Made for iPhone Hearing Aids Are Coming – URGENT UPDATE

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
  • Bluetooth
  • 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

 

Bootnotes:

Widex Quattro Model Q-9 Behind-the-Ear (BTE) Hearing Aid System With Remote Control

Widex Quattro Model Q-9 Behind-the-Ear (BTE) Hearing Aid System With Remote Control:
Click to enlarge

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:

 

feedforward comb filter frequency response

Typical feedforward comb filter frequency response:
Click to enlarge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, here is a brief audio demonstration of the feedforward comb filtering effect:

References:

Smith, J.O. “Feedforward Comb Filters”, in Physical Audio Signal Processing, online book, accessed 7/18/2012~

Comment problems:

It’s been brought to our attention from several of our readers that they were having their comments rejected by the Akismet plug-in for WordPress as spam. This is unacceptable to us; and we are soliciting suggestions for a replacement. Unfortunately, we have to use something to screen for spam, as we were receiving over 100 spam comments per day at its’ peak. In the interim, to save retyping, we recommend selecting & copying all of your text to the clipboard: If your comment is accidentally rejected, simply paste it into an e-mail message, put “Rejected Comment” in the subject line, and send it to us at Dan@Snip.Net and we’ll manually post it for you~

← Surge Impedance: Why you see the spark when you unplug your iron Digital “Moore’s Law” Radio: The Enabling Technology For “Made For Apple” Hearing Aids →

About the author

Dan Schwartz

Electrical Engineer, via Georgia Tech

25 Comments

  1. Tina Penman
    November 9, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    [Comment deleted at Tina Penman's request]


  2. Hearing Aids Sydney
    November 10, 2012 at 12:57 am

    Thanks for sharing this useful information.Very nice and informative information.


  3. Steve Hale
    November 10, 2012 at 3:56 am

    This will be massive for the industry. I can think of a handful of clients in my practice alone who because of social stigma won’t use hearing aids as “they are for old people” this will defiantly help to break these barriers!


  4. Tonya
    November 29, 2012 at 10:29 am

    I love that there’s so much developing technology!


  5. Mark
    December 3, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Thanks for the information. Since I’m in the market for new hearing aids right now, I’m trying to make sure whatever I end up with is compatible with the iPhone 5. However, I’m having very little success because companies are not willing to share any information on which models they make are compatibile with the iPhone 5. Apple is just as guilty when it comes to sharing information. What did they expect when they made their big announcement back in September?? My audiologist is telling me to wait another 3-4 months and see what happens but that means I’m taking a risk on my current 6 year old hearing aids holding up.

    I’m also interested in the evolving debate on consumer programmable hearing aids using an iPhone or similar device. While not everyone will be willing or capable of programming their own hearing aids, there is a segment of the users that would welcome this practice with open arms.


    • Dan Schwartz
      December 3, 2012 at 10:59 pm

      Mark, don’t wait 6-9 months to buy new hearing aids: Most of the functionality of the “Made for iPhone” hearing aids is already here with the various streamers. What’s more, at six years old, today’s hearing aids will give you so much better performance, so you’ll be losing that time of vastly improved hearing.

      As for programming your own hearing aids, we’re big proponents of it, but only for experienced users: It’s very easy to tune the response to where it “sounds best” as opposed to where you understand speech best. The answer is Telehealth, where you get the “keys to the car” but also have a professional sharing your PC screen while you chat face-to-face on Skype. For Telehealth, and for reasons of streaming audio performance, we like the ReSound Alera 9 series & the Widex Clear 440 & Super 440 series; and we really like the new ReSound Verso 9 series — We tilt towards ReSound for having the best speech-in-noise performance, especially with their awesome Mini Mic (“spouse mic”) which replaces FM; while we tilt towards Widex for musicians due to better sound quality~


  6. Gary
    December 5, 2012 at 1:05 am

    This is a an interesting article and I am in the same situation as Mark except mine are just over 5 years old. The reason why I am waiting is that I am not overly impressed with the existing streamers especially the ones that require a neck loop. Also it is very annoying to have to carry a third device. Customer buy hearing aids with the intention of them lasting 5+ years usually due to the fact that their medical aid only pays once per 5 years. So to buy something just a few months before a new model means that you could have 4.5 years of regret should the new model indeed deliver such an improvement ie no streamer and having a interface(iphone) to make minor tweaks. The thing is that hearing aids are used 16-18 hours a day everyday so these things matter.

