The ability to communicate effectively using a mobile device is something most of us take for granted. This technology connects us to our families and friends, the services we need, and the people we work with. For an increasing number of us, our livelihoods depend on being able to stay connected via a mobile device.
We all know the frustration that occurs when background noise or a poor signal causes a breakdown in communication. We’ve learned ways to compensate for this - like moving to a quieter place to make a call, using earphones to get a more direct signal, and better still, hearing that signal in both ears. These are all ways of improving the Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR).
People with hearing loss need a better/higher SNR than people with normal hearing in order to hear speech as clearly – even if they are wearing hearing aids. This is why hearing loops were created, and why for over 10 years hearing aid manufacturers have offered Bluetooth accessories that connect hearing aids to mobile devices and remote microphones.
While Bluetooth streaming accessories can provide life-changing hearing benefits for people with hearing aids and hearing implants, they’re not a good fit for everyone’s lifestyle. For example, I’ve had a client who worked as a nurse and due to Workplace Health and Safety regulations, she couldn’t wear the streaming device that would have connected her hearing aids to her mobile phone.
In 2013, GN ReSound introduced the first “Made for iPhone” (MFi) hearing aid, allowing audio to be streamed directly from an Apple mobile device to a hearing aid without an intermediary device. Several other leading manufacturers have since introduced MFi functionality in their hearing technology.
MFi is convenient because the user can stream any audio from their Apple device directly to their hearing instrument without having to worry about extra gadgets. One of the limitations, however, is that it’s not truly hands-free because during a call, the microphone on the Apple device itself needs to be close enough to the user to pick up their voice. The other obvious limitation is that not everyone has an Apple device.
More recently, direct connectivity between Android devices and hearing aids became a reality, with two manufacturers introducing models that could connect to Android phones via the standard Bluetooth connection on a mobile device. The first Android-compatible models had a few disadvantages such as only being able to stream audio to one ear, sacrificing some noise reduction features to allow for connectivity, and the fact that some models didn’t come in a rechargeable version. But, one of the main advantages was that these devices did allow for hands-free phone calls, using one of the hearing aids' microphones to pick up the user’s voice.
Eventually someone had to offer a hearing aid that connects to Apple and Android devices, streams calls to both ears hands-free, without sacrificing any of the other great technologies available. That was Phonak, with the Audéo Marvel.