Nick Hunn, the analyst who coined the term ‘hearables’, sits down with Dave Kemp to talk about Auracast™ Bluetooth broadcast audio and the significant implications it will have for people with hearing loss, as well as the general public once the technology becomes widely available.
Auracast™ broadcast audio enables an audio transmitter, such as a smartphone, laptop, television, or public address system to broadcast audio to an unlimited number of nearby Bluetooth audio receivers, including speakers, earbuds, or hearing devices.
Dave Kemp 0:10
Okay, everyone, and welcome to another episode of This Week in Hearing, I’m joined by the great Nick Hunn. So Nick, why don’t you share a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Nick Hunn 0:21
Thank you, I don’t think I’ve ever been called Great before. What I do, I’m background, I’m a physicist, I like making things. I’ve done all sorts of things over the years. The reason I’m here talking today is very much work I’ve been doing on the new Bluetooth, low energy audio standard. We’ve been working on that for about eight years since it first started off. A couple of weeks ago, we got the last remaining specs of that adopted. So that’s all ready to go, we’re already seeing some companies starting to qualify the first product or sort of component parts of those products. So it’s really great thinking that we’re about to see all of this work, turn into real things that I hope is going to have a major way in supporting people both with hearing loss, both minor as well as severe hearing loss, and also helping everybody else have a better audio experience over the coming years.
Dave Kemp 1:19
Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for being here. I feel like your introduction, there was a little humble. Nick, you are. So you’re the chairman of the Bluetooth, special interest group (SIG) Correct?
Nick Hunn 1:30
Of the hearing aid working group.. the SIG is a much bigger entity.
Dave Kemp 1:37
So I just for some context, for those that might not be as familiar with you, Nick is you know, he’s the analyst who coined the term ‘hearable’. So for me, personally, it’s always such a pleasure to get to a chance to speak with you because you were such an inspiration for me, with like launching my blog, initially, when I read your real seminal piece, ‘Hearables– the new wearable,’ and planted the seed in my mind of, you know, kind of like this whole idea of thinking about in the ear devices more as computers and what that ultimately will enable has, it really did kind of serve as the catalyst and then not long after air pods came out. And, you know, I was this morning, I was walking my dog and I was listening back to the FuturEar episode that I did with you back in October of 2021. When we, you Carl Thomas and I talked and it was so interesting, because I think that a lot of that conversation, what we talked about was kind of how we got to now. And a lot of that was this whole idea that air pods were such a smashing success. And I think that they really did kind of usher in this new era that we’re in now where you go into a public place. And every two thirds of everybody that you see seems to have like wireless in the ear devices, walking around. And this was kind of always the idea was like, if we get to the point to where you have people walking around with things in their ears for extended periods of time, it presents the question of like, well, what does that then enable. And here we are on the precipice of what I think is personally, the biggest significant development in wireless technology, especially for the world of hearing aids, since made for the Made for iPhone hearing aid protocol, in kind of the advent of Bluetooth, enabled hearing aids. And so I just look at this. And I say, you know, what we’re seeing with Auracast is a entirely new set of building blocks for the future of audio. So I just kind of wanted to preface things and just kind of give you a chance to maybe describe how Auracast came to be. And I want to get in as the conversation goes into some of the different details about the deployment and how this is actually going to roll out. But just big picture right now. How did this come to be? And where do you kind of see this taking shape over the next few years?
