With a focus on hearing accessibility, Google has teamed up with Cochlear and GN Hearing to launch a new service that uses Bluetooth Low Energy to stream content from Android devices directly to hearing aids.
Customers will be able to use their hearing aids to tap into the audio from their Android device. The technology was developed with a particular emphasis on preserving battery life for hearing aids.
The announcement comes with the rollout of Android 10 and will first be available on the Google Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL and Pixel 3a XL smartphones. Customers can use ReSound LinX Quattro and Beltone Amaze hearing aids as well as the Cochlear Nucleas7 Sound Processor.
“The streaming capability with the latest hearing devices from Cochlear or GN Hearing expands accessibility to more consumer technology. The benefit to our users is they will no longer have to use an intermediate device to stream audio from a compatible Android device to their Cochlear implant sound processor or hearing aid,” Jan Janssen, CTO of Cochlear, said in a statement.
WHY IT MATTERS
Hearing loss is a fairly common condition in the United States. While it can impact patients at any age, it is most common in older adults. About 28 million people in the U.S. could benefit from hearing aids, according to the NIH.
Dr. Charlotte Yeh, chief medical officer at AARP, named hearing loss as one of the top health issues that technology could address.
“Technology for hearing devices has improved a lot, but it still remains inaccessible to the vast majority of [older] adults for two reasons,” Yeh told MobiHealthnews. “One is the cost. The current model for hearing aids is thousands of dollars per hearing aid per year. It is not covered by Medicare because Medicare calls hearing loss a normal part of aging, so why should we fix it?”
THE LARGER TREND
This isn’t Google’s first go-round in the hearing space. In February, the tech giant launched two apps focused on hearing accesibility. The first is focused on quickly translating everyday speech into text, and the second focuses on amplifying sounds for the user. Further, it's been just over a year since Google and GN Hearing announced the audio streaming capability for a smaller subset of devices.
Apple has also been interested in this space. In June it announced a new feature that will alert users if environmental noise or phone audio could impact long-term hearing health. That same month the company updated its iPhone and hearing aids information page with details on how hearing aids can work with the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. The devices can pair with the user’s hearing aids and be controlled through the device. The Apple device lets users view battery life, adjust volume for hearing aids and turn on music.