By Holly Hosford-Dunn

PHOENIX–Blogging lived up to its name last week. Starkey’s new “Made for iPhone” hearing aid platform was unveiled, apparently prematurely, in a special student workshop at this year’s Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) conference in Phoenix. Those sessions were marked “students only,” and it seems that an audiology student took good notes and wrote them up.

Dan Schwartz snagged the report, added technical comments, and quickly got the preliminary information into a post at The Hearing Blog — the most recent of four posts in his Apple/iPhone series. Here’s a bit of history mixed with a synopsis of Dan’s post, which you’ll want to read in its entirety for all the techy details.

 

RUMORS SPREAD OF “iPHONE HEARING AIDS”

There are tons of iPhone applications for people with hearing loss. But change was in the air when the iPhone 5 announcements promised  “iPhone hearing aids,” whatever those were. The cryptic promise turned on an ambiguous phrase that left everyone speculating:

“…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.” Megan Sparks at HearingSparks  

Over the summer, four hearing device manufacturers (Starkey, GN Resound, Cochlear, and Oticon) made noises that they, not Apple, were developing Made for iPhone hearing aids and wireless protocols. Licensing agreements of some sort will allow hearing aid manufacturers to bring them to market as the awkwardly named Made for iPhone hearing aids. Hope that gets an acronym soon.

 

A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE

That’s all that was known until November 8 when a Starkey presentation at an ADA student workshop got down to details and into the weeds.

  • The hearing aid manufacturers’ Made for iPhone hearing aids will apparently operate using the 2.4-gHz low-power protocol of the Bluetooth 4.0 communications standard.
  • Made for iPhone hearing aids will only work with the iOS6 operating system in an iPhone5, both released by Apple in mid-September.
  • Hearing aid control will be app-based.
  • Starkey’s first Made for iPhone hearing aid will be a RIC.
  • Starkey’s initial iPhone apps will enable audio streaming, remote mic, Bluetooth, audio file processing (recording, saving, emailing), and limited programing through an abbreviated version of its Sound Point software.
  • Starkey’s Made for iPhone instruments will not have apps for directionality or noise reduction, at least initially.

As an audiologist/economist and not an engineer, I have to say that out of everything the audiology student reported, s/he had me at “Walk into Starbucks and your phone will ask if you’d like to change programs.”   I can’t wait.

 

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Soon after Dan Schwartz posted on The Hearing Blog, an  “Urgent Update” popped up there alerting readers that he’d been requested to take down the information because it was preliminary, not-ready-for-publication, and inaccurate in some details.

Dan elected to encourage the flow of information by keeping the post up and adding details/corrections as they become available. Good 21st-century two-way journalism, Dan! We expect GN Resound, Cochlear, and William Demant/Oticon will be opening their kimonos soon, now that Starkey has flashed us.

 

Holly Hosford-Dunn, PhD, is Editor-in-Chief of HearingHealthMatters.org. She is also blogging this week, as every week, at Hearing Economics. Look for more news from the ADA Annual Meeting this week at Hearing News Watch.  

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3 Responses to Blogger gets the scoop on Made for iPhone hearing aids coming your way soon

  1. Dan Schwartz, Editor, The Hearing Blog says:

    Rick, your jihad against users self-programming is more accurately called “rent seeking” behaviour,ᄍ through a process called “regulatory capture.”ᄇ

    Yes, some manufacturers will probably put in security measures to allow only hearing aid professionals to make adjustments: Encryption is already present in the DSP’s to prevent the Chinese from cloning their intellectual property; but I believe that the marketplace will indeed reject attempts to have lockdown of self-programming.

    Phonak made the iCube for wireless self-programming; but withdrew it when the audiology community squealed like stuck pigs. More here: http://hearingaidhacks.livejournal.com/57588.html

    Self-programming is coming en masse — And watch for it to be pushed by AGBell, NAD, and especially HLAA: All users will need is a $9 Bluetooth 4.0 USB dongle and the software, and they can take matters in their own hands.

    You need to also realize that BHI’s statistics show percentage satisfaction among us HAD’s is in the low 60’s, with audiologists a few points higher: This shows a lack of the realization among the hearing aid professional community that we do NOT know HOW the patient hears — We may use probe mics to see & hear WHAT they hear, but not HOW. Self-programming elegantly solves the problem.

    Dan Schwartz,
    Editor, The Hearing Blog
    http://www.TheHearingBlog.com

    Bootnotes:

    1) Rent-Seeking Behaviour:

    “Rent seeking” is one of the most important insights in the last fifty years of economics and, unfortunately, one of the most inappropriately labeled. Gordon Tullock originated the idea in 1967, and Anne Krueger introduced the label in 1974. The idea is simple but powerful. People are said to seek rents when they try to obtain benefits for themselves through the political arena. They typically do so by getting a subsidy for a good they produce or for being in a particular class of people, by getting a tariff on a good they produce, or by getting a special regulation that hampers their competitors. Elderly people, for example, often seek higher Social Security payments; steel producers often seek restrictions on imports of steel; and licensed electricians and doctors often lobby to keep regulations in place that restrict competition from unlicensed electricians or doctors.

