Hearing Aids

New Integrations on the Horizon for Hearing Aids and Smartphones

For most of their history, hearing aids have been decidedly low-tech devices, consisting of a basic microphone that amplified the sounds around it and projected these sounds into the ear. These days, things are a little different. Now, hearing devices have all kinds of integrations with the smartphones we already use all day long.
Typical integrations use bluetooth, which allows the hearing aid to pair with any mobile device. But it’s a big step forward for the functionality of these devices when manufacturers provide more thorough integration with their device.
According to the World Health Organization at least 466 million people worldwide suffer from hearing loss, and mobile integration has the ability to really impact their quality of life for the better.
Apple was on the forefront of the hearing aid integration, not surprisingly, since they seem to be on the forefront of implementing accessibility features into their devices. Apple’s “Made for iPhone” program launched in 2013 with iOS 7, uses Bluetooth and a special protocol for improved integration of hearing aids with iPhones and iPads. For the first time, iPhone users could stream audio from their device directly to their ears.
There are currently 44 compatible, audiologist-issued hearing aids. In 2018, this compatibility may not sound like a lot, but in 2013 smartphones still needed intermediary devices called streamers to connect to hearing aids. Of course, having to use one less device also simplifies the whole system and makes it much more user-friendly.
The “Made for iPhone” functionality extends beyond just streaming audio into the hearing aid:

  • Users can monitor the battery life of their hearing aid on an iPhone
  • Users can adjust the volume and any settings through an app on the iPhone
  • Users can have their audiologist program hearing aid presets for different sound situations (think: noisy restaurant, sporting event) and users can switch between these setting by triple clicking on the iPhone home button
  • Even better, the GPS in the phone can learn locations that the patient goes to in order to automatically switch settings
  • For those who always seem to misplace their hearing aids, there’s a “find my hearing aid” feature on the phone
  • Live Listen allows the iPhone act as a remote microphone so the patient can place it at the other end of a long table, etc., and hear the people on that end with perfect clarity

This integration with Apple is obviously a great thing, but then we heard that Google will also be providing some integrations for its Android platform. This would have and even bigger impact, because, believe it or not, 85 percent of the world’s smartphones are on the Android platform.
GN Hearing is partnering with Google to bring low-power hearing aid streaming support to future versions of Android. Patients with a smartphone will be able to connect, pair and monitor their hearing aids from their Android device. In all, it’s a great time to be a person who wears hearing aids!

About Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D.

Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D. is the owner of Chicago Hearing Services and a Doctor of Audiology dedicated to empowering her patients and the public with greater knowledge and education around hearing health.