The Marriage of Bluetooth Hearing to Smart Phones

sp We have all heard the term “smartphone,” and by now most of us are using one. How is a smartphone different from a cell phone, and what makes it so smartsp3Generally, a smartphone is a device that lets you make telephone calls, but also adds in features that, in the past, you would have found only on a personal digital assistant or a computer–such as the ability to send and receive e-mail and edit Office documents.  Of course, all these smartphones have various “apps” that can be used for other functions, such as internet, email, messages, music, calculations, etc., which make the device much more useful than an old-fashioned cell phone. 

But, to really understand what a smartphone is (and is not), a short history lesson is in order. In the beginning, there were cell phones and personal digital assistants (or PDAs). Cell phones were used for making calls–and not much else–while PDAs, like the Palm Pilot, were used as personal, portable organizers. A PDA could store your contact info and a to-do list, and could sync with your computer.  sp5

Eventually, PDAs gained wireless connectivity and were able to send and receive e-mail. Cell phones, meanwhile, gained messaging capabilities.  PDAs then added cellular phone features, while cell phones added more PDA-like (and even computer-like) features. The result was the marriage of the two technologies into the smartphone. 

The global smartphone audience surpassed the 1 billion mark in 2012 and will total 1.75 billion in 2014.    It is expected that smartphone adoption will continue on a fast-paced trajectory through 2017.  By the end of 2014, nearly 25% of the population worldwide will use smartphones at least monthly.  By the end of 2017, it is expected smart phones will own 50% of the world market. 

Why do WE Care?

In the past few years, audiologists and their patients  worldwide have benefited from Hedy Lamarr’s 1940s invention that became Bluetooth technology.  sp1The ability to connect hearing aids to microphones, phones and televisions through these connections has enhanced their benefit to hearing aid users. Bluetooth accessories generally help in places where hearing instruments have traditionally not been very effective.  While these connections have been extremely beneficial for a number of years, they have brought with them the frustration and annoyance of the necessary intermediary device, which receives the Bluetooth signal, then sends it to the hearing aid.  These intermediary devices sp2come in varying sizes and shapes as well as differing levels of annoyance. But whether the devices hang around the user’s neck or is clipped on, there is a significant degree of frustration, which often causes patients to quit using the Bluetooth devices because they find the hassle greater than the benefit.  

The latest leap forward in this technology is the marriage of iPhones to hearing instruments. Some hearing aid manufacturers have paired up with Apple to bring these Bluetospoth connections directly to smartphones, namely the Apple 5, 5c, 5s, the iPad and some other Apple products.  These connections are through the Bluetooth system, but they are  connected directed without need for an intermediary device.  The instruments appeal to the baby boomers, most of whom already use smartphones.  The connections that these new hearing aids provide will lead to substantial modification of how hearing aid wearers interact with the phone, applications, and the benefits of the smartphone technology. 

This new technological advance comes from Starkey and ReSound, which have integrated the smartphone into the lives of the hearing impaired without sp1any frustrating intermediary devices.  


Think of the Stigma Reduction?


 In this new century it is difficult to go anywhere in the world and not see someone working, playing, or communicating on their phone. They are using the GPS, texting with friends and family, working on projects, reading and writing emails, and so forth. It seems that there is a cell phone in every pocket and in almost every hand.  Thus when people see a hard-of-hearing person working with their cell phone, the person will look no different from anyone else using their phone.  Now, people with hearing loss can use functions of their smart phone that were hard for them to use in the past. Take, for sp4example,  the SIRI function

Siri, Apple’s intelligent assistant, helps people with everyday activities.  Imagine someone using “smart” hearing aids who needs some information. All he needs to do is push a button on the phone and say something like “Tell Jay I’m running late” or “Remind me to make reservations for Saturday.”   The Siri function can send messages, place phone calls, schedule meetings, and even turn on and off VoiceOver, Guided Access and Invert Colors. And because Siri is integrated with VoiceOver, you can ask where the nearest sushi restaurant is and hear the answer read out loud into the hearing instrument.

This can apply to the GPS you have downloaded, that music library that is now a staple in your phone, a tinnitus app that could be downloaded, iHeart radio, Pandera, or any other app that works with your iPhone.   By hitting the home button sp2three times, you activate a microphone function that allows the iPhone to broadcast a signal to the hearing aids from  up to 30 feet. That’s perfect for your next board meeting or car trip or many other situations.

Now …How cool is that!

Who knows, it could become cool to have a hearing aid?  Those of us in audiology realize, of course, this is just the beginning of a new round of R/D in the amplification world. Give the other hearing aid companies some time to catch up and they will also have products that compete with these first two devices.




About Robert Traynor

Robert M. Traynor is a board certified audiologist with 45 years of clinical practice in audiology. He is a hearing industry consultant, trainer, professor, conference speaker, practice manager, and author. He has 45 years experience teaching courses and training clinicians within the field of audiology with specific emphasis in hearing and tinnitus rehabilitation. Currently, he is an adjunct professor in various university audiology programs.