http://www.gnresound.com/hearing-aids/accessories/unite-phone-clip-plus

Brave New World of BLE and MFi Hearing Aids Begins

GN Resound stole the show at the 58th Congress of Hearing Aid Acousticians (EUHA) in Germany last week, with the debut of its “Made for iPhone” MFi hearing aid (scheduled for global release 1st quarter of 2014).  According to a press release covered by the Wall Street Journal and internationally on Oct 16, the LiNX(TM) MFi hearing aid introduces a new era:

…for the first time ever, hearing impaired people will be able to stream music and phone calls directly from an Apple iPhone to their hearing aids. The streaming is possible without any stigmatizing, intermediary body worn device.

Let the games begin!  Bluetooth streamers are out, iPhones functioning as streamer+Bluetooth+phone are in.  This is thanks to Bluetooth 4.0 technology (marketed as Bluetooth Smart, also referred to as Bluetooth Low Energy, BLE) and iOS7, which were covered over the summer on professional and consumer hearing websites.

Sparing techie detail (which will doubtless be covered thoroughly in other HearingHealthMatters posts) these two in combination mark a technological shock to the hearing device Supply Curve shift, shifting it rightward, bringing in new Suppliers, changing Elasticities of Demand and Quantity of Demand.

Two Pronged, Converging Technological Advances

 

http://blog.bluetooth.com/bluetooth-smart-technology-enables-next-generation-health-care/Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)/Bluetooth Smart/Bluetooth 4.0.  However it’s referenced, past hearing aid technologies did not support it.   GN Resound’s Phone Clip+, introduced in January 2013, was the first BLE audio device. It allowed direct connectivity. BLE-enabled hearing aids running on 312 batteries were predicted for later in the year.  They’ve appeared on schedule.

https://hearinghealthmatters.org/hearingeconomics/wp-admin/post.php?post=5572&action=edit&message=9Apple-designed hearing aid technology integrating with BLE-enabled hearing aids was predicted for this year.  Apple’s summer release of its iOS7 operating system opened up the “Made for iPhone” (MFi) future.

The vision for software based hearing aids in general and  MFi hearing aids in particular is two-fold at present:

1)  Seamless connectivity with smartphones, eliminating the need for a streaming device. LiNX(TM) does this.

2) Remote adjustment of hearing aid settings.  LiNX(TM) will probably do this shortly via users’ iPhones.  Meanwhile, an Indian hearing technology firm, Jakoti bvba, released ListenApp last week, which allows remote programming by hearing healthcare professions.  The device is described as a “standalone software-based” combination music player and hearing aid, “integrated into an off-the-shelf consumer smartphone and using off-the-shelf headphones with microphone.”

Two-Pronged Economic Curve Shifts

 

Technological advances shift Supply Curves, which affect Demand Curves and ultimately change Equilibrium.   LiNX(TM) and other premium MFi hearing aids coming in the short term will come with higher price tags for cutting edge technology.  Those will be sold in professional settings, purchased by Early Adopters in limited quantity–at least at first.

On the other side of the Demand Curve, ListenApp and other lower-tech software phone integrated approaches (e.g., using headphones and mics) will be offered in large quantity as low price direct-to-consumer items disseminated in “fast developing countries.”

These ARE exciting times to be a Hearing Economist.  I’m not 100% sure I can say the same for being an Audiologist.  But, I’m 100% sure it’s Apple’s time. Amazing technological innovations in hearing are coming at us in a deluge, judging from the patent applications Apple has filed in 2013 alone.

The list of Apple visions is too long and too rich to stick as the last 1/2 of a too-long post, as I’d originally intended.  Stay tuned for an Alice in Wonderland hearing device tour of Amazing Apple Applications.

iOS7, MFi,  iPhone 5s, 5c, 4s, and 4 are trademarks of Apple, Inc.

Bluetooth is a registered trademark of Bluetooth SIG.

