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