Apple co-developed next-gen iPhone-compatible hearing aid to debut early next year

“This was the year that Apple put a lot of energy into developing technology to advance hearing aids in connection to the iPhone,” Jack Purcher reports for Patently Apple.

“Apple’s first patent application surfaced at the US Patent Office in February and their most recent application came to light last month. Their work was obviously more aggressive than first thought,” Purcher reports. “Apple approached all hearing aid companies to introduce their ideas and technology and a next generation product from Denmark’s GN Store Nord is now only months away from being the first to tap into technology that will work with Apple’s iPhone.”

Purcher reports, “According to a new Reuters report, ‘The world’s fourth-largest maker has collaborated with Apple to develop a device packed with Bluetooth-like technology that installed in the ear allows users to stream voice and music from their iPhones without the need for an intermediary device.'”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Readers “Fred Mertz” and “Jax44” for the heads up.]


  1. Not to argue but that’s interesting as I didn’t know there was a set age a person needed hearing aids. I always thought it was anywhere between birth and death. I hope you and others never need one actually.

  2. I have been waiting for this for a long time. This is one of those things that will improve the quality of my life. My current hearing aid relies on a 3rd device called a streamer, it is terrible. Thank you Apple.

  3. Hearing aids today are digital, and most have Bluetooth, but . . they are adjusted by “technicians” who are really just computer illiterate salespersons. I wear them and I hate them because I can’t adjust them myself. If Apple can provide the technology not only to hear iPhone messages (no problem for me), but to allow me to set the highs, lows and mid-tones to my own needs in different situations, I will be thrilled.

    1. If the audio processing can be off loaded to the iPhone’s A7 processor, I would imagine all sorts of improvement would be possible. May Siri voice recognition could be used to clarify conversation in a loud environment.

    2. With the number of people needing hearing aids in just North America, surely someone could produce great products for a fraction of the price while including a whole selection of features. If an iPhone can be sold for $800 or so, a simple hearing aid with a programmable comb filter, noise reduction and BlueTooth should be a snap.

    3. After being there in person to hear Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, The Doors, and Joplin, after 50 years of auto racing participation, after 20 years working in power plants, yes, I find myself with some of the best hearing aids on the market. They are remotely controlled via Bluetooth with a remote I can carry in my pocket.

      I have several selectable programs and individual volume controls, but I can’t do my own programming, and frankly, I’d love to. Having to relay the quality of a program and how to fine tune it to a “technician” who then guesses at how to improve the program is frustrating.

      If I could control my hearing aids from my iPhone that’s one less device to carry. If I could stream content and calls from my iPhone that would be awesome. If I could program them from my laptop that would really improve my quality of life.

  4. It seems to me that Apple are not so much interested in making better hearing aids as in using the expertise of hearing aid specialists in order to create better wireless in-ear listening devices for people with good hearing.

    Obviously by mass-producing in-ear wireless devices, the technology will become much more affordable for those who do need hearing aids, but that isn’t Apple’s primary focus.

      1. What I’m talking about IS innovation. Further developing the technology that is currently employed within hearing aids could open the door to new wireless earbuds for people with normal hearing and also lower the cost of hearing aids for those who need them.

        Only Apple can offer the ecosystem, resources and vision needed for this sort of project.

        1. And you’re wrong. If that was Apple’s goal, it could go it alone. Apple is looking to make iPhones work better for people with hearing loss. Current phones work horribly with hearing aids. Being able to broadcast an iPhone’s audio over your hearing aid wirelessly significantly improved the user experience.

    1. I think you have it the wrong way round. Apple already have a perfectly serviceable cheap earphone, what they need is to get hearing-aid manufacturers to include iPhone/iPod compatible technology into their products. Hearing-aids will never be cheap, because in order to function properly, they need to be a custom fit, and that’s very expensive; just look at the cost involved in custom hearing protectors, they’ll set you back £120, a re-shell of a pair of old Ultimate Ears in-ear monitors will cost £300.
      Apple will never go into a market like this, it’s far too specialised, and has too many costs involved.
      I like the idea of cable-free In-Ear Monitors, with built-in audio streaming from my phone, however £4-500 is right out of my budget.

      1. Hearing aids need not cost more than $200, it’s a racket that denies them to the most needy and most in need. Apple will again disrupt this industry and to break this chokehold.

        The renowned Dr. Mead Killion, inventor, owner of Etymotic and industry innovator has been saying this for years while fighting and alienating the entire audiology industry.

        Here’s a 3/24/04 Wall Street Journal article on the subject –

        (Wall Street Journal)—A set of hearing aids costs about $2,200 on
        average. Mead Killion thinks that’s crazy. He believes an effective
        aid for mild-to-moderate hearing loss could be sold over the counter
        for around $100 – using technology that already exists.

