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Biotech Medicine Apple

How Apple Is Putting Voices In Users' Heads -- Literally (wired.com) 91

schwit1 shared WIRED's report on "a life-changing technology." Steven Levy spoke with Mathias Bahnmueller as he tested a new Apple sound processor that beams digital audio directly into hearing aids. Bahnmueller suffers from hearing loss so severe that a year ago he underwent surgery to install a cochlear implant -- an electronic device in the inner ear that replaces the usual hearing mechanism. Around a million patients have undergone this increasingly mainstream form of treatment, and that's just a fraction of those who could benefit from it. (Of the 360 million people worldwide with hearing loss, about 10 percent would qualify for the surgery.) "For those who reach a point where hearing aids no longer help, this is the only solution," says Allison Biever, an audiologist in Englewood, CO who works with implant patients. "It's like restoring a signal in a radio station."

Cochlear implants bypass the usual hearing process by embedding a device in the inner ear and connecting it via electrodes to the nerve that sends audio signals to the brain... The system Bahnmueller was using came from a collaboration between Apple and Cochlear, a company that has been involved with implant technology since the treatment's early days. The firms announced last week that the first product based on this approach, Cochlear's Nucleus 7 sound processor, won FDA approval in June -- the first time that the agency has approved such a link between cochlear implants and phones or tablets. Those using the system can not only get phone calls directly routed inside their skulls, but also stream music, podcasts, audio books, movie soundtracks, and even Siri -- all straight to the implant... Apple will offer the technology free to qualified manufacturers.

Google's accessibility team for Android has no public timeline for any similar hearing aid support, though according to the article it's "on the roadmap."
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How Apple Is Putting Voices In Users' Heads -- Literally

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    How's this any different than the tele-coils current cell phones use?

    http://www.betterhearing.org/hearingpedia/hearing-aid-compatible-cell-phones

    • How's this any different than the tele-coils current cell phones use?

      Hearing Aid : a small sound amplifier that you put inside the ear cannal.

      Cochlear Implant : An actual cybernetic ear. Think "Ghost in the Shell" and "Matrix" level of cybernetics. Except that it's been years since the implant and the external computer don't use an actual through-skin plug, but communicate and power wirelessly through the skin.

      Also minor difference :
      The thing you point out seem to use some propretary wireless technology for the sound.

      The cochlear implant I've seen during my studies tended to

      • by mikael ( 484 )

        Good job cochlear implants are wireless. Anyone who had an cochlear ear implant using a headphone jack wouldn't be able to use a patch cable to connect to future Apple iPhones.

        • Good job cochlear implants are wireless. Anyone who had an cochlear ear implant using a headphone jack wouldn't be able to use a patch cable to connect to future Apple iPhones.

          Idiot.

          Why wouldn't they be able to use the Lightning to 3.5 mm adapter that CAME WITH THEIR PHONE?

          Stupid fucking Haters.

      • Couldn't the people who have multiple voices inside their heads lend one or two of them to the ones who don't?
  • how could they have tech that Google doesn't? Why would they add accessibility technology for free? This defies all of my preconceived notions, I'll just pretend I never saw this story.
    • Actually the whole technology is old.

      - Cochlear implant are old tech (I had to do some papers on their society impact back when I was studying medicine)
      - Having dedicated connection for phone was something normal (Several of the patient I was following had some plug - basically an audio jack that they can plug into phone/audio players/etc. to pick up sound instead of external mic)
      - Even some bluetooth connectivity has recently appeared over the last few years.

      TFA's implant is only "new" due to some technica

      • (First where the Bluetooth is processed by the main SoC, instead of simply having a separate bluetooth chip feeding sound over analog input of an already FDA-approved regular implant ? - that's extremely likely)

        Addendum:
        After looking in-deep the difference is even more minor :
        - instead of using some older protocole that have been available on older Bluetooth protocols, like A2DP or SDP.
        - this specific implants simply introduce a new audio protocol over Bluetooth Low Energy (a.k.a. "Bluetooth Smart") so they don't require pairing and a slightly lower energy
        Which happens to have been available, but not widely documented, on recent iPhones.
        And that's it.

