Posted by - Regulation.

In a recent submission to the FCC, Apple argues that the current HAC compliance rules do not assess how well handsets and hearing aids actually “work together for consumers” and that the FCC should perform “qualitative assessments” to ensure handset usability for hearing aid users. Further, Apple proposed that the Commission should recognize solutions such as Made-For-iPhone (MFi) as viable alternatives to current hearing aid compatibility (HAC) compliance.

To be compliant with current HAC requirements, handsets are required to 1) “reduce interference with hearing aids operating in acoustic mode” and 2) operate successfully with “hearing aids that contain a telecoil.” While Apple’s range of iPhones currently complies with HAC rules, Apple argues that such requirements only assess traditional acoustic and inductive coupling techniques, and fail to recognize digital audio streaming technologies like Bluetooth.

As Apple has previously explained, the MFi hearing aid platform does not rely on the acoustic or inductive coupling techniques contemplated by the Commission’s existing HAC rules in order to facilitate telephone conversations. Rather, the platform employs a wireless protocol that incorporates Bluetooth Low Energy technology to enable compatible hearing aids to interact directly with iPhones and other supported devices via a digital wireless connection.

Apple proposes that the FCC adopt a new approach to assessing HAC, which would include a qualitative assessment to confirm that the handset delivers a good quality digital audio signal:

For example, the FCC could require manufacturers to demonstrate that handsets can deliver digital audio to representative compatible hearing aids that meets thresholds for good quality audio systems set forth in established assessment methodologies such as ITU-R Recommendation BS.153433 or ITU-T Recommendation P.800.34

Apple argues that “consumers with hearing loss deserve a better experience than what traditional hearing aid compatibility technologies offer today,” and that the MFi platform “represents a substantial improvement to consumers over devices that are deemed accessible by today’s HAC rules.” The submission went on to detail some of the “important benefits” of MFi technology:

  • Delivery of “high-quality, power efficient direct audio access to compatible hearing aids”
  • Support for voice call output
  • Access to audio from FaceTime, VoiceOver, Siri, turn-by-turn navigation, movies, and third-party apps
  • Stereo music streaming
  • Access to different “audiologist-prescribed preset configurations for different [acoustical] environments”
  • “Live Listen, which enables an individual to use her iPhone’s microphone to pick up directed sound and deliver it to the MFi hearing aid.”
  • Geotagging “locations so that the hearing aid automatically adjusts to preferred settings when the iPhone arrives at a particular place…”
  • Providing “assistance in locating misplaced hearing aids by indicating whether the iPhone is getting closer or farther away from the hearing aid.”

Apple argues that the FCC could promote innovation and advance accessibility by recognizing innovations such as MFi, which deliver more than the required hearing aid compatibility:

The Commission HAC rules should recognize innovators that develop solutions such as the MFi hearing aid platform which result in meaningful accessibility improvements… By doing so, the Commission will advance accessibility by encouraging Apple and other manufacturers to think broadly and creatively about the best ways to enhance handset accessibility for individuals with hearing loss, and to bring those ideas to market.

Update: Wireless guru Nick Hunn just posted his own speculation on Apple’s FCC submission, and reveals a new motive. It would appear that Apple has a vested interest in removing telecoil technology from future iPhones:

Apple appears impatient to remove telecoils from its iPhone design. Its impatience is understandable. But the decision to go it alone with a proprietary standard is a selfish one. It’s one that stands to disrupt the hearing-aid experience for millions — and fragment the hearing-aid business altogether.

Read the full story at aNewDomain.

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  • Cheri Perazzoli

    Absolutely unacceptable! Just follow the money. I completely disagree with this statement: While Apple’s range of iPhones currently complies with HAC rules, I recently relinquished my wonderful Windows phone for IPhone 6 plus, in an effort to get on board with all the new promised accessibility features that have been lacking from the Windows platform. This phone DOES NOT meet the basic and current HAC rules. While the Accessibility settings may include a hearing aid setting, it is not HAC. It searches for a device to pair. When switching my hearing aid to Telecoil mode, yes, the Telecoil delivers the needed clarity but the interference rendered by the I phone is unbearable!! I have spent an entire afternoon in a very noisy Apple store with a ” hearing aid ” expert. I had to walk them through all the HAC and FCC info. Apple’s response? All they could tell me was to use my Roger Pen with my telephone or to buy Made for IPhone hearing aids. This is not in keeping with the spirit implied. Absolutely,”Consumers with hearing loss deserve a better experience than what traditional hearing aid compatibility technologies offer today,” Yet, if the Telephone Manufacturers and the Hearing Aid manufacturers would First step up to the plate to support and perfect the universal platform that’s already in place; the Telecoil, to the best of their ability, consumers everywhere WOULD have a much better experience at a price that’s affordable for all. Don’t get me wrong, I do support innovative technology, but first and foremost, the MAKERS of Telephone and Hearing aids should be held accountable to support and promote the universal standard that’s already in place. Let’s be clear; Profit is driving this change. Apple and hearing aid manufactures are vendors seeking to increase earnings from a vulnerable population desperate to stay connected in the hearing world. Accessibility nor the consumer experience has nothing to do with this appeal.

  • Dana Mulvany

    While efforts to improve audio quality and accessibility are certainly welcome, MFi, which is a proprietary standard, should not replace requirements for HAC from telephones.

    1. Everybody with telecoil-equipped hearing aids and cochlear implant processors should be able to use iPhones.

    2. Neither MFi nor Bluetooth provide simple, no-latency, non-powered access to most stationary phones, assistive listening systems used in public or private places, or other acoustic devices.

    3. It’s critical to be aware of all of the uses of the telecoil, which is not proprietary. It’s used not only with one’s own mobile phone but with all other phones the person may need to use, as well as assistive listening systems and neckloops or silhouette inductors (which can take the place of headphones for telecoil users).

    Unfortunately, an overemphasis on Bluetooth or other wireless protocols used by mobile phones has resulted in many people with hearing loss winding up with hearing aids that are not compatible with many other phones and devices that they very much need to be able to use. Assistive listening systems used in public places (required by the Americans with Disabilities Act) are generally required to have 1/4 of their receivers to be compatible with telecoils (which prevent feedback and background noise). Hearing aids that don’t have telecoils in them can cause the owners to be unable to use the hearing aids with these assistive listening systems, unfortunately causing them to be unable to participate at their best in many public and private events.

    At the very least, the FCC does need to recognize the negative ripple effects of approving a proprietary standard on the use of other telephones. Apple can still go ahead and market its MFi to people with hearing loss, but its phones still need to be fully HAC.