    Personally I am waiting the few months and just wish companies would be more open about their medical products. But in this competitive market I understand the lack of information. Lets hope I/we don’t regret the past few months wait ;)


    • Dan Schwartz
      December 5, 2012 at 9:09 am

      Gary, if you mean 3rd party “streamers” that use an induction loop and require the hearing aids to switch to T-coils, we agree 100%, as it’s just a cheap hack. However, we personally use both the Widex M-Dex and ReSound Phone Clip, and like them both quite well.

      In any event, just like Mark, we recommend to NOT wait 6-9 months to replace your 5 & 6 year old hearing aids, as you’ll be losing the benefit of much better hearing for that period of time. We’ll whip up a quick article on this…


  7. Gary
    December 5, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Although I appreciate the advice, I am unfortunately talking from past experience as well. I was born with severe hearing loss and have had hearing aids all my life (including the chunk box with wires – Danavox!). About 8 years ago I dropped my BTE hearing aid which I took out to talk on the phone and it fell almost 2m – needless to say it needed repairing. Just over 5 years ago I got new hearings and had 20+ appointments to tweak and get them right. However, some complaints remained – mobile use (due to feedback) and listening to music. I continuously asked about solutions but we could not find one. 6 months after purchasing Oticon released their first version of the streamer. For the years after that I had to struggle with my poor quality neckloops until Nokia released one which was reasonably good until I could not be bothered to use it.

    I tried the Oticon Streamer with Oticon Agil a few months ago but found it very fiddly to use and although the sound quality for me was a vast improvement but others complained that they could not hear me properly. Also I felt that the i/f was poor (trying to do everything with 4-5 buttons) and the battery also not good and simply being an extra device will result in it gathering dust in my drawer due to lack of use. Anyway, round that time I heard about the new iphone made for HA so I decided to hand them back the hearing aids during my trial period as I did not want to ‘suffer’ another 5 years feeling that I got ripped off.

    I agree that the sound quality was better in the hearing aids but for me the other main issue was feedback. Between my current ones and the new one, I did not see much improvements which means I would probabaly end up taking out my HA for phone calls running the risk of dropping them again :-(


    • Dan Schwartz
      December 5, 2012 at 6:45 pm

      Gary, I cross-referenced your e-mail address on Facebook & saw you’re in Amsterdam. The Dutch hearing aid professionals are generally well trained, so you may do well to find another if it takes 20+ tweaking sessions to get them right; or you can find a professional who will give you the programmer hardware & software so you can fine-tune it yourself.

      If you don’t want to wait until the “Made for iPhone” hearing aids come out, then I would recommend the Starkey 3-series, where you can use the SoundPoint software to fine-tune your hearing aid fitting.

      Dan Schwartz,
      Editor, The Hearing Blog
      All incoming Facebook friend requests are welcome


  8. stuart levy
    January 29, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    There is an incompatibility between bluetooth on the Starkey Surflink and the Iphone 5. When paired they work. But after separation, they do not automatically reconnect – they must be repaired. Starkey says its the iphone 5 with version bluetooth 4, but apple keeps updated their software and it still doesn’t work. The Surflink probably has version 3.


  9. stuart levy
    January 31, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I have the Starkey SurfLink, Starkey hearing aids and an Iphone 5 with the latest upgrade (yesterday. The Bluetooth connection when set up with the iphone streams into the hearing aids very satisfactorily. But when separate and they loose pairing, they must be repaired everytime. Starkey says its a apple problem, but apparently apple is not responding. I think Starkey has bluetooth ver 3 and iphone has ver 4 and there is an additional incompatibility that Starkey is not admitting to.


    • Dan Schwartz
      January 31, 2013 at 12:18 pm

      Stuart, as far as I know, the SurfLink uses Bluetooth 2.1 A2DP and Headset profile. Also, Bluetooth is backwards compatible: Even though the iPhone 4S & 5 & iPod Touch 5 support Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (BLE), they will negotiate with the other devices as part of the pairing process, just like if you have a WiFi router that supports 802.11-N and an old laptop that’s only 802.11-B.

