders. So secrecy in product development is extremely important. Its only fair for those doing the research and creating, the partnerships etc.

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  14. The following comment is from Bert who has been trying to comment, but for some reason it's not going through. Bert's comment begins here:

    Megan,

    Did you notice that the phrase “Made for iPhone hearing aids” is restricted in footnote 7 to the iPhone 4S?

    http://www.apple.com/ios/ios6/#accessibility

    Only the iPhone 4S supports Bluetooth 4.0. This means, in Bluetooth SIG parlance, that the iPhone 4S is "Bluetooth Smart Ready” and is capable of connecting to Bluetooth Smart devices using the more energy efficient Bluetooth 4.0 protocol. I was able to find an excellent article, published by the Bluetooth SIG, about Bluetooth 4.0 and hearing aids:

    http://www.bluetooth.com/Pages/Loud-and-Clear.aspx

    In the last paragraph are these two sentences:

    "The advent of Bluetooth low energy technology, the hallmark feature of the Bluetooth Core Specification Version 4.0, answers the challenge of battery drain. And, given the rate at which technology advances, it may not be long before a Bluetooth wireless radio inside a hearing aid will eliminate the need for additional accessories.”

    IMO, Apple is teaming up with top hearing aid vendors to exploit Bluetooth 4.0 capabilities. Apple is a member of the Bluetooth SIG board.

    In personal terms, I have Phonak hearing aids, and a Phonak ComPilot. The ComPilot is a Bluetooth accessory with classical Bluetooth 2.1 support. This means that the ComPilot has an internal rechargeable battery, and must be worn around my neck.

    I also have a 2007 iMac (OS X 10.7.4, and Bluetooth 4.0), and a 2012 iPad (iOS 5.1.1 and Bluetooth 4.0). I can and do connect, via Bluetooth, my hearing aids to the iMac and iPad. Bluetooth 4.0 is downward compatible with Bluetooth 2.1. I do not currently have an iPhone.

    Since I have both tunnel vision and a moderately profound hearing loss, I can and do take advantage of the integrated VoiceOver screen reader on OS X and iOS, and can listen to the screen reader via Bluetooth 2.1. The iOS version of VoiceOver is especially easy to use because of the direct touch interface.

    -Bert

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  15. All of the major hearing aid manufacturers are incorporating Bluetooth into their products. ReSound now has a remote microphone accessory that is pretty cool and Starkey has added it to their more "entry level" products.

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  16. Starkey recently sent out an email to audiologists confirming their work with Apple. From that email:

    "Starkey Hearing Technologies has been working with Apple on this technology, and to clarify, made for iPhone hearing aids will mean that the iPhone will be capable of providing some interaction with hearing aids. The details of this new interaction will be discussed in the future due to confidentiality agreements."

    Bluetooth connectivity has been used in hearing aids for some time now but I think the push will be to remove the streamer (extra accessory) from the equation and allow hearing aids and smart phones to communicate more directly. This is my personal assumption.

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  17. As far as Bluetooth and hearing aids go it doesn't work. Starkey operates on FM signal. Bluetooth is a battery hog and effective life with hearing aid batteries is in the minutes range. The new Apple reveal is more than likely going to be an app that allows the iPhone to do everything the new Surflink Mobile does directly from the iPhone (currently being tested by select patients). Being that Starkey is the only US based manufacture, this technology is only going to be available on Starkey products (Audibel, NuEar, Microtech).

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