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Apple’s social network for hearing aids. My mind has just been blown.

Apple have filed a patent application for a “hearing aid social network” – you can read the actual application here. This has only recently been submitted (July 29 2012) and there isn’t much other information around the web on what a hearing aid social network could actually be – although Engadget and -->Megan have also written about it.

The social network seems to be intending to offer its users the ability to share their hearing aid settings with other network members and allow a member’s hearing aid to be updated with “at least some of the information passed between members“.

The idea is that if members of the social network are near to each other – for example, both in a noisy coffee shop – then their Apple device and hearing aid can automatically connect to the other network member and share information about optimal settings for the coffee shop environment.

But it doesn’t stop there, I haven’t read the whole patent as it’s big, but here’s interesting snippet I did notice:

In one embodiment, a number of different HA profiles can be available based upon, for example, the acoustics of the immediate surroundings of the hearing aid user. For example, a first HA profile can be used for processing external audio emanating from a generally quiet background environment such as a library, whereas a second HA profile can be used to process external audio emanating from a noisy environment such as a rock concert. In one embodiment, the hearing aid wearer can use an image capture device, such a camera, included in a portable device, such as a smartphone, to capture an image of the immediate surroundings. The captured image can then be used to estimate an acoustic environment based upon, for example, the nature of the immediate surroundings (indoor, outdoor, for example) and, if indoor, the dimensions of the room in which the hearing aid wearer is located.

Wow! This could well mean that our future hearing aids could continuously learn optimal settings for specific environments. We already have generic settings for music, restaurants, etc that we can have customised to our own preference – is Apple crowd-sourcing data on the best settings for your favourite restaurant? Think about that, you don’t have a generic setting for all restaurants, you have a specific setting for the Starbucks on your street!

Today’s smartphones are all location aware so this is definitely possible. I think my mind has just been blown.

As far as I know there’s been no official word from Apple about this network – they are notorious for keeping quiet on new products and then revealing all in a blaze of glory – so I’m really just guessing based on the legal-speak from the patent. But it is certainly exciting and a game-changer for the hearing industry. Looks like the disruption is here already.

A couple of things that I’m dying to find out more about:

  1. How will this work with an individual’s hearing loss? My hearing loss is nothing like yours and so our hearing aids are programmed for our losses – so any automatic location-aware programme changes need to take that into account.
  2. It’s easy to see how a setting for specific restaurant could be better than a generic setting for all restaurants, but: how will that be better than a smart digital aid automatically adjusting to its environment? Maybe this is aimed at low-cost hardware with the software running on an Apple iOS device rather than in your ear?
  3. If one hearing aid learns the best settings for an environment and passes it onto other members of the social network then why can’t those other member’s hearing aids just learnt he optimal settings too without having to receive them over the network?

Whatever this turns out to be it is guaranteed to be ground-breaking and an industry-changer. Can’t wait!