Nick Hunn 4:04
Well, Auracast, in many ways, is one of the things that drove all of this work going. It was back in 2013, where the hearing aid industry got together came to talk to the Bluetooth SIG because they wanted to see a single standard way of using Bluetooth connect hearing aids communicate with all of the devices that everybody else uses. So with TVs with music players, with your phones. And one of the key differences that we wanted to put in in that was to find a replacement for telecoil. I mean telecoil is great, but most people don’t realize it’s about 70 years old. It’s probably one of the longest running wireless technologies in the world. It hasn’t really changed in that time. But it’s got some real issues in terms of getting it into more places. It’s difficult to install because you’re putting a physical loop in place, you can only have one of them in any one area, you can’t have multiple transmissions. And the audio quality isn’t that great. It’s basically good old sort of standard copper line phone type audio. And the aim was to say, can we get the quality of broadcast up to the level of the Bluetooth experience that everybody gets with their ear buds. At that point, obviously, we didn’t have ear buds, but what you got with your, your headset. And if we can do that, then what can we do for everybody, because it’s no longer just something that’s aimed at people with any hearing loss wearing hearing aids. But it’s something that brings a whole new way of actually using audio content and conversation that we haven’t had before. So that was sort of the starting principle. And through that journey, it’s been interesting that this started off with half a dozen hearing aid companies. And as we started to sit down and say, we want to do all of these things like adding broadcast and getting lower powered and getting low latency. All of a sudden, everybody else in consumer electronics got really interested and said we want that too. And that’s why it’s grown into such a long and complex effort. It’s the biggest set of specifications that Bluetooth has ever released. And hopefully it will cope with most things people want to do with audio for the next 10, maybe even 20 years. So as it’s developed, we’ve sort of started to think about the fact that we’re giving quite a lot more flexibility, we’ve got much higher quality that’s possible, we have a range of audio qualities up from what I’d call is sort of good every day, if you’re out and about audio quality, up to stuff that’s probably good enough for your pet dog or your pet bat. And that keeps the audiophiles happy. So we can change those qualities. But we can also play with a number of other things, you can transmit multiple streams. So you can start to think of your TV transmitting in a couple of different languages at the same time, and you can sit there and your partner can sit next to you. And you can both be listening to that in different languages. Because it’s not constrained like a inductive loop that you have for telecoil. It also means that you can have multiple broadcast transmitters in the same place. And typical example of that may be if you go into a sports bar or a gym, and you’ve got TV screens, each of those screens can be transmitting its own broadcast stream. Now, that gives you a new problem that you didn’t have with telecoil, that you’ve got multiple streams there, you need to be able to select which one you want to listen to. And that’s very much like what you do with Wi Fi today. But you’ll see if you do a scan of Wi Fi, you can often find you’ve got sort of a dozen sitting in a restaurant in Seattle a couple of weeks ago, and did a scan and I got almost 100 Wi Fi access points picked up and you just think, wow, if these are all different music streams. And given most of them have really obscure names, how do I know what to pick?
And that got us to sort of designing the way of how do we filter out the information to get the right stuff that you want and to get the right thing. And that fed into an initiative which is now popped out. It’s got the name Auracast. As always with these, we went through three or four other names along the way while it was in development. And then all the branding agents and the lawyers got involved. They said no, you can’t use any of those. So auracast it is. And what we’re looking at with the aura cast is we’re embedding a lot of information so that a hearing aid can very easily find out what it is that’s out there. And you can select what you want. Now the other issue we knew we have is hearing aids don’t have much of a user interface. If you’ve got 50 Different things available. And you’ve just got your hearing aids and most a couple of buttons, that’s not going to be a good user experience. So we’ve designed the ability to have a remote control. And that can be a physical little device like a TV remote control or a key fob. It can be an app on your smartphone. And that will do all of the looking around for devices in the background. And then what we call scanning and Bluetooth parlance. Those devices contain a lot more information than a Wi Fi device. So it will tell you things about what the quality of the audio is it is something that your hearing aid will be able to pick up and accept. It will tell you what the languages are. It will give you the name of the thing that you’re listening to. It’ll tell you where abouts it is. And all of that can be used to filter and display what’s available for you. So if you think of a phone, you will get a much more concise list that’s based on where you are. You can add to that filter things like saying well All I know I’m in a particular place, or this is what I’ve seen before, if this is something that’s in a church or a theater, it can automatically pick that up. You can even do things with theater tickets, but the theater ticket will provide the information that you need. So it’ll automatically allow you to select that when you move in. And we’re trying to provide ways to make it easy. So if you have a list on your phone, you just tap on what you want. And that will then send a message to both of your hearing aids, and tell those hearing aids to go and get that stream. Now the phone isn’t actually involved in the audio at all, all the phone is doing is just acting as a sort of signpost indicator to say, this is what I think you want, just confirm, that’s it. And at that point, your earbuds or hearing aids are working directly with the stream that’s coming in. It means they don’t need to do much of the scanning. And that’s important to scanning is quite battery intensive. So it’s a technique that both makes it easy for you to pick up what you want, but also make sure it’s going to have a hit on the battery life of your hearing aids.
Dave Kemp 11:06
Yeah, I feel like, you know, when I think about how this all is gonna unfold, I know one of the big questions that I keep hearing is, what does the actual timeline look like here? Because I think it’s so tantalizing and exciting of a prospect of thinking about a future where you have all these different public spaces in the same way that you know, with loops, into your point, there are constraints with loops. So if we can have a more universal solution that is easier to install. I think it does create this really exciting scenario. And we’ll get more into what that scenario ultimately looks like. But my question is, what does what are the different aspects of the rollout ultimately, that we should be cognizant of, like, in terms of is it is a lot of the onus gonna be on the smartphones? Will it be on the beacons that will have to be installed? Can you help just to kind of walk us through what we’re looking at in terms of how this will ultimately kind of be deployed?
