URGENT UPDATE: We just received a polite-but-panicked “OOPS!” phone call from a Starkey vice president…
Turns out, this special Starkey PowerPoint presentation to the audiology students at the Academy of Doctors of Audiology annual convention wasn’t really for publication yet; and needless to say, it ruffled a few feathers in Eden Prairie and Scottsdale, with my VP friend requesting that we remove this article, as some of the information is not correct, and other is just preliminary. However, it is the policy of The Hearing Blog to present to our readers unbiased, accurate inside information from the hearing care industry, so we politely refused (just ask Advanced Bionics about the veracity of our “Failing Ugly” articles on their November 2010 HiRes 90k recall here, here and here, us breaking the news of their resultant January 2011 big layoffs here; and ask Cochlear about us calling out a design flaw in their CI’s here).
That being said, Starkey will now issue to us a statement detailing what is preliminary with their “Made for iPhone Hearing Aid” program, and also what is incorrect; which upon receipt we will both update this article and publish it in full in a separate article, with our response.
Dan Schwartz, Editor
Guest article on the Starkey roadmap, with comments by Dan Schwartz
It’s been a whirlwind day and a half so far at the ADA Conference. The Biltmore resort area is beautiful, and the weather has been very balmy. Definitely a big improvement over Memphis this time of year.
Yesterday was our special student workshop. There were some great sessions and information shared. One that I just could not wait to write about was the last few minutes of the Starkey presentation on technology and how today’s patients are all “connected.”
If you remember back in June, when Apple announced the iPhone 5, there was a great deal of interest in the audiology and hearing impaired community over one little phrase in the press release, “made for iPhone hearing aids.” Everyone was curious as to which manufacturers would be involved, how closely would they integrate with the iPhone, what would make them better than “non i-phone” compatible hearing aids.
Over the past couple months, there have been bits and pieces of information added to the puzzle. We have learned that Starkey, GN Resound, and Oticon all appear to be working with Apple to launch these products. We now know that Apple will itself not be producing hearing aids but that all 3 manufacturers will have some type of product that enables them to label their products:
…which according to the Apple website, signifies that “electronic accessory has been designed to connect specifically to iPhone and has been certified by the developer to meet Apple performance standards.”
We did not get much more information yesterday, but it was a big step forward.
- The Starkey “made for iPhone” hearing aids will only be compatible with iOS6 on the iPhone5 due to the fact that specific antennas had to be installed on the phones for the wireless protocol;
- The Starkey iPhone hearing aids will operate on 2.4 Ghz protocol variant (Similar to the wireless protocols used by GN Resound, this also explains how Resound, Oticon, and Starkey will all be functioning off the same antenna);
- This represents a change from Starkey who typically uses a 900 Hz wireless protocol;
- This means the Surflink Mobile will NOT be compatible with the “made for iPhone” hearing aids (Granted the iPhone should replace all these features);
- Per the Starkey trainer, there will be TWO lines of hearing aids, one operating on the 2.4Ghz protocol (“made for iPhone”) and one operating on the 900 Mhz protocol (current standard)’
- Control of the hearing aids will be app based;
- The first release will be a RIC style
App features will include:
- Audio streaming
- Remote mic
- Record, save, and email audio
- A limited version of Starkey’s soundpoint software
Soundpoint is a user tuning software that Starkey has for client’s to use in the office with the hearing healtchcare provider.. The trainer reported that 90% of users end up with 2 dB of the initially prescribed settings. The version on the iPhone will be limited in that users can only make gain and compression changes and are restricted to an 8 dB window. The app allows the saving of multiple user created profiles or “programs” which are stored on the iPhone, not on the hearing aid. This will enable combining location services on the iPhone so that particular programs can be geotagged. Walk in to Starbucks and your phone will ask if you’d like to change programs.
One initial flaw I see are that with the features that can be adjusted there will not be as much benefit for adverse acoustic environments. Changes to DNR and directionality would bring about more benefit for those situations in my opinion. While Apple has the largest market penetration of any single Smartphone manufacturer, Android OS market share is growing greatly. Obviously the sheer variety of manufacturers creating Android phones would require a much greater amount coordination among manufacturers for getting appropriate antennae installed in devices
What are your thoughts?