      That being said, I would tend to point the finger at Starkey: I’ve also seen reports that Oaktree Products’ Bluetooth stethoscope will not pair with the SurfLink, though it will pair with all other streamers, even the balky original ReSound Phone Clip (since replaced with the Phone Clip+).


  10. stuart levy
    February 3, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Visited my audiologist the other day and fixed the bluetooth connection [to the Starkey SurfLink Mobile - ed.]. Apparently IOS 6.1 did have a fix, but to use it required a process which consisted of unsynching the hearing aids from the SurfLink Mobile, which required the audiologist and her computer [to unsynch - ed.] and then resynching them. After this, the bluetooth connection to the iphone semi-automatically reconnected. When the connection was lost, you do have to go into settings on the Iphone and just press surflink and it reconnects. That is easier then disconnecting and having to Pair again.

    [Comment edited by Dan Schwartz]


  11. Mark Dixson
    February 24, 2013 at 9:47 am

    I’m sending my new aids back and either wait for starkey to wake up or find another vendor to provide a product that will work with my iPhone


  12. Joe Ahrens
    June 12, 2013 at 10:59 am

    In my business, I am constantly on a cell phone and am very often out and about and just can’t have all types of equipment strapped on to me. I am looking for 3 things in a HA:
    1. Bluetooth cell phone hands-free connectivity using the HA mike so that you do not have to carry around an extra piece of equipment (e.g. Resound unite phone clip).
    2. Made for iPhone HA so that the iPhone serves as HA controller so you don’t have to carry around an extra piece of equipment (e.g. Phonak ComPilot or other loop).
    3) Totally integrated iPhone App like Beltone Smart Remote so that you don’t have to carry around another piece of equipment.
    Although Beltone has introduced the first “made for iPhone HA” and app Smart Remote (kudos) and Starkey now has Surflink Mobile (big kudos), they need to be combined. I am hoping that when Starkey comes out with their MFiP HA, that will be done. Is there any follow up on when Starkey will release their version of the MFiP?


    • Dan Schwartz
      June 12, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      Joe, you’re on the right track!

      First off, Beltone is owned by GN ReSound, so their products are virtually identical: For example, the Beltone Smart Remote and ReSound Control apps are identical, as are the required Beltone Direct Phone Link 2 and ReSound Unite Phone Clip+, and Beltone Promise and ReSound Verso hearing aids.

      Next, using the hearing aid mic itself for phone transmit audio is problematic, especially when noisy: Formants such as vowels and voiced consonants (such as /b/, /d/, /v/ etc…) have a low frequency (and hence long wavelength) they easily diffract as the diameter of the mouth is relatively small. However unvoiced formants such as /s/, /t/, /sh/, /θ/ etc… have both a comparatively short wavelength .AND. are about 20 to 30dB softer, so these critical elements of speech are lost.


  13. Jack Heller
    July 1, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Hi Dan,

    My name is Jack Heller. Every 5 years my wife and I have to buy hearing aids for our son Sam, now 33 years old. This time the provider recommended the Starkey RIC312. Thursday my son got the aids and we noted (via the telephone) that his hearing accuracy improved signifcantly. The next day I was helping him, via Skype, in learning how to use the SurfLink Mobile to connect his aids directly to an iPad, stereo receiver etc. (The provider already took care of the smart phone link). But in doing so, his right aid kept dropping the signal and he was forced to essentially reset the aid by opening the battery holder and then closing it again after each drop-out.

    I quickly found on the web a factory memo from Starkey announcing a new firmware release (1.4) which, using the cynical term “enhancement” supposedly fixes this bug (using the accurate term). The memo was posted within a day or two of the shipment of his aids and Surflink Mobile so I have no idea whether the latter had the new firmware. I notified the provider, who told Sam to drop-by her office later that afternoon. Unfortunately, her assistant, presumably in the process of downloading the firmware, corrupted the software to such an extent that the SurfLink Mobile was inoperable. It is now on its way back to Minnesota. Update: Starkey is sending a new one.

