iPhone 7: A Mixed Bag for People with Hearing Loss

Gael Hannan
September 13, 2016


By Kathi Mestayer


Last week, Apple unveiled their new iPhone 7  in their usual product development process.  First come the rumors, then the second wave of rumors, then the unveiling, then the buzzfest, until, finally, it arrives in the stores.  I went to a Verizon store last week, and they told me it would be this Saturday, September 18, before they had the iPhone 7 on hand.  So, we’re in the throes of buzzfest.

Although the iPhone 7 is not yet available to hold in our sweaty palms, we do know what it is featuring….and un-featuring.


iPhone 7: The audio jack is history

The change getting the most attention is the missing audio jack, aka headphone jack. It’s the way we have been connecting our headphones, earbuds, and neckloops directly to the iPhone. Rumors were rampant that they were going to do it for the iPhone 6, so we saw it coming.

iPhone 6 standard-issue earbuds, with audio jack

iPhone 6 standard-issue earbuds, with audio jack


Apple, however, anticipated the discontent (somewhat), and has included in the package with each iPhone 7, an adapter, in the form of a “dongle” (a ~3” add-on that dangles from the standard lightning port).  (The lightning port is what is used now for iPhone charging.)  With the new adapter, Apple says that you will be able to plug your devices’ audio jacks into the iPhone 7.  It’s a little clunky-looking, dangling off the bottom end of the phone, but if it’s solid (e.g. not susceptible to intermittent shorts), it should do the job. In a clunky way.  As long as you don’t lose it.


Free earbuds!

Apple has also included in the standard iPhone 7 package a set of earbuds that plug directly into the lightning port, to smooth the transition.  It’s hard to know if this is a plus or a minus.  You won’t be able to use the lightning port to charge the iPhone while using the earbuds, since there’s only the one port.  And, if the iPhone 7 earbuds look exactly like the ones I got with my iPhone 6 (which is what the Verizon staffer told me), they are not one-size-fits-all.  In fact, neither I nor an audiologist I asked about it can wear them comfortably; they don’t stay put).  But they’re free! 


Why the changes?

The official answer is that the jack, at 3.5 mm, was too big, and would have prevented Apple from slimming down the iPhone 7 to a new, skinny profile. Ditching it also creates room for bells and whistles that we didn’t know we wanted, but will soon be essential to our sense of well-being. 

Apple is also looking ahead, to when users switch to wireless connections for iPhone audio access.  Its new wireless “Airbuds” rely on a proprietary “W1” Apple chip.  So while the standard audio jack can be used with a multitude of devices and manufacturers, the iPhone 7 pairing protocol belongs to Apple. 

It fits with Apple’s business model – they also want to replace the t-coil in the iPhone with a proprietary Bluetooth protocol that will enable its Made for iPhone (MFi) hearing aids to pair (only) with iPhones.  But it has not yet received permission from the FCC.  Here’s an earlier HHTM posting on that topic.


What are the alpha music geeks saying?

Chris Taylor, a chief critic and editor on the Mashable blog (which provides up-to-the-minute reviews of new technologies), had this to say about the airpods:


“And what has Apple done? It has eradicated the most successful, most widespread and best-sounding audio standard in the world in favor of its own proprietary system. 

Music does not sound better over a Lightning cable. Nor does it sound better over Bluetooth, or the proprietary wireless technology Apple is using in its AirPods. There’s simply more audio information traveling over a wire than can travel over the air. 

Say it with me now: wired almost always sounds better than wireless.” 


I’m saying it.  And I’m worried that if music doesn’t sound as good, neither will speech, which is my number one priority on my cellphone.


Hearing-aid compatibility

I was also interested in whether the iPhone 7 would have t-coils.  The answer is yes. Here are the specs (thank you to Linda Kozma-Spytek at Gallaudet) and some background info:


         iPhone 7 (Model A1660, A1778): M3, T4 

         iPhone 7 Plus (Model A1661, A1784): M3, T4

(Same as iPhone 6, 6S: iPhone 6s (Model A1633, A1688): M3, T4.  iPhone 6s Plus (Model A1634, A1687): M3, T4.)


