November 26, 2013
Listen Up: Apple And GN To Launch First “Made For iPhone” Hearing Aids In Early 2014
Bryan P. Carpender for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Apple is tapping into a fresh market that will soon give hearing-impaired iPhone users a new option for handset-connected hearing aids as the first wave of “Made for iPhone” hearing aids prepares to ship in the first quarter of 2014, Reuters reported On Sunday.
The revolutionary new hearing aid is called ReSound LiNX™ and is the result of a partnership between Apple and Danish company GN ReSound, the world’s fourth-largest hearing aid manufacturer.
The device will be big on technology but small in size – in fact, it’s the smallest wireless device GN has ever made. This is integral to the design, as one of the goals was to help erase the stigma surrounding hearing aids and the people who use them.
“ReSound LiNX again underlines our core strength of bringing breakthrough innovations to the hearing impaired, making them consumers with choices rather than patients with challenges,” said GN ReSound’s CEO Lars Viksmoen in a recent statement.
In other words: this is not your grandfather’s hearing aid.
No bulky earpiece. No conspicuous, uniform, flesh-colored device. The aesthetic appeal is a major focus, as evidenced by the fact that it will be offered in 10 different hair and skin tone colors to reduce visibility, sitting discreetly behind the ear. Users will be able to enjoy a more precise physical fit with five receiver lengths, so they can choose which works best for them for a customized and more comfortable fit.
But let’s get back to the tech stuff. For starters, these new LiNX hearing aids will connect directly to the iPhone without an intermediary transmitter, allowing the wearer to stream music, audio tracks to movies and videos, or as a two-way headset for receiving phone calls – all with significantly upgraded Surround Sound by ReSound™ audio technology.
Apple approached all hearing aid manufacturers to express its desire to have a direct link from hearing aids to its phones using 2.4-gigahertz band. Because GN was already on its second generation of such products, the partnership was a no-brainer. Interestingly, Apple picked the 2.4 GHz frequency last year for its iPhones.
Initially, fitting the 2.4 GHz technology used in the LiNX into such a tiny device that could run for several days without frequent and cumbersome battery changes posed a technical challenge. However, by using Bluetooth 4.0’s low energy mode – the same battery saving wireless technology as Apple’s iBeacons microlocation services and real-time synchronization for connected devices such as activity trackers – they were able to overcome that hurdle.
According to Apple Insider, Apple is already the owner of multiple patents that define a system in which the owners of hearing aids – and even the hearing aids themselves – could communicate with one another to share information on how best to configure the hearing aids in a broad spectrum of environments and locations. While current Apple iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 series models support FCC requirements for hearing aids, these patents indicate that Apple’s commitment to ongoing innovations for hearing-impaired users is strong.
Morgan Stanley calls the LiNX the "first attempt to turn a hearing aid into more of a lifestyle product," according to Reuters. To that end, users will also be able to adjust the settings on their hearing aids via an accompanying iOS app.
Given the facts that both baby boomers and the iPhone generation are ageing and this new innovation is a major step in removing the stigma from wearing a hearing aid, it’s safe to say that this market potential is huge; it has an estimated value of $15 billion.
According to the World Health Organization’s estimates, there are 360 million people – over 5 percent of the world’s population – with a disabling hearing loss. Despite that huge number, current hearing aid production meets less than 10 percent of global need. Surprisingly, the tiny country of Denmark, with a population of less than 6 million people, produces 50 percent of the world’s hearing aids.
With Apple and GN leading the charge, it won’t be long before rival companies will be racing to get onboard and service their hearing-impaired users to avoid being late to the party. Similar “Made for iPhone” products from other companies are said to be on the way, though no official announcements have been made.
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