Nick Hunn 12:14
Yeah, it’s very much a chicken and egg situation. Because at the moment, we don’t have any companies that are going to supply both ends, and you need both ends, you need the broadcast units, the aura cost transmitters, and you need the hearing aids and the earbuds. And there’s always that issue when a new standard comes out that both the manufacturers will say, Oh, we won’t push that out, because we haven’t got any transmitters yet. And the transmitters will say, Well, we’re waiting until lots of people have the right hearing aids. So I think we’re going to see a slew startup. Now hearing aid companies are obviously going to be out there talking to people who make simple transmitters like little boxes, you could stick on the back of your TV. And that’s a straightforward market to start these off. And we’re going to get, I think, simple microphones as well. So that the type of sort of family dinner table microphone that you can put on. And because these are Bluetooth, and it’s a Bluetooth standard, it means you can mix and match. You can have microphones and transmitters from any manufacturer that will work with any brand of hearing aid. It’s not like the situation today where it’s a proprietary one for those different hearing aids that will help the market to start. The transmitters themselves are quite simple. When my guess is we’ll see stuff coming out from the manufacturers. But we’ll probably also see unbranded products appearing on eBay and Amazon’s in the not too distant future that literally just have an audio input that you plug into your TV or your other player. So we’ll see a slow take up like that. What I think is really going to change that is when one of our the two phone operating systems come out and support it. So Apple and Google with Android are both likely to come out with Bluetooth Low Energy audio on one of their phones at some point in the future. I can’t tell you when that future is. I doubt that probably anybody within either Google or Apple will tell you that as it’s with all new features like this. They are almost certainly being built in at the moment. But it’s going to be a decision made probably a month before a product launches to whether it goes into that release or whether it goes into the next release. That’s literally the way the mobile phone industry works. If we’re really lucky, it could be this year. If not, it may be next year. But we do know that the phone companies are really interested in the capabilities of broadcast. For them they have a slightly different use case in mind. or at least we believe we have a slightly different use case in mind. Which is, it means if you’ve got a phone, you can share what you’re listening to with your friends. So if I’m sitting listening to something on my phone, and a couple of friends come along and sort of say why you’re so excited, why is your head bobbing up and down? Sort of what are you on? I can say, well, it’s this look, just listen to it. And then they can do something like tap their phones against mine. And my phone changes from just a single stream to a private broadcast stream. A privacy’s important because we can encrypt the audio, so you can just keep it amongst your friends. And they’ll be able to listen to that. And then one of them will say, Well, I think this is better, why don’t you listen to what I’ve got. It’s a whole new social experience of sharing music. And I think that’s what’s going to interest the phone companies. Now, they’re in the same position that they need users to have earbuds that will support Bluetooth LE audio, it may well be they can upgrade their existing ear buds. So literally, at a flick of a switch, several 100 million people can have this, they may equally say no, we want people to go and buy new ones we just don’t know.
And we know from history that sometimes these companies just upgrade everything because they want the volume of scale and the critical mass. And other times it’s a case of it’s a slower increase, because they expect people to go out and buy new accessories. So I can’t predict what’s going to happen. But at the point where one of those does switch this on, you’ll suddenly see that we’ve growing from the small millions of devices that you’re likely to see if it’s just a natural progression of people buying bits and pieces, to hundreds or millions. I mean, if Apple were to be able to upgrade, even the latest versions of air pods and the last few firms, overnight, you couldn’t go from having nobody on that platform to having sort of half a billion people on this platform or with any audio. And that’s sort of at some point, the switch will get flipped. And we’ll see those numbers at which point everybody I think will be rushing in and doing it. What’s the other interesting aspect of this is broadcast is really new. And this this whole aspect of how do I share audio, how do I move audio around, it’s something that we’re seeing is a lot of people find it quite challenging idea to get get a hold off. And some companies are going to see this and jump on it. And I think that’s going to spawn some changes in the industry and further development. I think we’ll see it with streaming companies starting to say they are going to look at what are the options if you can provide multiple audio streams with a video. And we’ve seen recently, I mean, Netflix’s largest viewing numbers was from squid game. Now, that’s really unusual, because that was a foreign language film, which got those numbers, which certainly in the US people aren’t used to watching. And if you talk to people, some people really were happy with the dubbed version of it in English, and others thought the dubbing was absolutely awful, and turned it off and wanted to listen to it with subtitles. But if you can transmit those two streams, one in Korean one in English at the same time, again, you and your partner can be sitting down there and making your own choices of how you want to see it. So we may find that. I mean, as streaming companies see their subscriber numbers going down, we’re going to look at the cost of what did it make to make squid game and say, well, the entire budget for making that over in Korea is probably less than just the refreshment budget for the cast for Brigitta. And I think we’ll see a lot more stuff being commissioned in multiple languages. So there’s lots of interesting things at play here, which actually make broadcast a very attractive thing for a whole number of different industries.
