In August, Phonak announced its plans to release what it called a “game-changing” Bluetooth hearing aid. The company claims the new device will be able to connect directly to any cell phone or TV.
The announcement might have left you wondering just how “game-changing” this development is. Aren’t there already many different Bluetooth models available? Understanding the Bluetooth options already available can help you understand why Phonak’s announcement really could be game-changing.
As a technology, Bluetooth has become commonplace. It’s used by most cell phones and other electronic devices. The technology allows these devices to connect to each other and share information. For example, your cell phone might be able to connect to your Bluetooth-enabled car. Incoming calls can then be routed through your car stereo, allowing you to use the phone “hands-free.”
Bluetooth is pervasive. It allows wireless keyboards to connect to other devices. It also allows hearing aid users to connect their devices directly to another device, such as a TV or cell phone.
If Bluetooth is already common in hearing aids, however, why is Phonak’s new model considered such a game-changer?
One thing few people realize about Bluetooth is the limitations of the technology. True Bluetooth connectivity requires a greater amount of power than most hearing devices can currently supply. This means no true Bluetooth hearing device currently exists.
Rather, today’s devices connect through an assistant, often known as a streamer. This device acts as an intermediary between your hearing aid and the device you want to connect to. Your hearing device sends a signal to the streamer, which then transmits the message to the other device. The connected device then replies to the streamer, which relays the message back.
As you can see, it’s a little more complicated. Phonak’s announcement promised the first true Bluetooth hearing aid. These devices will connect directly to others, without the use of an intermediary streamer.
One other option for users has been Apple’s Made for iPhone technology. Apple patented a specific Bluetooth connectivity, which then allowed specific models to connect directly to devices running its iOS platform.
While this is “true” Bluetooth in a sense, it’s running on a very specific platform. Unlike true Bluetooth, which allows devices to connect to each other regardless of platform, make, or model, Apple’s Made for iPhone program only works with its specific Bluetooth connectivity. As a result, only certain models, branded as Made for iPhone, can connect.
The other issue is that this technology only works with Apple products. This might be fine if you have an iPhone when you get your hearing device. What if you decide to switch to an Android phone later on? Your hearing aids can no longer connect to this device.
Phonak’s announcement promises direct connectivity and universality. This model will be able to connect directly to any device, be it a Samsung Galaxy S8 or the new iPhone 10. The limitations imposed by Apple’s patented connectivity won’t be a factor.
Phonak’s new model and its universal direct connectivity are facilitated by new chip and wireless radio technology. The chip is a low-voltage innovation. As a result, the new model also has the lowest power consumption of any Bluetooth-enabled model yet.
The downside of this new technology by Phonak is that it streams/connects to only one hearing aid, so if you use two hearing aids, you won’t be able to benefit from stereo listening. Other hearing aid technologies that connect directly to Apple’s technology, including for example Widex, ReSound, and Starkey, do stream to both ears for best overall hearing ability when streaming or listening to phone calls.
What Should You Get?
Phonak’s announcement shows exciting progress is being made in hearing device technology.
If you’re not sure which hearing aid model and Bluetooth option is right for you, talk to a doctoral-level audiologist today. Book an appointment to get started.