Oct 2017 Australian Business Review, EFTM, AppleInsider and 9to5Mac
Patients wearing revolutionary Australian-invented Cochlear implants will soon enjoy speech and music delivered straight from an iPhone to their brain. Apple said its accessibility engineering team had worked with Cochlear to adapt a special form of Bluetooth low-energy audio (LEA) that links an iPhone with the external part of a new Cochlear system known as the Nucleus 7 sound processor. The Nucleus 7 was launched in Australia on Oct 25th.
The project has been under way a long time. Apple first mentioned it was working with Cochlear on a Made for iPhone hearing aid at its Worldwide Developers Conference in 2012. The breakthrough involves making sure that Bluetooth connectivity doesn’t rapidly exhaust the hearing system’s battery. In the past, the only way an iPhone could link to a Cochlear implant was through a third device — extra technology that users had to carry with them. And they couldn’t monitor the Cochlear system from their phone. Now they will be able to receive phone calls, listen to iTunes music, watch movies and make FaceTime calls on their iPhone through the new hook-up.
Checking the Cochlear’s status on an iPhone.
On-phone sound controls
Retired IT project manager Mark Moretti, 61, from Ingleburn, NSW, has trialled the new system for a year. “It’s just so much more convenient not having the battery go flat on you which was one of the biggest problems,” he said. Cochlear chief technology officer Jan Janssen said the Nucleus 7 had other features. A hearing tracker lets parents know how many hours a Cochlear-wearing child is exposed to speech each day. “It’s really important that the brain gets used for this type of stimulation,” Mr Janssen said. The Cochlear app had a “find my sound processor” function which let wearers geolocate the external part of the Cochlear system on a map. It’s similar to Find My Phone.
Apple’s director of accessibility Sarah Herrlinger said accessibility had been part of Apple’s DNA from the start. “It’s something that we are really passionate about as a company,” she said. “We consider it one of our core corporate values, an area where we put significant amount of time and energy ensuring our products work for everyone. “We started looking at this program around the concept of Bluetooth Low Energy and how it would be a beneficial tool in this specific circumstance. The work we have done is applicable both to hearing aids and sound processors.”
She said many Cochlear patients had both a hearing aid, and cochlear implant on the other side. “We made this work when you may have two different devices, it may even be from two different companies.”
Ms. Herrlinger said the development work was undertaken by the Apple team and Cochlear in the US and Australia and across multiple companies with hearing aid products. The integration work took place over 2 to 3 years.
While Apple had worked integrating an iPhone with hearing aids, Cochlear was the first to connect a sound processor with. an Apple device. The Cochlear system works with the range of iOS devices - recent iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch models.
A patient wearing a Cochlear Nucleus 7 sound processor watches a movie on an iPad.
A recipient can now make calls, Facetime, listen to music in stereo, watch videos and even get the navigation from the phone when driving.
One additional use for this technology is something called “Live Listen” which uses the iPhone of the user and if they place it on the table or hand it to someone else, the microphones in the iPhone allow the implant recipient to hear clearly the conversation going on. It’s a very simple thing, but it’s a credit to Apple who seem to go over and above many others when it comes to accessibility on their devices.