        That the "big break-through" Apple is putting this PR stunt arou

        • So - Apple layers a proprietary protocol over existing technologies and now the Apple faithful talk about the revolution that Apple has now created. Yay Apple, yay proprietary!
          • So, if Apple uses existing technology to solve a problem you complain that it is boring old news, possibly even derivative. If they develop new technology to solve a problem you complain it is proprietary. How convenient, that way you'll always have something to complain about. And of course, if people are willing to say something good about Apple when it does something good, they are Apple faithful. What a convenient little bubble you have. I understand, the real world is way to complicated for some people

            • So - what innovative thing did Apple do that allows them to put voices in your head? What is news-worthy of this article other than "OMG Apple!"? There are plenty of examples of this very technology already existing from multiple vendors. Why is this news-worthy?
              • So - what innovative thing did Apple do that allows them to put voices in your head? What is news-worthy of this article other than "OMG Apple!"? There are plenty of examples of this very technology already existing from multiple vendors. Why is this news-worthy?

                And what's relevant from your Hater-diatriabe except "Look, Apple is Teh Evilz!" (once-a-frickin'-gain!).

                Don't like Apple? Easy: Don't buy their stuff. I'm sure they'll survive.

            • So, if Apple uses existing technology to solve a problem you complain that it is boring old news, possibly even derivative. If they develop new technology to solve a problem you complain it is proprietary. How convenient, that way you'll always have something to complain about. And of course, if people are willing to say something good about Apple when it does something good, they are Apple faithful. What a convenient little bubble you have. I understand, the real world is way to complicated for some people. They need their little bubbles.

              Oh, and in this case Apple used a part of the Bluetooth Low Energy standard that happens to be relatively unused yet, but is still an open standard. Of course doesn't matter, you just complain about proprietary technology anyway.

              Couldn't have said it better myself!

          • So - Apple layers a proprietary protocol over existing technologies and now the Apple faithful talk about the revolution that Apple has now created. Yay Apple, yay proprietary!

            So, dumbass, if Apple is sharing this technology/protocol with other manufacturers FOR FREE, how is it then "Proprietary"?

            You Haters really have to bend over backward to ascribe some evil motive to literally EVERY FUCKING THING that Apple does.

            Get off it, willya?

        • After looking in-deep the difference is even more minor

          I guess Google and Android must really suck if they can't bothered to do something so "minor".

          Or possibly they hate the disabled? Given the difference between accessibility support the iOS and Android SDK offer that may well be a possibility.

          Still, it's quite cold of Google to not do something so minor even if they do despise the deaf.

          • I guess Google and Android must really suck if they can't bothered to do something so "minor".

            Virtually all android phone support classical Bluetooth (As in Bluetooth 2 in the first ever HTC G1, all the way to the non-Smart Bluetooth 4) and sending audio over it (be it the older, lower quality SDP or the more modern with better [over kill for the sound quality of a cochlear implant] A2DP).
            These are already been able to communicate the various bluetooth solutions (implants and even hearing aids) that have popped up into the market the last few year.
            Google doesn't need to bother, it already works.

            Virt

            • All that Apple did, was slap a newer protocol working over a slightly different lower-power protocole (Bluetooth Smart / Low Energy)

              Like I said, I guess Google must really suck or hate deaf people if it can't even be bothered to do something you claim is so simplistic it's hardly worth mentioning.

              But then I guess that's not a surprise since Android users never did care about quality of life for anyone, much less the disabled.

              P.S. You also must not be very technical if you think there is not a large differen

              • It will never fail to amaze me how the need to support Android (or hate on Apple) is so powerful for some it can literally hurt other people and the fanboi/hater will not care. Sick dude.

                No shit. And from someone who purports to be an MD.

                Glad I'm never going to be YOUR patient. You OBVIOUSLY have ALL the answers!

              • if it can't even be bothered to do something you claim is so simplistic it's hardly worth mentioning.