    But why do economists use the term “rent?” Unfortunately, there is no good reason. David Ricardo introduced the term “rent” in economics. It means the payment to a factor of production in excess of what is required to keep that factor in its present use. So, for example, if I am paid $150,000 in my current job but I would stay in that job for any salary over $130,000, I am making $20,000 in rent. What is wrong with rent seeking? Absolutely nothing. I would be rent seeking if I asked for a raise. My employer would then be free to decide if my services are worth it. Even though I am seeking rents by asking for a raise, this is not what economists mean by “rent seeking.” They use the term to describe people’s lobbying of government to give them special privileges. A much better term is “privilege seeking.”

    It has been known for centuries that people lobby the government for privileges. Tullock’s insight was that expenditures on lobbying for privileges are costly and that these expenditures, therefore, dissipate some of the gains to the beneficiaries and cause inefficiency. If, for example, a steel firm spends one million dollars lobbying and advertising for restrictions on steel imports, whatever money it gains by succeeding, presumably more than one million, is not a net gain. From this gain must be subtracted the one-million-dollar cost of seeking the restrictions. Although such an expenditure is rational from the narrow viewpoint of the firm that spends it, it represents a use of real resources to get a transfer from others and is therefore a pure loss to the economy as a whole.

    http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/RentSeeking.html

    2) Regulatory Capture:

    Regulatory capture is a theory associated with George Stigler, a Nobel laureate economist. It is the process by which regulatory agencies eventually come to be dominated by the very industries they were charged with regulating. Regulatory capture happens when a regulatory agency, formed to act in the public’s interest, eventually acts in ways that benefit the industry it is supposed to be regulating, rather than the public.

    Investopedia explains “Regulatory Capture”

    Public interest agencies that come to be controlled by the industry they were charged with regulating are known as captured agencies. Regulatory capture is an example of gamekeeper turns poacher; in other words, the interests the agency set out to protect are ignored in favor of the regulated industry’s interests.

    http://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/regulatory-capture.asp

    Captured Agency:

    A government agency, especially a regulatory agency, that is largely under the influence of the economic interest group(s) most directly and massively affected by its decisions and policies — typically business firms (and sometimes professional associations, labor unions, or other special interest groups) from the industry or economic sector being regulated. A captured agency shapes its regulations and policies primarily to benefit these favored client groups at the expense of less organized and often less influential groups (such as consumers) rather than designs them in accordance with some broader or more inclusive conception of the public interest.

    http://www.auburn.edu/~johnspm/gloss/captured_agency

    3) America Hears (and their partner Blamey Saunders in Melbourne), and Widex already have software optimized for user fitting without using a probe mic: The patient uses in-situ audiometry to determine thresholds as presented to the ear to build a MAP for the DSP, similar to how you determine T and C/M levels with a CI, bypassing all of the RECD’s, earmold acoustics, etc… (Parenthetically, Cochlear also uses in-situ audiometry to configure their BAHA processor).

  2. Barney Lund says:

    Hey Rick,

    Guess what? I’m a hearing aid user. I’m a consumer not a patient. I want an affordable, self programmable hearing aid that actually works with my iPhone, not some clunky overpriced streamer. Other than a preliminary hearing test and fitting I don’t want to have to go to an audiologist to change the hearing aids settings. I want full control of my hearing aid.

    Guess what else? The consumer will vote with their wallets. Audiologists who have had us consumers over a barrel will see business disappear to new affordable technology if they don’t adapt. Bring on the age of affordable, user friendly hearing technology I say.

  3. Rick Usifer says:

    I’ve been in the dispensing field for 25 years and have heard many wails about the end of the dispensing industry. Hate to be a buzzkill, but I think this one could be an ending if not the end.

    While there are obviously positives for the consumer, the negative elephant in the room is the programming ability. Today’s Best Fits deliver pretty darn good results for the majority of patients. Unless something is done soon to prevent it, there will be a torrent of direct-to-consumer internet hearing aid sales that will be impossible to stop. And all of these will be programmable via leaked/hacked fitting software. (The leakiness of software is legendary. If credit card companies and the Department of Defense can be hacked, it shouldn’t be too hard to get hearing aid programming software.)

    The only thing that has prevented this up till now is the availability and expense of programming HARDWARE. Now there will be approximately 60 million portable hearing aid programmers available to whomever wants to adjust hearing aids.

    It will be interesting to see if developers can come up with some kind of innovative security device, such as a product code that must be keyed to a serial number in order to program the aid. This could work for the major manufacturers, but surely there will come less-reputable companies that will develop chips that don’t require this and can get Apple certified.

    Groups like HLAA etc. will consider this a boon to consumers, but they ‘d better be careful what they wish for. It looks like the industry will be in for some major restructuring unless some major changes are made soon. I am on a committee with IHS which is advocating for restrictions on direct-to-consumer sales of any device that fits the definition of a hearing aid. I urge everyone to support these efforts with your State and national organization.

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