Dave Kemp 19:02
I love all those examples that you gave there, thank you for walking me through kind of the the chicken and egg scenario to I agree with you that, you know, Let’s call a spade a spade, it’s ultimately going to be what Apple probably does, that will be the catalyst to this whole thing. Because of just the sheer volume of of air pods that are out in the market, not to mention, you know, I think that they’ll probably largely influenced the way that the Made for iPhone hearing aids operate within this whole space too. And so, I think about, you know, going off of what you said there with the motivation that the, you know, the handset manufacturers ultimately are going to have around these entirely new enabling new kinds of experiences. The thing that I keep coming back to is, you know, I remember when I was in college back in, you know, like 2010 2012 and At the time, I remember everybody was saying, you know, video is going to be the future video, video video, and you kind of like had some of the different building blocks in place. But it wasn’t until everything sort of kind of came together and materialized. And then now what you see is like every single version of social media is so video dominant, whether it be YouTube, Tiktok, Instagram, all these different things, but it always, it always like predicated on the building blocks coming together. And so I think that what what keeps coming to mind here for me is, we’re kind of at that same moment where you can see the building blocks coming into focus. And we don’t really know like how it’s going to unfold. But the big buzzword that you hear all the time now is augmented reality. And the first thing that people tend to their mind goes to ar, ar glasses, VR, even mixed reality, all these different things. But really, when you kind of think about augmenting your reality, the closest thing to it that we have at scale right now is kind of what we’re seeing here of all these different building blocks of augmenting your audio environment in your day to day and that, for me I feel like is going to be something that will catch a lot of people by surprise is this idea that, whether it be the broadcasting aspect of this where you’re like you said, you’re able to tailor your sort of your ambient experience in a way that I’m walking through the airport, and I’m choosing to tether into the broadcast have the actual, you know, the terminal announcements and that kind of thing. Or you look at the sharing element of this, and I just keep thinking about like, what are teenagers going to do with this, they’re going to run wild with it, they’re going to make, they’re going to change our whole perception of it the same way that we’ve seen time and time again, with like these nascent things that just sort of come out of nowhere, and then suddenly, it’s a new norm. So I just continue to feel like, what we’re really seeing here is that we’re seeing the formation of a new set of building blocks, that will be the basis for what gets all of these new types of applications and experiences that get built using these for the next generation. And I don’t think we know what those are necessarily going to be we just kind of know, this block can enable this kind of experience. And that’s where things are going to get really interesting is to see what companies gravitate toward this and introduce entirely new sets of use cases that we hadn’t even really anticipated.
Nick Hunn 22:32
And I totally agree with you. And there’s a number of things in play there. We are aware that if you look at ear buds, and we have accelerometers in ear buds today, we use those basically for acting as a jaw microphone. And that allows you to just determine how much of the sound is your voice, as opposed to how much of sound is somebody else’s, and use that to cancel out the noise and enhance your voice. But that accelerometer knows what your head to doing. That brings you back to the whole of sort of the immersive audio, the 3d audio, the spatial audio, depending which you want to call it. And, and we’ve seen the Ambisonics approach of trying to immerse yourself in audio that’s been out there. I think I first sort of had the demonstration of that about 20 years ago. And it’s still really sort of a sort of academic sort of high end demo thing. But we’ve got almost everything that you need in Europe, that’s today to actually do that at scale, we need a lot more processing. And we need a lot more applications to come along and do it. But that’s obviously one area that’s been looked at. And the low latency that we have with Le audio really helps that that’s going to feed into gaming as well where you’re looking at extremely low latencies that are now possible. On the other side. And part of this sharing is what I would call social audio. And it fascinates me the way that podcasts have become popular over the last few years. And it’s almost as if the lack of voice is driving us back to that sort of conversation. And now that we can have multiple people involved in that, and because of the broadcast capabilities, I can foresee we’re going to have a whole set of really interesting audio applications that come out where I mean, we may have a voice oriented tick tock coming back, I don’t know and you get things like tick tock, which you don’t see coming. And tik tok to me is fascinating because the whole of the video industry up until that point was all about a few large companies manufacturing and streaming content. And tik tok suddenly said no users can do it as well. And we haven’t got that much in audio. If you think of all the filters we can apply to photography. We don’t even really have just the basic sort of desktop audio mixing facilities. Battle for voice. And as we get more flexibility with voice, I think there’s some really interesting things that we’ll start to see doing with it. But I mean, I’d say to anybody, if you have visions of interesting things you can do with voice, you’ve now got the building blocks to do it, go away and start playing.