                ...which is probably going to start to pop-up on most other phones, now that LEA is starting to get attention, its specs get published, and most phone actually move to hardware equipped with BTLE (...there might still be some smartphones without the "Smart") and enable BTLE in their stack (there are smartphone with chips that support BTLE, but not yet the OS).

                My bet is first on the various community edition/3rd party patches of full blown GNU/Linux OS (like SailfishOS ?)
                Then on Google's flasgship products.
                T

        • Sneer all you want, but this is not minor for the actual users of these devices. The alternative is proprietary remote-control devices made by the hearing aid companies, which means that you pay the price of an iPhone, but get the functionality of a airco remote. Directly getting access to all sounds of an iPhone opens a new world for these users.

          And that low-power Bluetooth audio on recent iPhones is not a coincidence, Apple has been cooperating with hearing-aid manufacturers for some time already, see htt [apple.com]

          • Directly getting access to all sounds of an iPhone opens a new world for these users.

            No, it doesn't open anything *new*.

            15 years ago, when I was still student in a medicine faculty, patients could plug their phones into the AUX-in port of their system.
            (The external sound processor. Not the actual implant. Yes, backthen, there where still implant with physical connection "ghost in the shell"/"matrix" style. But it's not that plug I'm refering to, I'm referring to the audio-in on the piece that itselfs plugs into the implant / or communicates and powers wireless the implant through the skin)

            T

            • i.e.: even 15 years ago, patients were able to place calls simply by plugging their phones into their implant (well not the actual implant, the external processor).

              If anything, latest Apple phone are the "disabled-hating" device because they drop this useful analog jack.

              The only one "Hating" here is YOU.

              Just plug the same ol' 3.5 mm plug into the same ol' 3.5 mm jack on the INCLUDED Lighting to 3.5 mm adapter, and off you go!

              (But maybe time have changed, and current patients want to have "audio profiles" in their filters ?
              Rock music, classical music, etc. like some speakers ?
              In which case, yeah - having an app on a smartphone to tweak this might be vaguely useful)

              Well aren't you special? Deciding what's "useful" to someone who has to LIVE THEIR LIFE with a Cochlear Implant?

              Or are you just one of those sick "The Glory of Deafness" fuckers, that actually ESCHEW being able to hear (even as poorly as Cochlear Implants allow)?

              • Just plug the same ol' 3.5 mm plug into the same ol' 3.5 mm jack on the INCLUDED Lighting to 3.5 mm adapter, and off you go!

                Okay, when I point out that Apple is receiving a Ticket Tape Parade for the "revolution" of saving a few percent battery on something which has been done for the past 15 years already, I'm derided as HATER (and life time member of Guild of Android Users Misanthropes ?)
                But when you point that now any user of analog links now needs to fumble with a tiny easy to use adapter, it's not something problematic ?
                Double standard ?

                In which case, yeah - having an app on a smartphone to tweak this might be vaguely useful

                Well aren't you special? Deciding what's "useful" to someone who has to LIVE THEIR LIFE with a Cochlear Implant?

                I'm not the one deciding. Laws of physics and biochemistry are deciding.

                Okay, maybe you

          • Sneer all you want, but this is not minor for the actual users of these devices. The alternative is proprietary remote-control devices made by the hearing aid companies, which means that you pay the price of an iPhone, but get the functionality of a airco remote. Directly getting access to all sounds of an iPhone opens a new world for these users.

            And that low-power Bluetooth audio on recent iPhones is not a coincidence, Apple has been cooperating with hearing-aid manufacturers for some time already, see https://www.apple.com/lae/acce... [apple.com]

            No fooling!

            I was over at a friend/client's house I do some Mac consulting for (he's 86, and still designing Theatres and Stage Equipment), and he was showing me the App on his iPhone that controls his new hearing-aids. He can change the gain, the EQ, and even clever stuff like "focus" the sensitivity-pattern to direct his "hearing" forward, to either side, or omnidirectional, and maybe other stuff, too. No ridiculous dedicated remote needed.

            Now, I assume the manufacturer has a similar Android App; but it is

            • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

              Now, I assume the manufacturer has a similar Android App; but it is just cool that this can now be done in a reasonable manner, with a smartphone App./blockquote.

