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The Game of HearPhones™
Dec.18, 2016
Posted by Alexander Goldin

On December 7, 2016 the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) made a big step towards improving the quality of life for people with hearing impairment with policy changes mentioned in this news release. The announcement included these important points:

  1. Individuals aged 18 and older no longer need to receive a medical evaluation or sign a waiver prior to purchasing most hearing aids.
  2. The FDA announced its commitment to consider creating a category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids that could deliver new, innovative and lower-cost products to millions of consumers.

For the consumer electronics industry it may be the “starting shot” in a race to create low-cost, high-performance, multi-functional alternatives to traditional hearing aids, addressing the needs of the over 700 million hearing impaired users worldwide.

Some of us predicted this starting shot several years ago and began working in this direction. The first such project of which I am aware was the Sound ID Bluetooth® headset. Some traces of that project can still be found on the Internet. For example, after a brief search I found this article published in PC World. Besides the standard Bluetooth headset functionality, Sound ID developed an “Environmental Mode” and also allowed some sound customization via an innovative iPhone application. “… Tap the iPhone screen and move the dot around with your finger and the quality and tone of the sound changes. Depending on where you stop, the unit may be set to soften loud noises or increase soft ones…”. I never tried the Sound ID headset myself, but commercially the product was, it seems, not successful. A more recent example, developed by SoundHawk and promoted as the ultimate Personal Sound Amplifier Product (PSAP), was discussed at length in the media as an alternative to hearing aids. SoundHawk seems now to be “grounded” forever, which does not surprise me due to its rather unattractive style, limited functionality, and rather high price for a Bluetooth headset. SoundWorld Solutions CS50+ is another product with Bluetooth and PSAP functionality. It looks, to my mind, too much like a large hearing aid and is priced too high to succeed in a long run.

And now we have BOSE, who entered the race with their recently announced HearPhones headset (www.hearphones.bose.com). I, personally, really like the “HearPhones” name for this product type. Actually, I like it so much that two years ago we, at Alango Technologies, used it to name our category of Bluetooth headsets with hearing enhancement and assistive listening functionality (www.alango.com/hearphones, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvO6EQ5Nm94). As a DSP software provider, we started working on a licensable software package that allows transformation of a Bluetooth headset into a powerful hearing aid. Information about our HearPhones™ development was distributed to potential customers directly, as well as placed into our semiconductor partners’ promotional materials. BOSE, apparently, liked the idea and the name so much that they decided to use it for their upcoming product. I’m not happy about this, but do wish them success in the event that their product will help people with hearing impairment worldwide.

The Game of HearPhones™ begins now.

Alango Technologies will continue working on HearPhones™, the software reference design. In addition, we will introduce our own concept product from the HearPhones category. It will be a stylish Bluetooth headset with fully customizable hearing enhancement capabilities. Much more information about it will be published very soon (hopefully next week) on www.WearAndHear.com. I will post a conversation about it in our group Hearables - ideas, technologies and potential.

 

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