Dave Kemp 25:18
Yeah, I love the I agree with you about everything like with regard to tik tok and these different things that just sort of come out of left field. But they don’t in the sense that it took so many years for these to actually, you know, for that to actually materialize. Again, like you think about well, user generated content, was what was the reason why that hadn’t taken off until really until like, tik tok took off was because of the tools that were available to people. And so now, it’s so easy to create these things. And so I think that that’s kind of the way that we should be thinking about this space to, I think is, you know, what’s going to be analogous to that when you provide people with an entirely new set of tools that will allow for them to do things just like you said, where, you know, I agree, I think the social audio piece is very, very interesting when you could have, you know, really, in any proximity, you go into a space, I attend a lot of trade shows, I mean, it seems like perfect for that where you’re walking in and, you know, you’re walking by a booth, what if you have it turned on to where you allow for the booth to be, you know, the people there to be able to broadcast a message to you. So you can see that, that, again, that idea of audio augmented reality, where you’re walking around, you know, what are the building blocks that you have in place? Well, we all are already wearing things in and around our ears, we’ve kind of mentioned that before, we all have smartphones. And so you know, with the GPS location enabled, you could be walking down the street, and you could have this audio AR basically turned on where you have all these different Auracasts, being broadcast in in mentioning, you know, what, the reason being, you should walk into that, that that retail outfit, or that restaurant, or whatever it might be. So, again, the place that my mind keeps going to hear is this is very much the basis of I think augmented reality. Because you see, so many of these things that in totality, equal the ability to layer on like a totally new augmented layer to your reality.
Nick Hunn 27:29
And, and we put all the hooks in for that. And I think what’s fascinating about this is one of the issues that both AR and VR has had is you need to invest in some really quite expensive, and also sort of quite distancing stuff, because when you’re using it, you aren’t most of the time involved with your environment around you, you’ve just totally excluded that. And I’m going to take the example that you have, if you’re walking around a museum or an art gallery, we have sensors, that same accelerometers that you’ve got in your ear, but actually know where you are and what you’re looking at. So you can have streams coming in that will actually realize you’re in front of an exhibit and tell you about that exhibit. If you’re walking down the street, your Sat Nav can just be saying, well, look, I’ll give you voice instructions turn around the corner there. And by the way, you might find this interesting, there’s lots of ability to take in all of these audio streams, and to mash those together into new experiences. And that’s one that’s very much down to developers just think about what you can do. But if you want to put an aura cast transmitter in, I mean, the basic units are going to be a fairly simple box with a Bluetooth transmitter that’s got a three and a half mil Jack at one end of the power supply. And that’s basically it. That’s all you’re going to need to get. And those aren’t going to cost very much. They’re going to be the same sort of prices you buy for a Wi Fi access point. And you can get the cheaply, we may even see services that start to give them away with the service.
Dave Kemp 29:06
You, do you foresee. Again, not to ask you to bring out your crystal ball. But do you kind of see it as like, you know, who knows if they’re if Apple is ultimately going to say all versions of air pods or all versions of AirPods Pro will be able to have a over the air update or maybe even you’ll have air pods, the next version? This will be one of the hallmark features is that it’s you know, are cast enabled or something like that. But to you it seems to me that you need that kind of as the catalyst to you need one of the big handset manufacturers I guess maybe Samsung could be another one but someone that comes in and gives a whole lot of motivation for any company out there like again using the example of any given brick and mortar location that exists to have our cash transmitter know In that there’s hundreds of millions of devices out there that are enabled with this. So I guess my question is, ultimately, does the chicken kind of have to be the probably have to be like apple? In order for this thing to say go?
