Apple wants to make iPhone work better with hearing aids


iPhones might eventually be able to detect the presence of a hearing aid.
iPhones might eventually be able to detect the presence of a hearing aid.
Photo: Soichi Yokoyama/Flickr CC

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Apple 52 patents today, including a notable patent for a new hearing aid technology that would make the iPhone an even better device for the hearing impaired.

This new hearing aid technology described in the patent could be implemented in a portable audio device, like the iPhone, in order to detect if the user has a hearing aid and then automatically adjust the audio signal so you don’t have to fumble with those little hearing aid volume knobs yourself.

Here’s how the patented technology could work: Say you’re grandpa who’s wearing a hearing aid gets a call. Instead of adjusting the volume manually, the iPhone would use proximity and magnetic field sensors to detect when the device is moved toward a hearing aid, and then amp up the volume. Theoretically, it could work in reverse as well.

Also, among the big batch of patents first reported by Patently Apple, is the description of a ‘Diamond Cutting Tool for Cutting Smooth Reflective Surfaces’ that’s used to give the iPhone a smooth, shiny finish. Apple’s been bragging about its diamond-cut chamfered edges since the debut of the iPhone 5.

There’s no guarantee that Apple will include the new hearing aid patent invented by Shaohai Chen and Ching-Yu Tam in the future, however the company has been a leader in regard to accessibility. Just last week it won a Helen Keller Achievement Award for its VoiceOver feature to help those with vision impairments use an Apple device. More accessibility improvements are likely on the way in iOS 9 and the iPhone 6s. Hopefully the new hearing aid tech is one of them.

  • I have made-for iPhone hearing aids and this article makes no sense.
    1. Modern hearing aids do not have “little hearing aid volume knobs.” Volume control is handled automatically by programs in the hearing aid, or can be controlled via an app.
    2. Made for iPhone hearing aids already handle phone calls directly. There is no need to put the phone up to your ear because the hearing aid acts like a headset.

    I’m sure there are good reasons for wanting to detect when the hearing aid is in proximity to the iPhone but what’s described here isn’t it.

    • Tim LeVier

      Thanks for your post! I was just wondering if there were Hearing Aids that also acted as a headset, it simply makes sense. If you’re already using hardware on a daily basis, it should have as many features and conveniences as possible.

  • Stephanie Ashley

    How much is it cost?

  • Jen

    To the author of this blog post:

    I am a fellow content writer, who also happens to be hearing impaired. I am 32 and have been wearing hearing aids since I was 2. I was very interested to read your blog post when I saw it shared in a Facebook group of mine. However, I was disappointed by a few things.

    I don’t believe that you conducted proper research on this topic. First of all, the assumption that a “Grandpa who’s wearing hearing aids” would be using an iPhone is wrong on so many levels…. the elderly are NOT the target audience for this product, first of all. Second of all, did you know that today, every 2-3 out of 1,000 children in America are born with a hearing impairment? This is not a “old people only” disability and should not be treated as one, I found this statement insulting and misleading to the average public that will read your post.

    Next point, “little volume controls”? Most modern hearing aids do not have volume control. This is something that has been replaced with options for programs. I personally have 2 programs on my aids, 1 of which I use when speaking on the phone. Hearing aids have been through a lot of great technological changes, including blue tooth capabilities for… you guessed it… iPhones! I would have liked to see this mentioned in your article, with details as to how or if this new technology is better.

    Last point… there is already a made-for-iPhone hearing aid… how is this technology different, or better? Will I still need to buy a particular hearing aid for this technology to work? This is what I really wanted to know when I saw your post.

    I hope that you will learn more about this and create a follow up post to this article. I’d love to read it!.

    • Linda M.

      Thank you for your comments. I also very much resented the wording of “Grandpa who’s wearing hearing aids” since hearing loss is not just for old people! I am hearing impaired and people don’t understand just how challenging it is and the difficulties of everyday life. I do hope they will correct their article – not just about Grandpa but other misleading information which you addressed.