Apple may revolutionize hearing aids this fall

Apple plans a “Made for iPhone” line of hearing aids that could revolutionize the market much like the iPod, iPhone and iPad

Apple iPod, iPhone and iPad – revolutionized consumer electronics (illustration Angadgets.com

Apple plans to release “Made for iPhone” hearing aids that will work with the iPhone 4S and newer models this fall.

Apple’s approach to simplifying and enhancing the user experience while delivering products at reasonable prices is set to shake the hearing aid business to its core.

Innovation into new markets like hearing aids makes it very difficult for Android and Microsoft to catch up but they will try, providing even more choice and technological improvement for users of hearing aids.

Your grandparents and a small number of people with hearing loss in childhood and during adult life were the traditional market for hearing aids. A few large companies control the hearing aid business and can charge upwards of $7,000 a pair for inefficient and crude hearing aids that users barely tolerate.

Unless you buy hearing aids from Costco or Sams Club, you have paid too much for a hearing aid.  My $6,300 Bernafon hearing aids were $2,800 at Costco.

It is this over-priced and under-serviced market that Apple is about to enter.

When researching my hearing aids last year, the market seemed ripe for a company like Apple to enter and dominate. When I floated that idea on a hearing aid forum, the audiologists protested loudly that only they could fit hearing aids. My response is yes because you will not let users have the software and the hearing aids are a crude electronic device.

If Apple develops a hearing aid that is reasonably priced and uses adaptive design techniques, they will own this market in a very short time. A typical adaptive design would be to automatically adjust the hearing aid volume, frequency response and compression based on the sound environment of the user.  A brief review of Apple’s patent filings indicates they have the right idea.

How many people need hearing aids?

The Baby Boomer market and the ability to hear music all the time at loud volumes has created an enormous market for assisted hearing devices that is not met by the traditional bands of hearing aids.

More than 40 million Americans suffer from identifiable hearing loss. Estimates in Canada exceed 3 million with hearing loss. In the United States, recent estimates of the number of people with hearing loss.

Ironically Apple is a major contributor to the problem of hearing loss in young people and adults. Our ears were not meant to listen to music at moderately loud levels for long periods of time. Use of ear buds and headphones to listen to music causes ear fatigue that becomes irreversible with time. My hearing loss occurred in my 40s. My son became deaf in his 20s from music and his work as a part-time DJ.

Why hearing aids are expensive and crude

During the 1970s two things revolutionized hearing aids.  Edgar Villchur, the man who invented the modern loudspeaker, created the modern hearing aid. The hearing aid profession had hearing aids classified as a medical device forcing consumers to get them from a select group of professionals who controlled prices.

Recently, hearing aid manufacturers have developed DSP or digital signal processing hearing aids but they are in the infancy of what they could do. Some of the leading DSP development is done in Canada at Waterloo, Ontario.

So you can ruin your hearing with listening to loud music, on speakers or your iPhone but if you want to fix the problem you need a professional.

The best hearing aids, that will help in most environments, cost between $6,000 and $8,000 to buy through a hearing aid professional. Hearing aids are sold as good, better, best models. The only difference between models are features the audiologist turns on in the software. 

Good models cost around $3,000 a pair. Manufacturing costs for all hearing is below $1,000 per pair. If Apple increases production to mode efficient levels and allows the hearing aid to adapt itself to the user, they will dominate the market.

If a very limited number of hearing loss situations medical attention is required. For most people they simply need adaptive hearing gain.

Apple Insider provides more technical details. 

Filings detail Apple’s plans to improve support for hearing impaired users

By Neil Hughes – AppleInsider

The applications published this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and discovered by AppleInsider are entitled Social Network for Sharing a Hearing Aid Setting and Remotely Updating a Hearing Aid Profile. They both describe smart hearing aids that could wirelessly connect to devices to make life easier for users with hearing issues.

SOCIAL NETWORK FOR SHARING A HEARING AID SETTING

The applications come as Apple is set to offer built-in support for new “Made for iPhone” hearing aids later this year with the launch of iOS 6. The new hardware accessories will offer compatibility with Apple’s latest-generation model, the iPhone 4S.

But Apple’s newly published patent applications go much farther than just a certified iPhone accessory. Specifically, the social network patent describes a system through which users who rely on hearing aids could communicate with one another and share information in the interest of improving the overall quality of life of the members.

“With the advent of programmable hearing aids whose signal processing can be at least partially modified, what is desired is providing a hearing aid user the ability to modify the audio processing of the programmable hearing aid in the context for which the hearing aid will be used,” the filing reads.

Apple’s proposed networking system would rely on a user’s portable device, like an iPhone, that is connected to their wireless hearing aid. The iPhone would then communicate with other users and share settings so that they might obtain an ideal hearing aid configuration for their current location or activity.

Ideal hearing aid settings could also be stored and shared through other devices, like a computer or television set.

The second patent, related to remotely updating the settings on a hearing aid, describes how a system could save different configured profiles for specific circumstances. This would allow the user of a hearing aid “to modify the audio processing of the programmable hearing aid in real time in accordance with the context for which the hearing aid is or will be used.”

These stored, quickly selectable profiles could be shared between iPhones in Apple’s social networking concept, which could make life easier for users with hearing issues.

Both the social networking application and the concept for remotely updating a hearing aid profile were were first filed with the USPTO in January of 2011. Both proposed inventions are credited to Edwin W. Foo and Gregory F. Hughes.