Nick Hunn 30:15
I think it needs to be something big and compelling. Yeah. Apple and Android are obvious, because these are people who have these big switches on the wall, and they can just grab it and turn it on and things happen. But if we look back at just classic audio, the A2DP profile for audio that languished for almost the first eight or nine years of its existence, it was in firms, you could go out and buy wireless headsets. But nobody really bothered. What actually caused that to take off was streaming services like Spotify, because all of a sudden, people had a reason to use it. So yes, if an Apple or Google come along and release this, that’s going to kickstart it. And then hopefully, current says game over. But as long as it all works, and it’s a compelling experience, people will do it. If they don’t, which I think is unlikely, then we will see other things come along, which may by themselves cause it to take off, and everybody say, Wow, that’s so good. I want that too. But it’s obviously much, much easier when one of the big juggernauts comes along and says, Well, I’ve done it, it’s here. So I don’t know which route it will take. I’m hoping that we are going to see interest from phone companies sooner rather than later. And if I look back at the history of Bluetooth, it typically takes three to four years from a release going out to a phone company actually implementing it. Now, le audience late because largely, we had a pandemic, and we couldn’t do any testing. And within Bluetooth, we have a principle that we don’t release a spec until we’ve tested it. And unless people can get together to do that, it’s really difficult. So that delayed us, but it meant people were beavering away with their own implementations. So although we lost sort of two years and getting the specs out, we’re actually two years ahead in terms of the maturity of most people’s implementations, and hoping that means we’re going to get stuff out quicker. But I really don’t know is the answer to this, it’s one of the real frustrations of writing a standard is you don’t know whether it’s going to take off within 12 months. And I don’t think any standard has ever taken off in less than 12 months, or whether it’s going to be 12 years, or whether everybody’s going to say that was a stupid waste of time, we can do it some other way. The fact we’re already seeing some companies qualifying sort of major component parts of this, some of the chip companies already out there saying look, it’s ready to go just build it makes me feel confident that we’re going to see something sooner rather than later. But as you say, it’s a sort of a digital crystal ball. I would love to say when it was but if I could constantly say that I was probably retired to a desert island by now.
Dave Kemp 33:13
Yeah, no doubt. So I guess like for me, where my head’s at still, with this whole thing is, you know, kind of like you mentioned, you have really low latency. Can you help us to kind of understand what it is about this new protocol and this new infrastructure layer that is going to enable things like lower power, better latency. You know, ultimately, what is it that this is ultimately kind of like, just a totally new set and how this is all facilitated, technically speaking, what advantages are there? Are there any drawbacks from moving in this direction? Or is it pretty much all just upside in terms of the you know, because again, with hearing aids in particular, it’s such a small device that you you usually have trade offs, and I’m just kind of thinking through my head, like, Are there trade offs here? Or is it such that you know, for the most part, this is just pretty much upside.
Nick Hunn 34:16
It’s pretty much upside. But there is a But. when we started doing this, and the obvious approach was to look at what we already had in classic Bluetooth and say can we make it more efficient? And we spent quite a lot of time looking at that because that will be the quickest and easiest way to do it. And at the end of that we just said no, what we built already doesn’t easily scale. So it is very much a clean sheet of paper. We took Bluetooth LE audio or Bluetooth LE which is quite a clean spec as Bluetooth LE did the same exercise. It was saying can we make Bluetooth Classic low power and decided it couldn’t start from scratch? So we took that and And there were a couple of things that we need to learn. The first one was we totally separate out the audio streams and the way you control stuff. If you look back at HFP and A2DP, each embed the way they control things like volume, so you can’t even sort of mix and match volume controls from one to the other. Here, we said, we’re just going to separate each component. And you can build up as many audio streams as you want. They can be what ever quality you want, they can be whatever latency you want, they can be different going one way to the other way. And we have separate sets of profiles that allow you to configure those, we have separate controls, which are universal for things like volume control, for media control, for working out with, you’ve got one or two ear pads and making sure they always receive the same streams from the same source. So you’re not listening to sort of sports on one side and opera on the other ear. That was all built together, we wanted low power. Now we’ve done a lot to optimize the protocols to do that. But we have a brand new codec we have LC3. If we look at the codecs we used on the others, they were already about 20 years old, when we chose them 20 years ago, LC3 is absolutely state of the art. And that means you can get the same quality for about half of the number of bits that you need to transmit over the air. And if you’re transmitting half a number of bits, it’s half the amount of power that your ear buds or hearing aids need to receive them. It’s much lower latency. small packets means that you’ll be more robust as there’s less chance that each packet gets interfered with. So we try to say, let’s start from scratch using the best available knowledge we have from RF engineers from protocol engineers from audio engineers to put this together. And that should mean that if you’re making a hearing aid that has a Bluetooth connection in it will be lower power than it’s possible to do today. Now, this is where the But comes along, that if you have a hearing aid today, most of the time, you’re just using that hearing aid to listen to the ambient sound around you. If you now have a hearing aid, which works really well at delivering music from your phone, you might start streaming music for four or five hours a day. And that could mean there is a change in behavior, which will result in the hearing aid having to expend more power. So it’s one of those ones that success could actually hit your battery life, use Bluetooth more. And that I think is something that users are going to have to sort of come to terms with the manufacturers going to have to come to terms with we’ve made a world more accessible to people with hearing loss, because they can connect up to all of their devices. And they can very easily change from listening to a phone call to going into a listening to streaming music on their phone and then walking into a room with a TV on and saying, Yeah, I want to stream from that. So it’s putting more demands on your hearing aid, because it’s more capable. And that’s a challenge for the industry. But the hearing aid industry has actually done really well over the years of adapting to those power challenges. It may mean that more hearing aids have rechargeable batteries. But again, this is all about evolution of a product as that product offers more things.
