Apple Used Bluetooth Low Energy Audio for Cochlear Implant iPhone Accessory

Late last month Apple revealed it had partnered with hearing aid company Cochlear to launch the first Made For iPhone Cochlear implant, which can stream audio from an iOS device directly to a surgically embedded sound processor.

Now, in a new Wired article titled "How Apple is Putting Voices in Users' Heads – Literally", the company has offered up a few more details on how it was able to achieve the technical feat of transmitting high bandwidth data to such a low-powered device.


To solve the problem of streaming high-quality audio without draining the tiny zinc batteries in hearing aids, Apple's accessibility team essentially had to create a more advanced version of the existing Bluetooth Low Energy profile.

Bluetooth LE is only meant to be used to send low-bandwidth data signals, like getting heart rate monitor readings from wearables, so Apple developed a more advanced version called Bluetooth Low Energy Audio (BLEA), which can stream high quality audio whilst preserving the LE profile's battery-extending properties.

Apple has had BLEA in the works for some time, and the profile appeared in patents dating back to 2014, but this is the first time Apple has spoken about using the profile in an actual consumer product.

Sarah Herrlinger, Apple's director of global accessibility policy, summarized the company's efforts with the following comments:
While our devices have been built to support hearing aids for years, we found that the experience of people trying to make a phone call was not always a good one. So we brought together a lot of people in different areas around the company to start investigating ways to make the process easier.

Our goal was to get rid of all those extra things that need batteries and can get in the way, so when a phone call comes in you just hit the button to answer it and that sound is streaming into your hearing aid.
The technical detail about the Bluetooth profile is revealed in the context of the story of implant wearer Mathias Bahnmueller, a 49-year-old who suffers from hearing loss and uses the system developed by Apple and Cochlear. Called the Nucleus 7 sound processor, the device won FDA approval in June and is the first of its kind in the hearing aid industry.

The extended article is certainly worth a read, and Tim Cook has already shared the piece on Twitter, saying he is proud of the work Apple is doing in this area.


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Apple Partners With Cochlear to Launch First Made for iPhone Hearing Implant

Apple has partnered with hearing implants company Cochlear to launch the first made for iPhone Cochlear implant, which can stream audio from a compatible iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch directly to a surgically embedded sound processor (via TechCrunch). Cochlear implants are reserved for people with profound hearing loss that traditional hearing aids can't help to alleviate, and consist of both an internal and external component.

Thanks to the Apple-approved certification, patients can control the Cochlear implant directly from their Apple device and not have to download and launch a separate iOS app. Users can navigate to their iPhone Settings app, click General, and then Accessibility, and find their the Cochlear hearing implant -- with a Nucleus 7 Sound Processor -- listed for them under "hearing devices."

Image via TechCrunch
“The approval of the Nucleus 7 Sound Processor is a turning point for people with hearing loss, opening the door for them to make phone calls, listen to music in high-quality stereo sound, watch videos and have FaceTime calls streamed directly to their Cochlear implant,” Cochlear CEO Chris Smith said in a statement. “This new sound processor builds on our long-standing commitment to help more people with hearing loss connect with others and live a full life.”
After being paired, users can control the implant's volume using their iOS device's volume controls, and any audio can be sent into the implant including phone calls and music playback. In addition, the external component of the Nucleus 7 is said to have a longer battery while being smaller and 24 percent lighter than the previous version of the device.

There have been other audio-assisting technologies that Apple has showcased in the past, like the ReSound LiNX 3D hearing aid, and speaking with TechCrunch the company reiterated its intent to push accessibility features in every version of iOS.
“We wanted to see something that could become ubiquitous out in the world,” Apple’s Sarah Herrlinger, senior manager for global accessibility policy and initiatives told TechCrunch. “We want everybody to use our technology and to say ‘wow my iPhone is the best piece of technology I’ve ever used before’…with every iteration of our operating system our goal is to add in new accessibility features in order to expand the support that we can give to people all over the world.”
In celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day this year, Apple held a concert at One Infinite Loop with headliner Stevie Wonder performing for employees during the event. Following the release of a collection of accessibility-focused "designed for" videos, CEO Tim Cook sat down and talked about macOS and iOS accessibility features with YouTubers who use these features daily.