About Holly Hosford-Dunn

Holly Hosford-Dunn, PhD, graduated with a BA and MA in Communication Disorders from New Mexico State, completed a PhD in Hearing Sciences at Stanford, and did post-docs at Max Planck Institute (Germany) and Eaton-Peabody Auditory Physiology Lab (Boston). Post-education, she directed the Stanford University Audiology Clinic; developed multi-office private practices in Arizona; authored/edited numerous text books, chapters, journals, and articles; and taught Marketing, Practice Management, Hearing Science, Auditory Electrophysiology, and Amplification in a variety of academic settings.

5 Comments

  1. I already have a streamer but isn’t t very good batt doesn’t t last very long never has been set to my phone . The outfit that I am now with is not doing me any good, except taking my money Bloomington Il

  2. Holly, to correct the record, the ReSound Phone Clip+ does .NOT. support the IEEE 802.15.4 Bluetooth 4.0 stack, including the BT4 Low Energy (“BLE”) extensions. At this point in time, only the new Oticon Streamer Pro and new Siemens streamers support the BT4.0 stack.

    The whole raison d’être of implementing the BLE stack in hearing aids is power consumption in headworn devices. In a streamer, power consumption is not really an issue.

    Also, BT4.0 has a low-latency audio streaming protocol, which preserves lipreading synchrony: This is an important feature that upcoming Bluetooth transmitters will able to leverage, without having to negotiate to the older A2DP protocol in BT2.x.

    That being said, another feature of BT4.0: Up until this new stack, which was originally developed to provide low speed connectivity for computer PC’s & mice, the power was limited to 100 µwatt (-10 dBm), providing about 30 feet range. However, BT4.0 provides for 1 mW (0 dBm) power for about 250 foot range, and 10 mW (10 dBm) power for 1/2 mile range. This is already being used by Oticon to provide a 250 foot range between their Streamer Pro and 2nd generation phone adapter. (However, if either an original Streamer .OR. original phone adapter is in the communications circuit, then it will negotiate to BT2.x and have the 30 foot range).

    By The Way, I have a ReSound Phone Clip+ clipped to my shirt pocket as I write this.

  3. “These ARE exciting times to be a Hearing Economist. I’m not 100% sure I can say the same for being an Audiologist. ”

    Well said. Is it only a matter of time before people will be calling into their “hearing aid customer support center” based outside the US?

  4. Frankly, I find it offending that the same companies that should care about our hearing first, use this language: “The streaming is possible without any stigmatizing, intermediary body worn device.” There is no stigma associated with wearing a hearing aid, or an intermediary body worn device. It is merely inconvenient to have to carry a second device to connect to Bluetooth. If only more research money could be spent in actually improving the performance of the hearing aids, and not just the aesthetics or accessories, that would be more appreciated.

    1. That language struck me as a bit off as well, mainly because my patients and I find the inconvenience factor more problematic than the aesthetics. However, it is not entirely correct to state that “there is no stigma associated with wearing a hearing aid.” Past research has shown us that such stigma does exist. Too bad, but it’s a fact (c.f., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2904535/ ). I’m sure if that research were repeated today we would find that the stigmatizing effect is much reduced but I doubt it would have disappeared.

      Economically, companies are in business to return profits to investors. That is a fact of doing business, though it offers up ethical discussion of the type you’ve brought up (see https://hearinghealthmatters.org/hearingeconomics/2011/who-ya-gonna-serve-shareholders-or-stakeholders/ ). You can bet they survey their markets to determine user preferences for purchase prior to embarking on R&D to develop new products. I’m sure they found that people “cared” about having to wear a neckloop. Therefore, they “cared” about fixing that problem. They have and their marketing people have stated the rationale for such “care” in clumsy, incomplete terms.

      I wouldn’t be offended, I’d just be glad they’ve fixed one more problem that is irritating to all but for different reasons.

      Thanks for your comment.

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