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4/9/2014
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iOS Brings Better Control To Hearing Aids

Starkey Hearing Technologies turns an iPhone into a remote control for its wireless hearing aids.

Healthcare Robotics: Patently Incredible Inventions
Healthcare Robotics: Patently Incredible Inventions
(Click image for larger view.)

Given the popularity of earbuds, transforming an iPhone into a hearing aid controller seemed like a natural transition to Starkey Hearing Technologies. Two years ago, the US hearing aid manufacturer teamed up with Apple to design an app, called TruLink, that leverages the iPhone's power, audio controls, and user friendliness. By pairing a hearing aid with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod with familiar Apple controls, Starkey hopes to sell more hearing-impaired consumers its Halo wireless hearing aid.

Only about 10% of today's hearing aids are wireless, according to Starkey. That's one reason so many people with hearing issues don't seek help. As a result, only one out of every five individuals who could benefit from a hearing aid wears one, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. About 48 million people suffer some degree of hearing loss -- one-fifth of the US population.

"We wanted to partner with Apple to make hearing aids cool, if you will," Dave Fabry, PhD, VP of audiology and professional relations at Starkey, said in an interview. "As we age, we lose manual dexterity. Although many hearing aids have user controls directly on the hearing aids, rather than having dedicated remote-control or switch-on hearing aids, Halo now enables the Apple device to serve as the remote control to turn the volume up and down, change the volume for the listening environment, or answer a cellphone call."

It's not quite as easy as simply downloading an app. Hearing aids are medical devices that require fittings.

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Starkey recently trained more than 1,000 audiologists online and hundreds more in person, Fabry said. "We are training our customers not only in how to fit our hearing aids, but in working with the app in combination with the hearing aid."

Starkey trains audiologists on the basics, including downloading apps and using Bluetooth. It also recommends iOS 7 because it enables automated updates. "Starkey has... already used online support to push out software support to our customers for their devices," Fabry said. "This is a different model. This allows us to push it out to the app so we can be certain everyone with the app is current. With iOS 7, if they agree to the update, they won't even know it's updated."

Starkey credits its relationship with Apple for Halo users' ability to leverage many standard iPhone features, such as Siri. The company, which considers itself a technology developer, has offered online tools and apps for several years.

Users can personalize and geotag settings pertaining to particular environments based on the noise level -- for example, setting the device up for the mall, the library, or home. Users can set Halo to adjust automatically when they are driving and can use the Find My Hearing Aid feature in case of a misplaced device. The TruLink app controls the hearing aid from an iPhone, iPad, or iPod. Halo also uses Apple's sound technology for streaming music.

"The sound, clarity, and general hearing aid mode are much better from what I'm used to," said tester David Brahee, who lives near Minneapolis. "Its software package is easy to manipulate and understand, almost intuitive as to where you go next. I suppose it's even better if you were already an iPhone user."

Derrick Coleman, who plays for the Superbowl champion Seattle Seahawks, was the first patient to use Halo and has become a spokesman for the company.

But many less well-known users are testing the hearing aid and apps, too. Brahee, a hearing aid wearer for about four years, volunteered to test Halo because he enjoys checking out new technology. Because Brahee uses an Android smartphone, Starkey loaned him an iPhone. But while Brahee likes Halo, the hearing aid isn't enough for him to consider trading in his Android for an iPhone. "I'd be more apt to look at that and ... a new set of hearing aids with the Droid controls," he said.

Fabry said the company is considering developing an Android version of Halo. The Bluetooth 4.0 standard will make it easier to develop products for Google's open platform, he said.

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Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
8/30/2014 | 11:31:44 PM
Re: These are a Beta versions at best
@nrkmann> Maybe the choice of words is what makes the difference in perspective.

     "Yes, I am tough on reviewer because I need usable data, not the sales reps regurgitation."

 

Maybe this is the problem. To me this is a report, not a review. The author therefore is acting in the capacity of a reporter, not a reviewer, and on that basis I do not see a problem with the level of information presented, nor the perspective. The author was careful as I saw it to identify that she was reporting what the manufacturer had said. I don't see a recommendation this product is any better or worse than any other; it's just a look at a use for technology with a medical device. I completely understand why you might be looking for somethig else, but I don't feel that the author represented her views as anything other than a report from a manufacturer. 
nrkmann
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nrkmann,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/30/2014 | 7:26:36 PM
Re: These are a Beta versions at best
@jgherbert  Some items just have to have experience and hands on to have the expertise to report. I have the 10,000 hours on each of three other devices and several hundred hours on the HALOs. Yes, I am tough on reviewer because I need usable data, not the sales reps regurgitation. So far all the reviews on the HALOs are just marketing based on the design specs not the performance specs.

You may not see it but this is social contract. Want me to continiue to read your column? Give me actionable information.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
8/28/2014 | 10:19:49 AM
Re: These are a Beta versions at best
Thanks for your feedback. I am sorry you are having such an awful time with these hearing aids. I do have friends who  use hearing aids, actually, and their experiences vary. I think they are extremely personal devices so experiences vary widely. And they don't go to the VA, so care is different, too. 
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
8/27/2014 | 10:02:06 PM
Re: These are a Beta versions at best
@uh60avi8tor> I think that's a bit unfair towards Alison; to me (who does not wear a hearing aid, and is not around anybody who does) it was interesting to hear what one manufacturer is trying to offer, and I found the information interesting as it's not something I had considered before.

