Hearing aids to gain iPhone support

iWhat? According to reports, Apple has partnered with hearing aid device companies to provide wireless iPhone connections.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor on

There's been much speculation in blogs and the press this year about wearable Apple computing devices. However, perhaps the first such product may be a wireless connection that lets hearing aid devices connect to an iPhone.

According to a recent Reuters report, GN Store Nord, a major manufacturer of hearing aids based in Denmark, has collaborated with Apple to allow wireless connections directly from hearing aids. The devices will ship in the first quarter of 2014.

The device will use a 2.4GHz connection.

Apple went to all manufacturers and said it wanted to have a direct link from hearing aids to its phones using 2.4GHz and, because GN was already on its second generation of such products, an instant pairing was made.

Frequent visits followed between California and Copenhagen to build up the protocol and improve power-efficiency.

Patently Apple blog posts offer that Apple has a number of patents relating to hearing aid compatibility. A recently approved patent for Apple's Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC) concerns an iPhone connection to a hearing aid that contains a telecoil (T-coil), an existing input technology that converts magnetic signals into sound waves. Current Apple iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 series models support FCC requirements for hearing aids.

The primary magnetic field signal is stronger than the by-product magnetic field signal that is produced by the voice coil. This may be achieved by setting a suitably high telecoil coupling strength as the gain of a telecoil amplifier. This separation of the voice coil channel from the telecoil channel may allow the primary magnetic field signal produced by the telecoil channel, which signal includes the desired audio content but not the anti-noise, to essentially "drown out" the by-product magnetic field signal produced by the voice coil channel, which signal contains the anti-noise.

In this way, the portable device can produce the desired audio content acoustically, while at the same time producing the desired anti-noise for acoustic coupling (e.g., when an iPhone is being held against the user's ear in a handset mode of operation), but at the same time also avoid the unnecessary inductive coupling of anti-noise into a hearing aid that is operating in its T-coil mode.

Support for T-coils in hearing aids is longstanding in Europe and over the past couple of year was introduced in various public buildings in the U.S. In 2010, a branded initiative called Loop America began to "foster induction hearing loop systems" in North America.

Today’s digital hearing aids enhance hearing in conversational settings. Yet for many people with hearing loss the sound becomes unclear when auditorium or TV loudspeakers are at a distance, when the context is noisy, or when room acoustics reverberate sound. A hearing loop magnetically transfers the microphone or TV sound signal to hearing aids and cochlear implants that have a tiny, inexpensive “telecoil” receiver. This transforms the instruments into in-the-ear loudspeakers that deliver sound customized for one’s own hearing loss.

Does this hearing aid technology fall under the "new product categories" mentioned by Apple executives to analysts and at technology conferences this year? In the latest Apple conference call with financial analysts, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that Apple in 2013 and 2014 would introduce new products as well as "new product categories."

Now, we all know with absolute certainty that Apple will introduce new products this year, next year and so on. Many such. However, we don't know whether this new HAC partnership with  manufacturers qualifies as a "new product category" for iOS.

Here's Cook from the conference call:

In terms of new product categories, specifically if you look at the skills that Apple has from hardware, software and services and at incredible app ecosystems, these set of things are very, very unique. I think no one has a set of skills like us and we obviously believe that we can use our skills in building other great products that are in categories that represent areas where we do not participate today. So we're pretty confident about that.

There's been much discussion about Apple making some kind of wearable computer. Cook in the spring said that the it was an area that was "ripe for exploration." http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-57586563-37/tim-cook-plays-coy-on-apple-tv-wearables-at-conference/

Cook was similarly elusive on the topic of wearable computers, calling "profoundly interesting" and an area that was "ripe for exploration."

During an interview at the D11 conference on Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that he thinks wearable computing is "profoundly interesting." While he noted that glasses seem to be "risky," the idea of wearing something on the wrist is "natural."

However, he said, "you have to convince people it's so incredible you want to wear it." Cook pointed out that most young people don't wear watches, so it would be the company's job to make them appealing.

Some people have suggested that this is a sly ruse on the part of Cook to spread disinformation about the watch and wearable computer. Or not.

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