    What bothers me is this bug looks more like an antenna problem than a software issue. If it is, I’m wondering that Starkey’s “enhancement” is no more than a band-aid, such as sending out to the aid “soft-reset” commands from the Surflink Mobile, or going through whatever handshake protocol is required on a repetitive basis until contact is re-established. It’s also possible that they might increase the RF signal strength (not a band-aid solution) in the Surflink Mobil. But I still have the suspicion that electromagnetic coupling is reduced between the two devices causing a loss of connectivity. Do you have any idea how the two units are supposed to communicate – inductively or via RF (electric field)? Does the Surflink Mobile have a sweet spot orientation that you are aware of?

    In any event, I enjoy your blog. Previously I’ve received only glossy brochures with photos of elderly couples who may or may not have hearing aids but look like they’re high on Cialis. And the “white papers” on the manufacturer websites aren’t very convincing. I had to hunt around just to find out why Bluetooth didn’t talk to the hearing aid directly. So thanks for the information on your blog.

    Regards


  14. Miguel Foncerrada
    July 9, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Hi, Does anyone have an update on when Starkey will release iPhone compatible hearing aids? Tnx


    • Dan Schwartz
      July 9, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      Miguel, that is a Good Question. My estimates — And these are estimates only — are for early fall of this year.


  15. Lou Kallas
    September 4, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Any news on when Starkey (or any other vendor) will release an iPhone compatible device? Possibly related to new iPhone coming out this month?


    • Dan Schwartz
      September 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      The GN ReSound Phone Clip+ is currently the only device that has the official Made for iPhone logo.


  16. Ruediger
    January 28, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Hi Dan,

    my name is Ruediger and currently I am trialing my first hearing aid after having sudden hearing loss in my left ear. This sudden hearing loss lead to a progressively increasing hearing impairment at 1KHz and below. In addition I have a moderate hearing loss in both ears at 4 KHz and above due to a gun shot trauma many years ago.

    I am not very happy with my experience with the aid I am trialing right now a Bernafon Acriva 9 for multiple reasons. My biggest problem with the Bernafon is the lack of amplification of low frequencies especially between 250 Hz and 40 Hz when listening to music especially when streaming through bluetooth where all frequencies below 100 Hz are simply missing from both ears, even the right ear due to the hearing aid apparently not passing these frequencies. The are a lot of musical tones below 100 Hz, e.g. the whole contra bass spectrum and most of Cello tones as well a bass guitars, low organ frequencies, and other tones. There is just so much going on in the bass spectrum and music just doesn’t sound full without the frequenies below 100 Hz. In addition the volume on bluetooth phone conversations is rather low compared to when I use a bluetooth headset.

    I realize that hearing aids are specialized to improve speech recognition in the speech banana spectrum and audiologists measure hearing response in the 250 Hz to 8kHz spectrum but as I said to listen to music the 40 Hz to 100 Hz spectrum is important for me. Is this roll off below 100Hz typical or is this just a Bernafon restriction? And does anyone know what the real music capabilities of these Made for iPhone BLE aids (e.g. the Resound Linx) are in the bass spectrum? And can one achieve be a full sound and good volume with these comparable to a headphone?

    Thanks
    Ruediger


    • Mark
      February 24, 2014 at 12:22 am

      Hi Ruediger,

      It’s just that pesky law of physics kicking in here I think. The small size of hearing aid receivers combined with how they are coupled to you ear usually leads to poor performance below 250Hz let alone 100Hz. Most hearing aids are fitted with some kind of venting and even if they are not most moulds are not a super tight fit, this just lets all that musically important low end leak out and not be heard. Have your Audiologist try and set you up a program specifically for music, usually with all the speech enhancement, Dir Mic stuff off and less input compression. Made for iphone is really just about connecting not sound quality. It doesn’t matter much how the sound gets into you aids, or at least that is unlikely to be a limiting factor. More important is how it gets from you aid into your ears.


      • Dan Schwartz
        February 24, 2014 at 10:10 am

        Mark, you are quite correct about the physics & acoustics, as the efficiency of a loudspeaker is proportional to the 4th power of the diaphragm radius (or second power of the area).

        In addition, you are quite correct in reference to earmold slit leakage for sealed earmolds, and by extension earmold venting. The issue, however, is one of hearing aid acceptance, as the “open fit” domes used with thin tube and receiver-in-canal (RIC) have directly led to much higher hearing aid acceptance, especially among new users.


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