It does seem though from your feedback - assuming that this is a common experience - that there's a way to go before these systems meet the expectations of the users, and it sounds like the post-sales support is a really weak point for these devices, which is not a good thing when it comes to something so important to the owner. I truly hope for you and all the others out there who are seeking something better, that the manufacturers can start delivering on the features they advertise so that you can enjoy those benefits. I think that this is a step in a very interesting direction, and I'm glad that I now know something like this is around, even if not yet perfected.
nrkmann
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nrkmann,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/27/2014 | 8:28:18 PM
These are a Beta versions at best
I am on my 5th set of digital hearing aids in the last 20 years. This is the third set that work with my iPhone, and the connection is by far the most inconvienient. I am ready to go back to wearing a fob around my neck so I can use my iPhone with my hearing aids, but the purpose was to get rid of the fob.

The best feature of the Halos is no feedback and no wind noise. After that it is all downhill. Next is it switching settings by location (see issues below)

Not good at canceling noise like a noisie truck or plane.

The sound is generally like being at the end of a pipe, kind of dead.

No assistance from Starkey... go see your audioligist. At the VA that takes four to six weeks. Then you are in that loop again for the next problem. How can you really have a support group without the manufacturer helping out? You don't and it shows when trying to get help using the internet.

Only partially works with the iPhone 4S. Starkey knows this but will not say it in any of their propoganda about how these are better than sliced bread or buttered popcorn.

     It broadcasts to only one ear.

     The three press on the home button does not work. Often drops the connection and the iPhone has to be rebooted to reconnect.

 

     Automated phone messages when calling are so garbled as to be unusable... the "Please press..." message.

     At the highest setting sound through the hearing aid is only usable in the quietest locations.

     My iPhone has to be recharged twice a day. If I want to change my settings for watching TV, or sitting on my deck, or when we entertain, I have to save the new setting over the old or carry the iPhone around with me without shutting it off. Once the screen goes off or you punch the button on top of the phone it goes back to its saved setting for your location.

Spent an hour and one-half with the expert at my Apple Store and they were also frustrated because they don't work as the Apple documentation says they should but laid no blame.

Alison: I would guess you don't use hearing aids nor does someone very close to you or have not been though several brands over time. This is such a personal type of tech that after the first paragraph you just become a parrot for the manufacturer. Pick a subject you can relate to next time.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
4/21/2014 | 9:25:41 AM
Re: Hearing aid
Precisely, @Susan! As we've seen from Laurie's comments, it's vital for all members of this community to work together closely. Just because products are integrated doesn't necessarily mean the patient will be satisfied. We all rely so much on our smartphones and tablets that it's critical to extend this capability to as many individuals as possible. (And thanks for your kind words about the pic, taken in my front yard!)
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
4/21/2014 | 9:23:20 AM
Re: IPHONE 5S and hearing aids
@Laurie, your frustrations and experiences underscore how important it is for phone makers, developers, and healthcare providers -- in this case, hearing aid-makers -- to closely partner, not only on development but on support. We're talking about a health device, not a game or even a business app, and so ensuring the patient's satisfaction with the end result is vital. 
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Ninja
4/19/2014 | 11:13:31 AM
Re: Hearing aid
Alison,

Precisely. Android will get it, but focusing on iOS first is a good step. We are not talking about just a game. Making this work perfectly in every platform requires time and dedication. (On a different note, very nice new picture. :D )

-Susan 
lozza47
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lozza47,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/18/2014 | 5:29:45 PM
Re: IPHONE 5S and hearing aids
Hi Alison,

Thanks for that,

Have been to that`web site, and i appreciate your suggestion, but (bear with me here) i get the same response from the Apple shop, and from the various forums and the phone shops, "contact the manufacturer of the Loop Set" or "pay a visit to your Hearing Specialist" or "get your hearing aids checked" the same thing over and over again. There is nothing wrong with my hearing aids or my Loop Set, both are functioning very well. The problem is the phone. And of course at Apple, it is my hearing aids or the loop set that is at fault, or not compatible with the phone, bla, bla, bla. Like i said "bear with me here" i am not having a dig at you guys, but yes I AM FRUSTRATED.

Once again THANKS HEAPS

Regards

Laurie

 

 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
4/18/2014 | 4:33:33 PM
Re: IPHONE 5S and hearing aids
You may want to check out some online communities that specifically address people with similar issues, Laurie. I cannot imagine you are alone in this frustration and, although I am no expert in this matter, some phones may be more hearing aid-friendly than others? I don't know if this site will be helpful, but the president commented on this story and shared some details about the site with me via email. Called HearingTracker.com, it includes users' reviews of hearing aids -- and surely some of those reviews include their compatibility and sound quality when used with various phones? I hope you find the right phone to suit your needs!
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