Editor Dan Schwartz replies…
This is just one product roadmap for one of the “Big Six” hearing aid manufacturers; and it is troubling that Starkey will have two different lines of wireless accessories — 900 mHz & 2.4 gHz, meaning that hearing aid professionals will need to stock more inventory. What’s more, unlike the open Bluetooth 4.0 standard that will allow universal wide area direct-to-hearing aid broadcasting for large venues to replace the troublesome baseband induction “hearing loops,” owners of these 900 mHz instruments will be left in the cold. (For this, think of a universal 2.4 gHz version of the excellent Starkey SurfLink Media that will reach all hearing aid users).
We are also troubled that the Starkey instruments will only work with the iPhone 5 due to the special antennas: This was originally supposed to be supported on the iPhone 4S, as that too has Bluetooth 4.0 capability. Although Maxwell’s Equations tend to be inviolable, it will be interesting to see if GN Resound, Oticon, and Cochlear run into the same problems.
Whether Phonak/Unitron and Widex abandon their 10.6 mHz RF platform remains to be seen, as they also use it for inter-ear communications, including zoom mic steering & compression coordination; however the lure of reduced power consumption using the emerging Digital Moore’s Law Radio architecture may pry their engineers loose. That being said, Widex is unique among the hearing aid manufacturers: They use an Application Specific IC (ASIC) DSP architecture, which costs tens of millions of dollars to develop & regression test before committing to silicon. The other manufacturers, however, all use Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) DSP’s (mostly from ON Semiconductor with feature libraries from Two-pi), so they will get to the market in about six months… But with the penalty of twice the battery drain than Widex, and frequent firmware flash upgrades, like your WiFi router at home.
As for the “social media” functions of program shift for different acoustic environments, those choices Starkey made are fluid, and will probably change rapidly after focus group and widespread beta testing. One thing we would like to see is an acoustic version of Google Maps, where certain venues have snapshots of their acoustical parameters such as reverberation time measured, and then transmitted using geolocation technology: For example, let’s say the Cheesecake Factory around the corner has a T(60) of 1.4 seconds: When you walk into the restaurant, the iPhone will use that data downloaded from the ‘net (or pull from the cache) and construct a program, and send it up to the hearing aids.¹
Finally, we really like the concept of using the iPhone as an assistive device, either handheld “pocket talker” style with a zoom mike (like the Blue Mikey, which our friend, composer Richard Einhorn, likes to do now), or as a replacement for an FM assistive listening system or ReSound Mini Mic(“spouse mic”). That being said, there is an issue of accumulated latency between the DSP’s in the hearing aids themselves, the Bluetooth 4.0 digital transmission, and iPhone’s own audio processing, which will vary according to the CPU load and thread scheduling priority. Latency is important because once it exceeds 10 mSec, the “comb filter” effect comes into play when the hearing aid mic is mixing in ambient sound, i.e. a delayed version of the sound is being added to itself, distorting the frequency response. Also, when the latency reaches 40 mSec, synchronization to speechreading cues becomes a problem. We can see these already in the various iPhone “hearing aid” apps, such as SoundAMP; along with a second problem: The built-in microphone itself: It’s basically acoustically optimized for near-field use for “talking on the phone” and not for pointing at someone across the room, or even sitting on a conference table.²
1) All that is old, is new again: Some of you may remember the Widex Quatro, released in 1988, had an architecture where you programmed the gain & filter settings in the remote control; and every time you changed the volume or shifted the program, the parameters were transmitted to the hearing aids for instant changes. Yours truly wore a pair of Quatro Q9 hearing aids from 1992-2001, until the ferrite antenna in the remote control broke. You can see more photos of this wonderful hearing aid system in the Hearing Aid Museum at this link.
2) We use the more accurate feedforward comb filter effect to differentiate it from the less commonly encountered “feedback comb filter effect” – Here is a graph of the feedforward comb filter frequency response. Also, below is a brief audio demonstration of the feedforward comb filtering effect:
Smith, J.O. “Feedforward Comb Filters”, in Physical Audio Signal Processing, online book, accessed 7/18/2012~
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