How Your Smartphone Can Help You Hear Better

By Yishane Lee

Since they first became available, smartphones such as those from Google and Apple have provided a boon to people who have hearing loss. Because of the sophisticated, built-in microphone in these phones, there is a panoply of apps (applications) that help boost the volume at varying levels of sophistication, and many are free or nearly free to download. Composer Richard Einhorn (a friend of HHF) has described the various apps he uses in his work as well as hear better.

There are also apps that measure decibel levels, allow you to mix sounds to favor high frequencies, and help you program your hearing device. In Hearing Health magazine, we have written about and reviewed various apps—see “12 Apps to Help You Hear Better” and “Apps Explosion”—and the field is constantly evolving and expanding.

Now we have what promises to be an even more seamless integration between the smartphone and hearing aid. Last year, Apple, the maker of the iPhone and iPad, made its programming interface accessible to hearing aid manufacturers so that they can better integrate hearing devices with those devices. In October, as reported by David Copithorne on the blog Hearing Mojo, Denmark-based hearing aid maker ReSound has announced the first “made for the iPhone” hearing aid, the LiNX.

Copithorne predicts that Apple’s “cool factor” will encourage more first-time hearing aid users to try a hearing aid such as LiNX. Plus, the technology in LiNX eliminates the need for an added device (such as a neck loop) in order to stream sound between a smartphone and hearing aid—a simplification both first-time and long-time hearing aid users will appreciate.

Among the many tech upgrades that Copithorne reports, ReSound also says it has resolved a nagging issue for people who use wireless technology and/or Bluetooth for extended periods of time: battery drain. It promises its new device  is more powerful and less power hungry than others.

It’s nearly impossible to keep up with all the new apps that are introduced (and keep in mind that Apple reviews apps before allowing them into iTunes, whereas Google does not have a vetting process for apps available on Google Play). That said, two new apps are taking fresh approaches to sound and hearing. The first is Lumisonic, which was originally designed to work for music. The app (available for the Nintendo Wii console, iPhone, or a PC or Apple desktop computer) adds real-time graphics and vibrations to any sound. Its software translates soundwaves from music or speech into radiating circles that are altered based on the sound. You can also alter the sounds yourself, like a synthesizer.

Proloquo2Go is an iPhone-only app that aims to help people who have no voice to communicate. After selecting a sentence using easy-to-understand graphical icons, the app pronounces it and writes it for you. You can add words not in the app’s vocabulary database by typing them in and selecting new icons; you can even take photos using the iPhone and assign them to words. Voices varied by gender and age are available to read the sentences.

As the smartphone (and tablet) market continues to expand, you can bet we’ll have ever more hearing-related apps. Let us know about your favorites below.

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