Hearing apps drive innovation, accelerate price competition

Smartphones are making it possible for low cost, scientifically-validated mobile apps to augment or potentially replace traditional hearing aid technology, reports VentureBeat. In particular, "smart hearing apps" are driving innovation and accelerating price competition, ensuring that hearing aids are no longer a quiet corner of mobile health.

"The most advanced smart hearing apps leverage the smartphone's microphone and processor to enhance sound quality and regulate the loudness of environmental noise, transmitting the result back through the earphones, effectively emulating a hearing aid via software," states the article. "Some companies have started to think beyond the handset, exploring direct partnerships with wireless carriers for premium services, where the algorithm in a smart hearing app might be packaged as a personalized VOIP service for people who are hard of hearing."

Over the past year, an expanding list of smart hearing apps, most "freemium" or priced less than $3.99, have been published in the iOS app store. They include EARs by Ear Machine, Real Clarity by Soundfest, and SoundAMP by Ginger Labs. In addition, next-gen device companies such as Aria, SoundHawk and Audibel are developing advanced Bluetooth-enabled hardware with mobile apps in mind, "painting a vision for the hearing aid as a hub for cellular communications or headphone replacement," according to the author. 

"As more smart hearing apps launch in the iOS and Android app stores, some will inevitably be gimmicks where sound input is directed to sound output without any signal processing other than adjustable volume," states the article. "Others will advance the limits of what a scientific algorithm can do to transform a smartphone into a personalized hearing device." 

For example, a free mobile app developed by U.K. researchers at the University of Essex enables an Apple iPhone or iPod to replicate the complexities of the human ear. Available for download on Apple's iTunes, BioAid doesn't simply amplify all sounds like standard hearing aids but has six fixed settings, each of which has four fine-tuning settings allowing the user to "find the perfect match for their impairment."

The app is seen by its developers as a low cost, hassle-free alternative to standard hearing aids, which can be expensive and require a hearing test. With BioAid, they say, anyone with an iPhone or iPod can enter into an exploratory process, allowing them to discover on their own which setting works best for them without the need for help from a hearing care professional.

To learn more:
- read the article in VentureBeat