              No, they don't. But they'll sell you a $1000 remote that'll pair up and do 1/3rd of what the iPhone does so you can use your Android phone with it. Of course, it'll disconnect every 3 minutes and half the time, when you adjust a setting, it doesn't apply. And heaven forbid you run down its battery as then it goes wonky and screws up your configurat

              • Now, I assume the manufacturer has a similar Android App; but it is just cool that this can now be done in a reasonable manner, with a smartphone App.

                No, they don't. But they'll sell you a $1000 remote that'll pair up and do 1/3rd of what the iPhone does so you can use your Android phone with it. Of course, it'll disconnect every 3 minutes and half the time, when you adjust a setting, it doesn't apply. And heaven forbid you run down its battery as then it goes wonky and screws up your configuration as well.

                And I wish I was joking.

                And yes, people get steered away from the iPhone-compatible hearing aids towards "generic" wireless hearing ads ("works with anything if you buy this box!" (without it, no wireless connectivity)) because what if you don't want an iPhone? Of course, the hearing aids cost the same amount of money, people like the "works with Android too!" part, but forget they need to pony up $1000 to buy the sh*tty box that is as I described above. And while insurance covers your hearing ads, accessories like the wireless box aren't covered, so aren't you cool to spend more money?

                In the end people choose to return the box and deal with the inability to use a phone properly rather than needing to carry a huge box that doesn't work.

                Wow! That's HIDEOUS!

                As someone else said "If Apple can FIND any "suitable" (scrupulous) Hearing Aid Mfgs"!!!

  • by Stonefish ( 210962 ) on Saturday August 05, 2017 @05:54PM (#54948165)

    What apples doiing isn't particularly amazing, guys it's bluetooth. Interesting but not amazing.
    What the cochlear implant does is amazing, and its been amazing since the technology was developed in Australia in 1978. Watch some of the video 's on youtube of people hearing for the first time, it's pretty heady stuff.

    • While I agree this sounds more iterative than revolutionary, it addresses some of the frequent shortcomings with cochlear implants. One big one... phone calls have been a problem for many/most patients. That's not "the call quality is poor", it's "I basically can't talk on the phone".

      Bypassing the external hearing aid entirely should up the quality of sound by quite a bit in quite a few situations - especially in the modern world, where so much of our interactions happen through our devices.

      I'd be curious t

  • Medel, Cochlear, Advanced Bionics - all do cochlear implants, and all have offered Bluetooth connectivity for several years. Nothing new here, other than "OMG Apple!"
  • In Larry Niven's novel the only difference to this is that Siri is called Millie.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    I'd buy that.

  • I hope that Apple uses some discretion in choosing those manufacturers. The hearing aid industry is rife with ripoffs. Outrageous prices with no justification. High pressure sales techniques used against vulnerable seniors. There's a lot of talk recently about pharmaceutical ripoffs but this one has been going on for so long that it's forgotten.

    Find a respectable manufacturer, Apple, if there is one.

  • Quote from the summary: "For those who reach a point where hearing aids no longer help, this is the only solution"

    Seriously, if it wasn't invasive surgery, I'd consider an implant.

    My lovely wife's thinking process is somehow hardwired to her vocal chords. And my young daughter thinks talking is the most amazing discovery of mankind. Then there's my employer, who saves money by putting 30+ people in a giant open office.

    I'd LOVE to be able to turn down the volume of the whole motherfucking world. No matter ho

    • by Cederic ( 9623 )

      Just use normal hearing aids. Take the batteries out.

      To be fair, mine have automatic gain control, so they already snuff out excessive noise. I'd wear them far more often if they were more comfortable for that alone.

  • You've been able to pipe sound into implants via wire for a long time. The Nucleus 6 (which my son has) added the capability to do wireless -- but it's a proprietary protocol, requiring you to buy a $300 adapter (which I don't have) to use it w/ standard Bluetooth. Obviously, this eliminates the need for the adapter, but I'm curious if anyone can tell me how else it improves the user experience over using the adapter?

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