I am currently typing this article wearing a brand new test set of the GN Resound LiNX Hearing Instruments. In a normal year, this might not mean much more than a few upgrades to the chip or software, perhaps some added features or updated algorithms allowing the instrument to perform a few new tricks while improving sound quality. But this year is special because GN Resound has truly broken new ground with a hearing instrument that now has native capabilities in the iPhone (or iPad). What does this mean? iOS 7 has the ability to connect to hearing instruments through the accessibility options in the settings menu. Internally at GN Resound, this is known as MFi or “Made For iPhone.” And, it allows you set up a Bluetooth connection to the new LiNX hearing devices through a device such as the iPhone or iPad. Once you pair your devices, there are a multitude of different settings and programs you can control from your device.
As an quick aside: We are living in a very special time period right now where the lines between human and machine are blending more and more each year. I find this interesting because I am fascinated with how humans interact with computers, machines and interfaces. The next new thing – which is already here and, thus, not a new thing anymore – is wearable technologies. There is the FitBit, Nike Fuel, Jawbone UP, etc. CES 2014 shows even more promise (see below this article for more on wearable technologies). These devices are helping to dissolve that rigid line we have always had between humans and computers. Think 2001 Space Odyssey, War Games, and Terminator where the sharp division between the two served as the primary plot device.
Connecting hearing instruments to a mobile device like the iPhone or iPad is groundbreaking for the hearing instrument industry. But, it is not the first time we have explored the connection between a device and humans to give them control over a particular disease or handicap. There are electronic insulin pumps, bionics are becoming a reality and computers can now help those with disabilities function like they have never functioned before. We are truly exploring new areas in our interactions with computers and the use of computer devices to augment our abilities (and disabilities).
Having said all of that, it isn’t as though I feel I am the Bionic Man with this new set of hearing instruments. But, having tested a number of hearing devices over the past year, I certainly see something the industry has not realized until now. Below is a quick sneak preview. I can’t reveal screenshots or intricate details right now since the application, software and hearing instruments have not been released just yet and are still in testing. But, I will follow this article up with a full feature of the devices with true life examples.
Connecting the phone to the devices is done via bluetooth and is as simple as connecting any bluetooth device. The initial setup takes less than 2 minutes to pair your mobile device with both of your hearing instruments. From that point, you have two choices. You can either use the native iOS controls or use the GN Resound application. Using the native iOS controls, you need only triple click to get a control screen that will overlay the active screen – much like the native control screen you can swipe up from the bottom. This allows you to change the volume, change programs and stream TV programming (or movies) to the device. I have used both the native controls and the GN app over the past few months and prefer the GN Resound application at this point.
Here is what you can do with the app:
Geotagging: Let’s suppose you have a restaurant you regularly attend that is loud and you have to put your hearing instrument in the restaurant mode each time you are there. Open the app on your iPhone when you are at that location, set the program to restaurant, make any necessary adjustments to the volume and then geotag the location. The next time you arrive, the hearing instruments will automatically switch into that mode. This is especially useful in situations where you might forget to switch modes and then find yourself locked in a conversation and unable to access the exact program with the volume settings you desire.
Find my Hearing Aid: Forget where you put the little things? Use this feature in the app to direct you to the nearest location of your lost devices. Don’t forget it can detect them on the other side of a wall or door though!
Streaming Music & TV: If you have the Direct Line hardware to stream from your TV, you can pipe the sounds from your latest movie right into the devices. You can also play your iTunes music right into the devices as well with no need for any hardware. I find this feature useful for those movies where the voices are soft and I cannot hear them. I don’t particularly care to do this for music or podcasts and prefer my headphones as they have a better sound quality (due to the occlusion).
Program Switching: Why press the button on the instrument 2 or 3 times when you can go right to the app and select the right program. Also, for those who are still a little reserved about having others know they wear “hearing aids,” this is a great way to control their device without bringing attention to them. People will think you are simply checking your email when you are truly using the app on your mobile device to manage your hearing instruments.
Talking on the Phone: Answer the phone and the voice streams right to your hearing instruments. Previously, you could only do this with a “phone clip” – a small bluetooth device that would act as an intermediary between your phone and your hearing devices. Now, you can pick right up and talk as though you were on speaker phone.
Battery Level: Know where you are in terms of battery level and when you are getting close to the end of your battery life. There is a display right in the app that will illustrate just how much life you have left.
Precision Volume Control: Want to turn one side up and another side down? Believe it or not, I have had this situation happen to me before. I was in a restaurant with my wife and had a loud table on my left. I turned that side down and the right side up so I could better hear her. You can do this with the app and have precision in your volume control. The reason you can’t do this without the app is that many hearing devices are made to communicate with one another. So a program switch or volume change on one side will be immediately duplicated on the other side. This app let’s you bypass that automation.
The past few months, testing out these devices has been a wonderful preview of what the future will hold for this industry. And, the above is only a small part of what is coming, I am sure. I am also sure that within the next decade, we will all be wearing devices that will communicate with our computers and our bodies, “seamlessly integrating” functionality to bring us to new levels as humans allowing us to augment our beings like never before.
I’ll be the first in line to get my pinky replaced with a USB hub and have a small hard drive attached to the back of my head so I can offload cognition when I need to truly multitask.
Similar articles of interest:
Henry Evans and Chad Jenkins: Meet the robots for humanity
Tan Le: A headset that reads your brainwaves
Brain-Computer Interfaces: Interactions at the Speed of Thought