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Apple Celebrates Global Accessibility Awareness Day With Stevie Wonder Concert

Apple yesterday held a concert at One Infinite Loop in honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day. This morning, CEO Tim Cook tweeted out a thank you to Stevie Wonder, who performed at the concert.



The event marked one of Apple's traditional "Beer Bash" celebrations, which in the past have seen performances by Maroon 5, One Republic, Darius Rucker, and more, usually coinciding with a major milestone like the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh.

Apple has been highlighting the importance of accessibility features throughout the week, beginning with a large collection of "Designed for" promotional videos that it posted on YouTube on Tuesday. The clips showcased features like VoiceOver and Made for iPhone hearing aids, accompanied by personal stories of how Apple fans with disabilities use each feature.


On Wednesday, Tim Cook then sat down with three accessibility activists to discuss the company's accessibility features across its range of devices. Last October, Apple published an all-new accessibility website that brings all of these features to the forefront as a way to explain and celebrate how the company has built unique accessibility features into iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch.


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Apple CEO Tim Cook Talks Accessibility With Three Accessibility Activists

In honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which takes place tomorrow, Apple CEO Tim Cook sat down with three YouTubers to discuss the Accessibility features built into Apple's iOS and Mac devices.

Each of the three YouTubers, who met Cook at Apple's campus for coffee, have shared their conversations with the CEO on their respective YouTube channels. All three, including legally blind filmmaker James Rath, deaf advocate and vlogger Rikki Poynter, and actress Tatiana Lee, who was born with Spina Bifida, talked about the Apple products that they use in their daily lives. The three interviews can be watched below.




During his meeting with Poynter, Cook explained Apple's stance on accessibility and why the company goes to great lengths to make sure its devices are available to everyone.
Apple is founded on giving people power to create things, to do things that they couldn't do without those tools. And we've always viewed accessibility as a human right. And so just like human rights are for everyone, we want our products to be accessible for everyone. And so it's a basic core value of Apple. We don't make products for a particular group of people. We make products for everybody.

We feel very strongly that everyone deserves an equal opportunity and equal access. So we don't look at this thing from a return on investment point of view -- I've been asked that before. The answer is no, I've never looked at that. We don't care about that.
In addition to Cook's meetings, Apple also recently published a series of "Designed for" accessibility videos, highlighting the different ways Apple's Accessibility features are used to make Apple devices available to everyone, and there's currently an Accessibility feature in the App Store promoting Accessibility apps.

Since October, Apple has had a detailed Accessibility website that demonstrates and promotes the extensive Accessibility options built into Apple products.


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Apple Highlights Accessibility Features in New ‘Designed for’ Video Series

Apple today updated its YouTube channel with a series of Accessibility videos, highlighting the different ways the Accessibility features built into the iPhone and iPad are used to help people accomplish a range of tasks.

In one video, for example, a sight impaired singer and drummer named Carlos Vasquez shares how he uses features like VoiceOver to promote his band on social media sites.

Carlos is the lead singer, drummer and PR manager for his metal band Distartica. Using VoiceOver, with Screen Curtain on iPhone, he can hail a ride, take a photo, and get the word out about his band's album release while keeping his screen entirely black.
Another video features a middle school band teacher named Shane, who uses Made for iPhone hearing aids along with her iPhone to listen to her students perform.

Shane is a middle school band and choir director who uses Made for iPhone hearing aids in her classroom so she can hear every note.
There are a total of seven videos on Apple's YouTube channel, each of which features a unique, personalized story highlighting the myriad ways Accessibility features benefit iOS users.

Back in October, Apple also published a new Accessibility website that demonstrates the extensive Accessibility options that Apple has built into its products and how those features are used to make Apple devices accessible to all.