And I think that’s analogous. If we look at phones, if you go back to the end of the 90s. The one thing that you tend to look at when buying a phone was how long was the battery life? And it wasn’t just one or two days it was is it one week? Is it two weeks is it three weeks. And then smartphones came along, and you had no battery life. And you didn’t bother about that, because you’ve just learned to recharge them every day. Right? Maybe a similar set of lessons that hearing aid users have. I think the big upside though, is because we’ve now got these features and auracast in particular, that work with everything from ear buds to hearing aids, is we start to say there’s a solution out here that works for everybody, regardless of the amount of hearing loss or hearing assistance you need. So even if your hearing is fine, but you have issues in some environments, you start to see a universal solution that should help everybody in terms of particularly sort of conversational ability and listening to things.
Dave Kemp 39:38
I think, you know, for me, like the thing that gets me so excited, and I’ve mentioned this before, but I think this is a great time to just mention it again is you know, when you think about on the surface, like how do air pods relate to hearing health care, and how does that what role will those ultimately play and I use air pods as a proxy for kind of just all hearables, but knowing that it’s the biggest one. And in relation to this conversation, I just think that, you know, what we’re talking about here is the ability to really usher in entirely new norms, but also just giving the motivation for developers to build new applications, for the motivation for these places to outfit themselves with our cast. I just, I see this as like, it’s so exciting that to your point, was so much of the challenge, I think that that we face with getting people to really take their hearing healthcare serious and take action on it is that it feels kind of like an all or nothing thing. And what I mean by that is, like, you know, you either gotta have a hearing aid, or you’re kind of left with nothing. And what’s exciting is, I think we’re filling in the this, like huge middle territory of the people that aren’t ready for that step yet. And I think that all of this is a means of giving people more of an opportunity to just try it out. And just kind of get a sense of like, here’s what you know, I go back to like, all these different use cases that are outlined with our cast. So you’re looking at it, and it’s like, you can tether into a screen, okay, so if you’re at the bar, and you’re being able to just wirelessly transmit that into your, your air pods. And who knows, as time goes on, correct that audio might become more and more of a theme as a standardization of another feature set. So you get corrected audio for all this to, again, I just see this as being building blocks, that what do these things do when you kind of combine them all together. And for me, from my vantage of someone that’s operating in the hearing healthcare world, one of the big things that I’m so excited about is, it’s the ability for people to just get a chance to see what this is like, because of the fact that it’s becoming so much more ubiquitous. And I think auracast is, it epitomizes that were in the not too distant future, just like you can go in and you can choose your Wi Fi network that you want to join, you’ll be able to choose the streams. And with something like you know, $100 pair of headphones, or whatever it is, you’ll be able to tether into that. And I think that that’s going to lend itself in conjunction with what’s happening with the rise of corrected audio and all of these different integrations that are happening at like, you know, Jacoti, Qualcomm, at the chip level, you know, all these things being really baked in, it gives me so much hope that you’re going to just give people I think, a chance to get an experience with this and get the wheels turning in their mind.
