There are a number of reasons that penetration rate has been so low. The stigma of wearing visible aids may be one reason; technology itself may also explain why those who need hearing aids the most have been slow to embrace them. In years past, hearing aids, using analog technology, simply made sounds louder – all sounds. And that meant that the wearer frequently was bombarded by noise from every angle. In recent years, modern hearing aids have gotten smaller while adopting digital technology alongside directional microphones and filters that can let the wearer turn his or her head to focus on sounds coming from different places.
This technology, miniaturized in a tiny device and coupled with a direct connection to an iPhone or other iOS device, represents the next generation of hearing aids, with Beltone First letting users easily customize their hearing experience like never before.
I mentioned the “restaurant scenario” at the beginning of this article; there are other possibilities as well. New apps will help the hearing aids to adjust to situations such as driving, where one would need to hear what’s going on in all surroundings. In that case, the iPhone could be used to turn off directional filtering. Or, in a crowd setting: imagine a version of Siri’s voice recognition software giving the hearing aid user a way to focus on one speaker and mute everything, and everyone, else.
Regardless of the app, Murray says, the graphical interface for Beltone First’s app will feature larger buttons, easy-to-navigate icons, and a library of settings available to the user at a touch or swipe of the screen.
It’s easy to see this device being a hit for a younger, plugged in generation. But will the cool factor of iPhone help Beltone First’s tiny hearing aid close the gap between those with hearing loss and those doing something about it among the Boomer generation? We’ll find out soon enough.
Scheduled for wide release over the coming weeks, Beltone First will be marketed in a new, tech-enabled way, through an educational push via social media, online video and other outreach efforts, reaching both hearing aid candidates and their families. Pricing for the premium product will be announced closer to availability.