Thursday 15 May 2014

iPhones or iPhoney - Are iPhones the best thing to happen to hearing aids or not?

Looking at the latest releases of product from the hearing aid manufacturers you'd think that we (hearing aid audiologists) were having a revolution in communication technology. Every brochure seems to come with picture of an iPhone showing us a smart new app for controlling your hearing aids.

Fantastic, exceptional, coming of age etc? or not quite there yet? I guess the public will decide. All I can really say is that the average (Mrs Jones) hearing aid wearer is going to be a bit dubious about the smartphone integration and may not be that enamoured.

OTOH the average NEW user who is perhaps in their late 50's or early 60's and may be coming from a technically savvy background is perhaps where this is headed. If ever there was a way to tackle the baby boomer market: it's perhaps the integration of their hearing aid within their communications technology.

Starkey are currently pitching the Halo : as a potential research tool, to track where the hearing system needs to perform. Though I'm not quite sure how relevant location settings are vs real-time sound scene analysis, especially as the signal to noise ratio in a restaurant will dramatically differ at busier periods as the music gets louder and people raise their voices over each other (Lombard Effect).

My only other observation is the link with IOS - keeping the proprietary programming of the hearing aid a secret is key. Either the aid gets built with a 'user accessible' portion of the EEPROM which limits changes within the overall prescription OR it's coded out of range to the adjustments available within IOS. If the latter is the case, then I'm struggling to see how Android functionality can ever be made available. As you may well know Android is open-source, so anybody could program a Widget to access all of the hearing aid functionality, thereby eliminating the need for a hearing aid provider and to some extent the profit margin of the manufacturers who currently charge for incremental levels of product performance on the same chip.

As ever, time will tell.....

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