The hearing aid gets an upgrade to an app

Hear better through Mimi, says Mimi founder Philipp Skribanowitz, based on hearing ability, advanced hearing-tests, and sound-possessing algorithms it licenses to audio companies.
Written by Tonya Hall, Contributor

Mimi Hearing Technologies' founder and CEO Philipp Skribanowitz explains the company's latest hearing-aid alternative, an app. Skribanowitz tells ZDNet's Tonya Hall, "We have multiple components. On the one hand we have mobile-based hearing tests that people can just download and take there easily in the comfort of their home. On the other hand we have a sound-processing algorithm that mimics a healthy human ear and it adjusts sounds not by making things louder but actually by processing it like your normal healthy ear would do and making it easier for your brain to extract information from the sound signal."

Watch the video interview above or read the full transcript below.

Tonya Hall: Not your father's hearing aid, now better hearing is as close as an app. Hi. I'm Tonya Hall for ZDNet, and joining me is Philipp Skribanowitz. He is the founder and CEO of Mimi Hearing Technologies. Welcome Philipp.

Philipp Skribanowitz:Hi Tonya, hi.

Tonya Hall: Hi. You're in Berlin with your startup Mimi and you guys have been around for about four years. Is that right?

Philipp Skribanowitz: That's right, yeah.

Tonya Hall: What do you do at Mimi?

Philipp Skribanowitz: When you buy an ultra-HD television, of course you put on your glasses or when you'd go to a gallery, but in audio this is not happening. There's a lot of optimization happening, but we are all consuming the same audio but we hear all differently. Mimi makes software, so people hear better based their hearing ability and our two main products our advanced hearing tests and sound possessing algorithms that we license to audio companies.

Tonya Hall: You launched, as you pointed out, about four years ago with the intent to help people who had major hearing loss, I would say probably my grandmother who is 100 years old. But that has changed over the last four years based of what you see are the needs of the business and where you're most beneficial. Talk about where you started and where you are today.

Philipp Skribanowitz:Initially we realized that people that are hard of hearing very little of them actually get hearing aids, and we wanted to tackle that problem. But then we realized that hearing aids are there when you cannot understand speech anymore, and so it's very late and very strong hearing loss. But when you for example listen to music you really want to hear all of the details, and entry into hearing loss starts in our teenage years and it just gets so worse and worse until we need a hearing aid. But earlier music is effective we cannot really enjoy the richness and then we had a breakthrough in the processing side, so suddenly we could also improve music to people in their 30s already, and this completely changes the whole field because we can remove the stigma when it becomes totally normal for everyone to adjust sound to their hearing ability.

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Tonya Hall: Talk about how your software works.

Philipp Skribanowitz: So, we have multiple components. On the one hand, we have mobile-based hearing tests that people can just download and take there easily in the comfort of their home. On the other hand we have a sound-processing algorithm that mimics a healthy human ear and it adjusts sounds not by making things louder but actually by processing it like your normal healthy ear would do and making it easier for your brain to extract information from the sound signal. So, for example, in a restaurant you cannot really tell the different voice apart, and we make it easier for the brain to tell different frequencies apart.

Tonya Hall: So, out of 360 million people worldwide who have a disability in hearing, 32 million of those are children and I would imagine many of those don't have access to modern technology. Is there a way that you're reaching out and helping people who are struggling with this type of disability?

Philipp Skribanowitz: The great part is our hearing tests are on the App Store, so people can just download them in the remotest parts of the world and test their hearing. And then they could also directly try out our sound processing to really experience how it is. But we see if even greater for making it very normal for everyone to adjust to their hearing so it becomes part of our every day consumer product. So, it will be more accessible, the prices will come down and a very normal thing to do.

Tonya Hall: How are you promoting your app, especially globally?

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Philipp Skribanowitz:So, we are, for example, in German we are partnering with Germany's largest health insurance working with them, but otherwise very organic. A lot of people are searching for hearing tests, we have really built a great product, highly rated so then the choice falls to download our App where we're very proud of our designers, it's the great product that they built. So, it's a lot of organic traffic because we're really ranking very high. I can remember one hearing test in store so that other people can find it, and then of course with partnering with consumer companies when better technology which gets people to test their hearing. So, those are the two main channels, App store and then through partnering we reach a lot of people.

Tonya Hall: What other kinds of sensors can be added to wearables and phones to help health tracking examination and diagnosis for those people with hearing loss?

Philipp Skribanowitz: Our main focus is on developing software and our solution doesn't require any hardware changes, so we can be basically in any audio product can be placed there. And we can even detect some things that usually required some physical examination, so I think we're not on the adding new sensors in the hardware but developing very clever tests that can test even deeper parts of your hearing.

Tonya Hall: How important is it to have ... I've tried to download the App and run the test myself and it's important to use really good quality technology, which is I can see why that's important from the standpoint of moving forward in your software. How important is it to have the exact perfect headphones, or what type of equipment to use to actually use your App?

Philipp Skribanowitz:So, we initially started with calibrated equipment like the iPhone with airpods or ear pods and now we're also developing tests that can run on uncalibrated software. Because we've developed every unique tests that can test your hearing ability even on non-calibrated setups, which opens the whole world of androids and other audio devices.

Tonya Hall: Okay, so Philipp what's next? I mean, you've got a pretty big group to tackle. Hearing loss is huge and most people tend to ignore it because, as I know you guys have pointed out, it's not very fun to admit and it's usually not very sexy to wear a hearing aid. So, what's the next step for Mimi?

Philipp Skribanowitz: So, we have several parts. We've, on the one hand, we managed to get this topic of, "Hey you should be taking care of your ears," we made it something fun to do. You can just suddenly enjoy music more. So, we got this from a kind of your parents telling you off that do not listen so loud to music, to a topic where you say, "Hey, I want measure my hearing because I want to enjoy music," so it's kind of a shift there, really on the path to really understanding how hearing works globally. We've tested 650,000 people from Japan, to Brazil, kind of really across the globe, and kind of understanding it more like how regional patterns are and improving our processing based on understanding of hearing globally.

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And of course we are growing our partnerships with more audio companies, so this can be integrated into cars, into smartphones, into laptops, into smart headphones and ... was one great showcase because it's a very renowned Pro audio company and now we're moving into more of those and it's going to be exciting what's coming out there and helps us to reach even more people.

Tonya Hall: I love advancements in healthcare and technology. I think what you guys are doing is very interesting and there's a little taboo nobody ever wants to talk about hearing loss. So, thank you so much again, and for joining us. If somebody wants to connect with you, how can they do that Philipp?

Philipp Skribanowitz: You can me through philipp@mini.io or through our websites. Looking forward to that.

Tonya Hall: All right, and thank you so much everybody. If you want to follow me and more of my interviews you can do that right here on ZDNet or you can find me on TechRepublic, or maybe find me on Twitter. I'm @tonyahallradio on Twitter or search the Tonya Hall show on Facebook. Until next time.


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