Did you know that there are new hearing aids that can connect directly to your iPhone?
Hearing aids have come a long way in the past few decades…and now they’re beginning to cross a new frontier. Hearing instruments, such as the Starkey Halo, are now being categorized as “Made for iPhone” and they are more sophisticated than ever. If we take the advanced digital signal processing that has become available in modern hearing aids, then combine it with the power of the iPhone…well, the possibilities seem endless! Not only can hearing aids automatically adjust themselves based on the environment, the iPhone now allows the user to route all sorts of audio straight through their hearing aids. Right now it’s only available in certain hearing aid models, and they are only compatible with the iPhone. However, other hearing aid brands and other smartphones will undoubtedly be getting in on the action before too long.
What should we expect from this sort of technology?
While it’s not a new thing for hearing aids to synchronize with cell phones and other audio devices, it has always been a challenge for manufacturers to build a hearing aid that connects DIRECTLY to these other devices. Typically, there was a “middle-man” type of device (i.e., Streamer) which received the signal from your phone (or audio device), and then sent the signal to the hearing aids. Of course, these options are still available…but if you have an iPhone (5s, 5c, 5, or 4s) you can now connect the hearing aids directly to the iPhone. That means that everything from phone calls to music streaming goes straight into your ears – BOTH ears – and gives you the benefit of hands free listening, without having to wear an additional device to stream the sound. And it’s not just the iPhone…iPod Touch (5th generation) and iPads (4th generation, iPad Air, and iPad mini) are also compatible. We use these devices for phone calls, watching videos on YouTube, streaming music, connecting with family/friends on FaceTime, etc…and now they are able to stream the sound straight through a hearing instrument that has been custom programming for the user’s hearing loss.
So…what does this mean?
Quite simply, everything boils down to clarity. Clarity for speech is arguably the number one desire of individuals with hearing loss. Whether we’re talking about one-on-one conversation, dialogue on a movie/video, a phone call, or hearing the lyrics to your favorite song…no one wants it to be “garbled”. Unfortunately, hearing loss often causes just that: garbled sound. Current hearing aid technology can do a fantastic job of providing better clarity…but there are still limitations. If we think about what is going on, especially in terms of sound and acoustics, we realize that the process looks like this:
The Old Process
Sound comes out of a speaker (perhaps a call from the iPhone, or music from the iPod, or YouTube video from the iPad), and it fades a bit and also mixes with noise and reverberation in the environment…all of which are bad things. The sound is then picked up by the microphone of the hearing aid, which processes the signal according to the user’s hearing loss and then sends the sound out of its own speaker into the ear.
Compare that to this:
The New Process
Sound is sent (wirelessly) to the hearing aid, which processes the signal according to the user’s hearing loss and then sends the sound out of its own speaker into the ear.
A bit oversimplified? Maybe. But the point is that the new process is obviously much more efficient…and efficiency is good when we’re trying to maintain a good sound quality and provide good clarity.
Is it REALLY that big of a deal?
Short answer: Yes.
Consider how often we use our cell phones throughout the day. Also consider the fact that we use our cell phones for so much more than just calling our friends and family. We use them to watch videos while waiting for our oil to be changed. We use them for GPS and navigation while driving. We use them for video chat. We use them for music while jogging. Business and pleasure. Getting things done, or relaxing. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, it seems we always have these devices nearby to help us do it…and that’s just the cell phone. Add in MP3 players and tablets, and there is an entire world of connectivity. In fact, there is another use that is almost exclusive to hearing aid users. The iPhone can be used as a microphone, so their voice is streamed straight into these new hearing aids. In other words, if someone is in a restaurant and wearing the Starkey made-for-iPhone Halo hearing aids, they can hand their iPhone to someone across the table so that they can hear them over all of the background chatter.
One more thing…
As if all of this wasn’t impressive enough, the iPhone can also serve as a remote control for these new hearing instruments. So the user can have a broad variety of adjustments (such as volume control, or customized programs for certain listening environments). Those types of adjustments used to be via buttons on the hearing aids, or an extra remote that the user had to carry around. But now…well, there’s an app for that.
Just like any technological advancement, there are likely going to be kinks that need to be worked out. However, this type of technology will undoubtedly be a HUGE factor in encouraging more and more people to address their hearing loss. And that’s a good thing.