Effective September 16, 2006, the FCC mandated that cellphone providers must offer at least two handset models that have a minimum M3/T3 rating.The M rating (M3 or 4) represents microphone interference potential to a hearing aid from the cell phone and the T rating (T3 or 4) represents the telecoil coupling capability of the cell phone. The higher the rating, the more likely the cell phone will be compatible with the hearing aid.


The bottom line

It depends on what matters to you.  The t-coil in my iPhone 6 is useless; must just be the type of hearing aid I have.  The dongle could save my neckloop as a way to talk on the phone, if it is solidly built, and if the sound through the lightning port is as good as it is through just the audio jack. 

The Dongle

The Dongle

The earbuds?  Not happening, at least with Apple’s current design. Comments are rampant on the internet about the $159/pair Airbuds and the fact that they’ll be falling out of peoples’ ears. 

For the time being, I’ll be hanging on to my iPhone 6, and treating it very, very gently. 


Photos: Apple

kathi mestayerKathi Mestayer writes for Hearing Health Magazine, Be Hear Now on BeaconReader.com, and serves on the Board of the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing.  In this photo she is using her iPhone with a neckloop, audio jack, and t-coils which connects her to FaceTime, VoiceOver, turn-by-turn navigation, stereo music and movies, and output from third party apps, including games, audiobooks, and educational programs.

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  1. Hello,

    Does that actually mean I phone 7 has nothing new for hearing aid wearers? Telecoils remain the same.

  2. The term “telecoils” should be reserved for the small internal mechanisms that *receive* electromagnetic fields from phones, hearing loops, etc. Telecoils look like a small spool of wire, like a spool of thread. The ways that electromagnetic fields are generated for compatibility with telecoils are variable but they don’t typically use a telecoil for *generating* the field.

  3. Great update, thanks. With my profound loss I initially struggled to use the telecoil on my iPhone and other phones… often with frustration and great difficulty at both ends of the phone call! After attending an informative HLAA conference session, I switched to ReSound HA’s that receive the Bluetooth signal directly from my iPhone (without a streamer) and the difference is like night and day. Now I’m hearing the calls binaurally, and with amazing clarity. Much as I have been a telecoil supporter in the past, my opinion now is that we need to see the future of the phone / HA interface as being a Bluetooth based interface. There’s no reason why any HA wearer should struggle to hear their phone. Eventually, even requiring users to buy and wear a streamer should be unnecessary. This may involve getting the various HA manufacturers to get off the dime and start realizing that seamless phone use is an important issue for HA users and that it’s an issue that will guide how we spend our money. Relating to Apple’s new phone, we should also send the message that we don’t want to see a lot of proprietary ways of accessing Bluetooth if that will lead to difficulty accessing the signal. Like telecoil in its day, accessing a non-proprietary Bluetooth signal should be seen as a right under ADA.

  4. David– I certainly hope telecoil is not removed. It is one of the best open standards available for hearing aid users. It works with phones of all makes and years, looped environments (incl. theaters, taxis, ticket booths), and ear-hooks/teleloops are one of the best hearing aid solutions for headphones. I’ve been using hearing aids for my severe loss for over 30 years and it’s proven to be a very durable standard. The only downside is being prone to interference from power lines and other EMF sources.

    Bluetooth eats a ton of battery life and doesn’t sound particularly good. Also, the idea of a proprietary standard that would only pair an iOS phone with a make of hearing aids sounds both anti-consumer and predatory. Hearing aids are not easily replaced like phones and would lock consumers into a specific manufacturer for years, possibly decades.

    I’m am surprised you’ve had issues with telecoil on iPhones, I find it works quite well. Perhaps it is your style of aid? I’m using BTE, and while it does require some adjustment to how a normal user would hold a phone– you have to hold it higher, against the aid itself– it’s not a big deal. FWIW, I have had great success with ear hooks vs. teleloop– they’re physically closer to the aids and deliver a much stronger signal. They also deliver sound in stereo, which is great for music and video. You can also plug them into the headphone jacks in a lot of theater systems, which is awesome.

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