Apple Plans Hearing-Aid Social Network For iOS 6 iPhones

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Hearing aid users get more iOS 6 support than expected?

Apple is researching the idea of a social network for hearing-impaired users that could be supported by the “made for iPhone” hearing aids planned to debut with iOS 6 this autumn.

According to patent applications published last week, and first noted by Apple-focused news site AppleInsider, the social network will build on iOS 6 hearing-aid technology that will be compatible with the iPhone 4S as well as the upcoming iPhone 5.

The patent filings suggest that users will be able to modify hearing-aid parameters via their iPhone or iPad, and describe  a social network that would allow users to share hearing-aid profiles.

‘Made for iPhone’ hearing aids

Apple said last month it is working with hearing-aid manufacturers to introduce “Made for iPhone” hearing aids, which will be compatible with iOS 6 on iPhone 4S and later devices. While Apple didn’t disclose further details, the technology appears to be aimed at improving the experience of users who connect their hearing aids to the iPhone via Bluetooth.

The systems outlined in Apple’s patents take the hearing-aid interaction a step further by allowing the iPhone to modify the audio settings of programmable hearing aids, and to share settings profiles with other users.

The patent “Remotely Updating a Hearing Aid Profile” outlines a system for storing hearing-aid profiles in a mobile device and modifying the hearing aid’s settings as desired.

“Programmable hearing aids that allow a user to adjust the hearing aid response to their own preference have been recently made available at reasonable cost,” Apple said in the filing. “What is desired is allowing a hearing aid user to modify the audio processing of the programmable hearing aid in real time in accordance with the context for which the hearing aid is or will be used.”

Social network

A second patent, “Social Network For Sharing A Hearing Aid Setting”, outlines a social network that would allow users to swap hearing-aid profiles.

“Broadly speaking, the embodiments disclosed herein describe a social network tailored to meet the needs of individuals having impaired hearing,” the filing states. “In a particular embodiment, audio processing characteristics of hearing aids worn by and used by members of the social network can be modified based upon at least some of the information passed between members of the social network.”

These profiles could be stored on devices such as laptops, iPods or mobile phones and used by the hearing aid depending on the user’s context, Apple said.

“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,” Apple said in the filing.

A user could transmit a photo of their environment which could be used to estimate the surrounding acoustic environment and retrieve a suitable hearing-aid profile, Apple said.

Both patents were filed in January of last year, and are credited to Edwin W. Foo and Gregory F. Hughes.

Patent arsenal

In March, Apple was granted a patent for a future “iWallet” service which uses Near Field Communication (NFC) for contactless payments. The patent, number 8,127,982, issued by the United States Trademark & Patent Office, defines the relationship between primary and secondary accounts and shows that credit card companies will send statements directly to iTunes accounts.

Apple’s patent arsenal has played an important role in the company’s ongoing battle with the manufacturers of Android-based smartphones.

In February, for instance, a Munich regional court found that Motorola products infringed on an Apple patent covering the way a touchscreen device is unlocked, stating that the “slide-to-unlock” feature present in most modern smartphones is Apple’s intellectual property.

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