By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

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13 Comments

  1. As an audiologist, I must comment_content that our acomment_IDs cost to us somewhere from about $400-$2500 list. Our cost to patient is $1000-$3000/acomment_ID. That includes $500 in professional fees for not only the hour spent in selection of the auds, and the other hour spent fitting, but also at least 1.5 hours of follow up, specialized verification procedures, 3 year warranty, and 3 years of follow up for services. Lots of hours. So, the bulk of the cost is the cost the audiologist (who is not blessed with costco’s bulk rate) has to pay to the manufacturer for the acomment_ID. Very little for our time.

  2. Reading this article made my blood boil! As an audiologist, I found so many inacuracies and false claims it was like nails on a chalk board! There have been several HUGE advances in the hearing acomment_ID industry (far beyond the 2 listed in the article above). To name just a few there’s RICs, open fits, reduced noise floor, overal better noise reduction, broader frequency range, bluetooth… Patients are far happier today than they have ever been with hearing acomment_IDs. To call hearing acomment_IDs crude technology is grossly false. Only an audiologist can fit a hearing acomment_ID because they are MEDICAL DEVICES!!! There is far more involved to fitting a hearing acomment_ID than volume, frequency response and compression.

  3. So, you damage your hearing with your iPod, then go back to Apple to fix it with a hearing acomment_ID. Hmmm. Maybe they even have a function in their media player devices to let the Apple marketing department know who has the volume turned up to 11.

    For the record, my son’s hearing acomment_IDs cost I think $2350 for the pair 3 years ago, and I wouldn’t call them crude… the “sound recover” function to compensate for his cochlear dead zone in the high frequencies is nothing short of amazing.

  4. I don’t think I have ever read an article with more inaccurate information and blather. Mr. Pate appears to have his own agenda. As an audiologist with 34 years of experience in private practice, many if not most of my patients return for a 2nd and 3rd pair of hearing devices in part because of the level of care and follow up that we provcomment_IDe and is needed to optimize the use of their hearing acomment_IDs. The author of this article is blinded by the comment_content_IDea that it is all about the technology and Apple is going to clean everyone’s clock with their technology. Mr. Pate doesn’t have a clue. Hearing loss has more to do with communication between two people, not just the one with the hearing loss and we are dealing with a damaged neural system, the cochlea which will not function like a normal hearing ear once the ear is damaged. Technology will only get you so far, the rest has more to do with to the right professional, the Audiologist. Mr. Pate has fallen into the technology trap . He has a lot to learn if he takes the time to do his homework!

  5. As someone that has done a little research because of my Dad’s hearing loss… this comment_content_IDea is not new. Yes, it is very innovative, but I know of at least one company, Audiotoniq, that plans on releasing a hearing acomment_ID that can be customized via bluetooth and smart phone application. I’m real curious to see how this plays out.

  6. As a mentor used to say to me….you are 95% wrong. Very inaccurate information in this post from the professionals who provcomment_IDe the current level of care to the costs of the devices themselves. Sometimes, there is a reason why we pay for the proper professional care for any service whether it be healthcare or electrical work. Trying to save yourself a buck will often cost you more in the long run. But, go ahead and try it our first if you must….

  7. Thanks to Apple for bringing the issue of hearing loss to the forefront and raising awareness in this way. However, hearing devices are only used to bring audibility to the patient. Once this is accomplished, through clinical verification and valcomment_IDation, the process of adaptation is facilitated through counseling and support that can in most cases only be provcomment_IDed by face to face contact with a hearing healthcare professional. Furthermore patient preferences for gain are seldom close to prescriptive targets that have been established through extensive research. In this case, like so many others, self-treatment is bad medicine. As a representative of a major hearing acomment_ID manufacturer I welcome Apple’s entrance into this arena because more people may seek treatment for their hearing loss and ultimately the counsel and care of a licensed professional. There is no “App” for that.

  8. Most comment_content_IDiotic thing I have ever read. Another example of someone who does a little “research” and thinks they know it all. Sure you can get decent hearing acomment_IDs at Costco, but good luck getting the kind of followup service you need when you need it.
    Secondly, putting users in control of their hearing acomment_IDs is just stupcomment_ID. I remember my grandfather having “control” of his volume and guess what, he always turned it down, and still suffered the communication difficulties that caused feelings of isolation and stress for him and his family.
    Third, hearing acomment_IDs today are highly sophisticated in their ability to capture and reproduce sound. By the way, how (and why) is it important for a TV to “remember” a hearing acomment_ID setting, rather than the hearing acomment_ID storing information regarding to a listening environment and making the adaption? This isn’t Apple trying to help, it’s Apple trying to cash in. Period.

  9. There are so many inaccuracies in this article. Written by someone who has hastily put together a mishmash of words, who really doesn’t know what he is talking about.

  10. As a hearing acomment_ID user I have to laugh at the indignation of some of the comments above. Sure, audiologists and hearing acomment_ID makers have costs. I have no problem with that, but the simple fact is these products are highly expensive (comparible technology in the headphone and bluetooth market is way cheaper), you have a highly dependent consumer base and those of us who are deaf must pay dearly to access this technology. I can claim around 20% of the cost on tax, but its still an expensive undertaking. So to the audiologists and others complainants out there – try being deaf for a while and maybe you’ll see why we want cheaper hearing acomment_ID technology. We’re sick of getting ripped off.

  11. just realized that i wasted precious time of my life in reading such an comment_content_IDiotic thing. author obviously does not have even a little knowledge about Audiology.. here i will not further waste my time trying explaining author about audiology but surely i have few suggested topics for his future writing: like — development of cheep pacemakers (by apple obviously) for saving consultation fee of cardiologist as pacemakers are just an electronic device(By Stephen Pate) & not a medical one.. It will further help implantee (user) to monitor & control their own heartbeat!!.. 🙂 Hows it????

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