Nick Hunn 42:46
No, I would agree, because today, if you look at the market space, it’s a bit like looking across the Grand Canyon, you have the people with perfect hearing on one side, and you have the people with quite severe hearing loss on the other side, and there’s this great hole in the middle for everybody else. And the assumption is you can’t move across from one side to the other until you actually suffer severe hearing loss. And I think auracast is the bridge that’s going to be built over that. I think there’s some of the interesting secondary ones. Because I mean, one of the issues a lot of people have today is sort of understanding conversation in noisy environments. And part of that is just the amount of noise you get. And particularly you see it in bars and restaurants, particularly if stuffs blaring out and doing somewhat with startup in over in London called mumbli. And they’re looking at hearing wellness, and particularly looking at whether there are ways to monitor and decrease the level of sound in an awful lot of venues like bars, pubs, restaurants. And one of the things they’re finding is that if you can decrease that level, not only just conversation go up, but footfall back to that bar goes on. And you’re also more likely to retain your staff because they’re less stressed because of the constant issue of having to shout to get heard when customers are ordering. And I don’t know why we have this paradigm today that we have to have so much background noise. But I think at that point, we can start to see we have silent TVs and even we have silent or lower background music, because you can tune into it through overcast if you want it. Then we’re beginning to move to a point where we’re starting to talk about hearing wellness. And that’s something we don’t normally talk about, we talk about hearing loss and how do you rectify the loss. But we don’t talk about how do you prevent it? So I think there’s side issues or side effects that are going to come out from more cost where people will begin to question do we need this much noise because we now have a better way of delivering the audio content that you need without it being sort of a sledgehammer to hit you on the head with Yeah,
Dave Kemp 45:00
I couldn’t agree more with that. And I love the idea of moving more toward that, you know, proactive approach rather than the reactive approach of hearing wellness. So as we come to the close here, this has been just super interesting, and I’m really excited about, you know, what’s on the horizon here, because it does, it feels like this has been just a steady progression, moving closer and closer toward this very exciting future, where I think we’re gonna have just a whole lot more optionality for all these things that we’re wearing in our ears. And I think, you know, the hearing healthcare world is is a really big part of this future. So closing thoughts from you, just in terms of what the next few years will look like, from the wireless side. beyond anything we’ve already discussed,
Nick Hunn 45:45
I’m hoping it’s going to be really exciting and that we see new applications. And within the people that have been developing this, we’ve been talking about all sorts of interesting things you can do. I mean, that’s ranging from just every day to educational situations. But we’re just a couple of dozen people sitting writing specs. Right now we’ve released those. There are 1000s of app developers and audio developers out there. And I just say, Go and be imaginative, think of the most exciting thing you’ve ever thought about in audio, and then see if you can do it. And if you don’t, come tell us because we’re going to make sure we can do something else. To enable that. We need to make audio exciting. I don’t think audio is anything like as exciting as it used to be. Because we’re just used to basic audio and noise. And what we’ve generated a lot of time is a noise, we can start to take the noise away. Let’s think about what we can do to enhance conversation. And just do fun things. I mean, if you’ve ever watched a silent disco going down the street, and suddenly everybody burst into dark. So that’s something it’s a wonderful thing to watch. And now anybody can do that with their phone.
Dave Kemp 46:54
Yeah, I think that silent disco, the silent disco one is a really in again, like, it is actually I think really representative of like where your imagination can start to go with this, which is imagine like there’s tons of those available. And think of the opportunities that lends itself to all the really cool fun things that artists could have with this. I mean, you just have impromptu concerts like here and there where maybe you’re not even able to see the artists performing. But you can just tap into that stream. I mean, I think there’s, there’s really something there. And it’s not necessarily just music too, I think spoken word. There’s a tremendous opportunity here to write, I think we’re limited only by our imagination.
Nick Hunn 47:40
Well, I’m quite a lot of our main train stations in London have got pianos, and there’s just a piano there. And anybody can come along and play whatever they want. And it was auraast, all you need to do is just hold your phone in your air, and you’re a performance poet, but anybody within the station can hear. There’s so much fun stuff you can do with it. And I’d really like to see not just the commercial stuff and the hearing help stuff. But let’s do the fun stuff, too.
Dave Kemp 48:09
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I really do. I think like let’s, once this gets unleashed to I think of just teenagers in general, I think are going to blow our minds. Again, think of this as a building block. And what are people going to do with these things. And so there’s a lot of really cool things cooking right now and kind of percolating, so I’m excited. But anyway, this has been such a good conversation, we’ll definitely have to have you back on as things start to unfold and we see this start to really materialize and come to fruition. So thank you, Nick, for joining us. Thanks for everybody who tuned in here to the end will chat again soon
Nick Hunn 48:46
thank you and I look forward to seeing all of your ideas coming to fruition as well.
Dave Kemp 48:49
Awesome. Thanks, Nick.
Nick Hunn 48:51
About the Panel
Nick Hunn is the CTO of WiFore Consulting and Chair of the Bluetooth SIG Hearing Aid Working Group. He is credited with coining the term “hearables” in 2014, with his seminal whitepaper, “Hearables – the New Wearables,” describing a class of wearable device worn in or on the ear.
Dave Kemp is the Director of Business Development & Marketing at Oaktree Products and the Founder & Editor of Future Ear. In 2017, Dave launched his blog, FutureEar.co, where he writes about what’s happening at the intersection of voice technology, wearables and hearing healthcare. In 2019, Dave started the Future Ear Radio podcast, where he and his guests discuss emerging technology pertaining to hearing aids and consumer hearables. He has been published in the Harvard Business Review, co-authored the book, “Voice Technology in Healthcare,” writes frequently for the prominent voice technology website, Voicebot.ai, and has been featured on NPR’s Marketplace.