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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