        But bringing inexpensive hearing aids to the masses won’t be easy. Dr.
        Killion, a hearing-aid pioneer, is battling a tight-knit group of
        licensed specialists who by law are the only people allowed to
        dispense hearing devices.

        The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the industry, so far
        has sided mostly with the specialists, who are trained to calibrate
        and fit devices suited to each patient. If anyone could sell a hearing
        aid, the FDA says, elderly people might be victimized by shoddy
        merchandise and fail to get treatment for serious medical conditions.
        Dr. Killion’s campaign has revived a debate among hearing-aid
        specialists and manufacturers about how to improve access to help for
        the 30 million Americans with hearing loss. “We do such a poor job as
        an industry meeting the needs of masses of individuals,” says Wayne
        Staab, an audiologist and the executive director of the American
        Auditory Society. “We develop instruments for people who have the most
        money and leave the other individuals on the sidelines.”

        Hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition in older
        people, after arthritis and high blood pressure, according to a
        recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical
        Association. Another study in JAMA showed that elderly people who
        don’t treat their hearing loss are more likely to experience
        depression, anxiety and paranoia. Medicare and many private insurers
        don’t pay for hearing aids.

        Only about one in five people who needs a hearing aid has one,
        according to Sergei Kochkin, executive director of the Better Hearing
        Institute. The proportion has declined in the past two decades.

        The web of regulations dates back to the mid-1970s. Evidence presented
        at Senate hearings at that time showed that aggressive salespeople
        from unregulated hearing-aid centers often sold elderly people
        products they didn’t need or that were defective. Audiologists
        testified that some people bought hearing aids when their hearing loss
        actually required medical treatment for infection, an acoustical nerve
        tumor or too much ear wax.

        Congress amended the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to give the FDA
        regulatory power over all medical devices, and the FDA followed with
        the Hearing Aid Rule of 1977. It required consumers to see a physician
        to rule out a medical problem before getting a hearing aid. It also
        created an exception – adults could bypass a doctor if they signed a
        waiver administered by a state-licensed hearing-aid dispenser. By
        signing, customers would acknowledge that they understood the dangers
        of skipping a full medical evaluation.

        Today, two types of licensed specialists are the main vendors of
        hearing aids. State-licensed hearing-aid specialists need only a
        high-school education but have to pass tests proving their competence
        to administer hearing exams, fit devices, and recognize underlying
        physical problems. Audiologists must have at least a master’s degree,
        though they generally aren’t medical doctors. After the FDA rule went
        into effect, audiologists changed their professional code of ethics
        and jumped into the business of selling hearing aids.

        Under standards set by professional bodies, the specialists require a
        battery of tests and fitting sessions, driving up the cost. That
        results in the $2,200 average cost for hearing aids, a figure cited in
        an industry study sponsored by Knowles Electronics, an Illinois
        components maker.

        “The prices are obscene,” says Aaron Thornton, the recently retired
        director of the audiology program at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear
        Infirmary, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School. “The
        technology can be made for hundreds of dollars – the rest is

        Mead Killion agrees. In 1989, he developed a component that allowed
        hearing aids to amplify soft sounds without simultaneously amplifying
        loud sounds to a painful level. Today almost every manufacturer uses
        circuitry patterned after his invention, called a K-amp. Last year the
        American Academy of Audiology honored the 64-year-old inventor with an
        award, saying he “profoundly influenced the path of hearing care.”

        Dr. Killion and his wife, Gail Gudmundsen, both of whom hold
        doctorates in audiology, think there’s a place for high-priced hearing
        aids and the professionals who dispense them, but they say many people
        don’t need elaborate tests and fittings. “There are a lot of
        uncomplicated hearing losses in the mild to moderate range that don’t
        require a very sophisticated instrument,” Dr. Killion says. “At the
        worst, maybe it won’t work for someone, but it won’t hurt them.”

        Dr. Killion says technology developed over the last two decades has
        made it possible to create a high-quality hearing aid at a low cost.
        New materials allow a better fit without a custom-made ear mold.

        Most hearing loss in the elderly is caused by a gradual deterioration
        of hair cells in the inner ear that makes it difficult to hear
        high-frequency sounds. It is a natural part of aging, akin to the
        deterioration of eyesight over time. But in some 5% of cases, hearing
        loss is a symptom of a medical problem that needs a doctor’s

        Last August, after he got the award, Dr. Killion and his wife
        petitioned the FDA to permit the sale of hearing aids over the counter
        and do away with the requirement for a physician’s screening or
        waiver. They argued that the potential harm was negligible and called
        the present FDA policy “discriminatory against the low-income
        population.” They said hearing-aid packages should list warning signs
        of a serious medical problem such as bleeding from the ear and chronic

        The petitions rattled many in the profession. At a workshop at
        Northwestern University, Dr. Killion says audiology graduate students
        asked him why he wanted to take away their future jobs.

