To solve the huge problem of streaming high-quality audio over Bluetooth without quickly draining the tiny batteries in hearing aids and other implants, Apple has developed a new technology called Bluetooth LEA, or Low Energy Audio, according to Wired.
Apple released it (but didn’t talk about it) when the first ‘Made for iPhone’ hearing aids appeared in 2014, according to author Steven Levy. The solution allows hearing aids to receive audio from an iOS device without the need for a middleman device, known as a streamer.
According to Apple itself, Bluetooth LEA is the first use of the low-energy standard to stream high-quality music and voice while preserving Bluetooth LE’s battery-extending properties.
As we recently reported, the iPhone maker and Australian-based hearing aid company Cochlear have partnered on the first “Made for iPhone” implant which streams audio from an iOS device directly to a sound processor embedded in the implant.
This allows hearing-impaired people using the implant to not only get phone calls from their iPhone directly routed inside their skulls, but also stream music, podcasts, audio books, movie soundtracks, Siri and more, all while in a loud environment.
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) August 3, 2017
Sriram Hariharan, an engineering manager on Apple’s CoreBluetooth team, said:
We chose Bluetooth LE technology because that was the lowest power radio we had in our phones. We spent a lot of time tuning our solution it to meet the requirements of the battery technology used in the hearing aids and cochlear implants.
Because Bluetooth is not very reliable and some data packs would be lost in transmission, Apple has figured out how to compensate for that and re-transmit them as needed. “All those things came together to figure out how to actually do this,” says Hariharan.
Implementing LEA meant writing a completely new Bluetooth audio stack; Once battle-proven, A2DP & HFP switched to using it in iOS 9.
— Renaud Lienhart (@NotoriousBUGS) August 2, 2017
A feature called Live Listen lets the user route audio from their iPhone’s mic to the hearing implant, allowing them to focus on conversations in loud environments.
In an earlier report for CNET, Shara Tibken detailed MFi-compatible hearing aids that tap directly into iPhones and iPads to stream audio, as seen in the video embedded below.
iOS 10 features enhanced support for direct streaming of phone calls, FaceTime conversations, movies and other audio to supported hearing aids, listed a support document on Apple’s website, with other capabilities like a “Find My Hearing Aid” feature, right and left volume controls, the ability for devices to detect when the user walks into a venue like a restaurant to adjust hearing aid presets automatically and more.
As for Google, the reporter notes that the search giant’s accessibility team’s hearing efforts have so far focused on captioning. “Hearing aid support, the company says, is on the roadmap, but there’s no public timeline for now,” he wrote.