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ReSound LiNX 3D Hearing Aid and iOS App Connect Users to Their Audiologists for Remote Fine-Tuning

Danish hearing aid company GN Hearing today announced the newest iteration of its IoT hearing aid solution, called the ReSound LiNX 3D, as well as new apps for the iPhone and Apple Watch.

The major update to GN's new hearing care solution is a way for users to get their hearing aids remotely fine-tuned by their audiologist after an initial fitting at their local clinic, through a cloud-based infrastructure called ReSound Smart Fit. The original ReSound LiNX allowed users to adjust their own settings on the fly, but now they can request assistance wherever they are directly from the mobile app, and their doctor can make all the adjustments necessary "to provide a better hearing experience for the user."

ReSound LiNX 3D is the only device with complete remote fine-tuning capabilities that allows users to stay in touch with their hearing care professional wherever they are, receiving hearing care and getting new settings via the cloud without having to schedule and travel for a clinic appointment. The unique cloud integration enables hearing care professionals to stay connected with users no matter where they are.

Users will be able to share feedback about any hearing difficulty as the situation occurs, rather than trying to remember how to describe it during an adjustment visit to the clinic. Hearing care professionals will have the freedom to offer follow-up services remotely – saving time for both hearing care professionals and users, and creating opportunities for even higher user satisfaction.
The ReSound LiNX 3D includes GN Hearing's 5th generation 2.4 GHz wireless technology and 3rd generation binaural directionality, providing users with "clear, natural sound, exceptional speech understanding and the best sense of where sounds are coming from." The company said that the hearing aid's advantages lie in both quiet and speech-only situations, as well as times when surrounding sounds are loud and the aid optimizes audibility of speaking voices.

The original ReSound LiNX launched with a unique 2.4 GHz protocol as well, developed in careful conjunction with Apple as a way to create a specific link between the hearing aid and iPhone devices. This technology enabled the first LiNX -- and now the new LiNX 3D -- to support a smarter system that could turn off and on quickly to save battery life, as well as geofencing abilities to intelligently detect where a user is and adapt to the corresponding new environment change with no intervention from the user.

When connected to the new apps on iPhone and Apple Watch, users will be able to access custom control features for the hearing aid, built-in guidance steps to understand the hardware and software, and coaching assistance to get the most out of the system. When compared to competitors, the company said that the ReSound LiNX 3D and companion app are up to 50 percent better at identifying speech across various environments, enable users to hear up to 80 percent more of the sounds around them, and enable users to understand up to 40 percent more speech in noise.

GN Hearing will launch the ReSound LiNX 3D, as well as a hearing aid with similar features under its sister brand Beltone, around the world later in 2017. No more information was given in today's announcement, but the company encouraged anyone interested to keep track of announcements surrounding the ReSound LiNX 3D by visiting its website.


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Apple Highlights Autism Acceptance Month Through App Store, Retail Field Trips

April is Autism Acceptance Month, and Apple plans to mark the occasion in several ways, including a dedicated section in the App Store and retail field trips.

According to Steven Aquino, a journalist who covers accessibility topics, Apple will offer field trips to retail stores that will host music events designed to include children with disabilities.

Kids will be able to participate in the events using the Skoogmusic Skoog 2.0 Tactile Musical Interface, one of the many accessibility-oriented accessories Apple sells in its online store. Skoog is a tactile cube that lets children with disabilities control sound through touch.


Along with special Apple Store events, Apple has created an Autism Acceptance App Store section that includes dozens of important accessibility apps organized into sections like Apps for Every Day, Apps for Learning, Books, Podcasts, and iTunes U courses.


Some of the apps included are Proloquo2Go, :prose, Keeble Accessible Keyboard, Assistive Express, TouchChat HD, RocketKeys, and more.

Accessibility has always been hugely important to Apple, and the company has aimed to make its devices accessible for everyone, with in-depth accessibility settings to meet a range of needs. Back in October, Apple launched a new Accessibility website that highlights accessibility features across all of its products.


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