        Audiologists say the complaints about prices fail to recognize the
        work they do. Hearing professionals figure out how much amplification
        patients need at various frequencies and use a computer to program the
        aids accordingly.

        Some colleagues accused Drs. Killion and Gudmundsen of proposing the
        rule changes so that their company, Etymotic Research, could market an
        over-the-counter aid. The company currently sells hearing-aid
        circuits, earphones for hearing testing, and high-fidelity ear plugs
        for professional musicians.

        Wrote one audiologist on an industry Internet site: “They are business
        people first and foremost. And the pocketbook is a highly motivating
        factor for people. Obviously Mead and Gail are not exempt.” Another
        called for a “big effort” to stop the couple from their “money hungry

        Dr. Killion confirms that he’d like to sell an over-the-counter
        device, but insists his main motivation is to make hearing help more
        affordable and easier to obtain.

        The American Academy of Audiology and the International Hearing
        Society, which represents mostly state-licensed hearing-aid
        dispensers, opposed the petitions. The academy said granting the
        petitions “could lead to widespread confusion and abuse.” The
        society’s executive director, Robin Clowers, says over-the-counter
        aids could bring a return to the bad old days, when fly-by-night
        operators took advantage of the elderly by selling useless devices.

        In February of this year, the FDA rejected the main petitions from Dr.
        Killion and his wife. “FDA is concerned that if prospective purchasers
        of hearing aids are not examined by a physician prior to using the
        hearing aid, red flag ear conditions will go undiagnosed and
        unevaluated and lead to irreparable damage,” the rejection notice

        Eric Mann, head of the FDA’s division of ear, nose and throat devices,
        says the agency is also worried that defective over-the-counter
        products would deter people from getting further help.

        The decision was a “kick in the head,” says Dr. Killion. He thinks
        consumers would be smart enough to distinguish legitimate products
        from junk. “A lot of manufacturers have a high-quality product waiting
        in the wings,” he says. “They tell me they would have it ready for
        market if it was legal. They sell it now in India and other markets.”
        Several years ago, Dr. Thornton of Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary
        purchased hearing aids lacking custom ear pieces and programming
        capabilities that were made by Siemens for less-regulated European
        markets. He says he paid $60 apiece for the devices, which Siemens was
        closing out at the time, and sold them at his clinic for $200. “My
        patients were very satisfied with them. In fact, they were mad when
        the time came for new ones and I couldn’t get them again.”

        Richard Goode, a professor at Stanford University and the former
        president of the American Academy of Otolaryngology, thinks the FDA is
        inconsistent. “If the FDA does not require the public to see a doctor
        to rule out glaucoma or other diseases before getting reading glasses,
        why does it do so for hearing aids?”

        Some consumers are buying devices over the Internet or via mail order,
        bypassing doctors and specialists. Those sales have grown 83% since
        1997, to 3.5% of all hearing-aid sales, according to the Knowles
        Electronics study. However, the quality of those devices varies
        greatly, and some of the purveyors operate in a legally gray area,
        since some states prohibit mail-order sales. Most, but not all,
        include a waiver and the warning signs on their Internet site or
        mail-order forms.

        Dr. Killion still holds out hope for another petition he has submitted
        to the FDA, which hasn’t been ruled on yet. It calls for the agency to
        create a new “one size fits most” classification for hearing aids that
        would be subject to fewer restrictions than the hearing aids on the
        market now. In effect, it is another stab at getting the FDA’s
        approval for over-the-counter sales.

        Dr. Killion says many stores already sell “listening devices” for
        people with normal hearing that differ little from hearing aids. For
        example, sporting-goods stores sell ear devices for hunters that
        muffle the sound of gun shots but also amplify quiet sounds, such as
        animals rustling in vegetation. Dr. Killion says the hunters’ device
        is actually quite effective for people who have trouble hearing and
        illustrates his point that there’s no technological barrier to an
        inexpensive over-the-counter hearing aid.

        To prove his point, he recently played two recordings before an
        audience of 50 audiologists. One was of a person speaking in cafeteria
        noise, amplified by a $149 sporting-goods device. The other was of the
        same speech amplified through a popular $2,000 digital hearing aid.
        The audience rated the $149 device as having clearer sound.

        “The point is, there are reasonably good OTC aids out there now,” Dr. Killion said.

        1. The problem with Dr. Killion’s premise is that hearing aids are medical devices regulated by the FDA. That means someone has to pay for the FDA testing and licensing, which can be costly.

          An iPhone should be able to be sold for $100 or so on his pride, but that allows for no profit, R&D, patent licensing, FCC compliance testing, etc. etc.

  5. The new iOS has an option for pairing with some Bluetooth hearing aids to enhance the ability to hear phone calls. I think this forthcoming technology is pretty cool. I have hearing damage in one hear and, thus, use one of these things.

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