Interview with Giles Tongue, CEO of ChatableApps
Earlier today, I had a chance to catch up with Giles Tongue—Cofounder and CEO of ChatableApps—to discuss the technology behind their new hearing-enhancement iOS app, Chatable. I am excited to share our interview!
My interview with Giles Tongue
Abram: Giles, so nice to connect with you on the day of your big iOS launch for Chatable! Hearing better in background noise is the #1 priority for hearing aid users around the world, and your app promises a significant improvement over existing technological solutions. Can you tell me a little about the evidence you have to support this claim?
Giles: Yes we have pre-clincal data. Over the last few months of development, we’ve been testing the app with a variety of hearing aid and cochlear implant users with a variety of hearing loss types and severities. The data (available on the ChatableApps website) shows that 86% of hearing aid users prefer Chatable over their hearing aids for conversation in real-world situations. We also record anonymous feedback from our users in our app, and have learned that 80% found our app helpful in conversation, with 15% reporting a “life changing” improvement.
Audiologists Kate and Duncan Collet-Fenson, who have subsequently invested in Chatable, also did a test during lock down with their father, comparing his hearing aids vs Chatable in noise
I should also take the opportunity to mention that we’re also great when it comes to background music and reverb as well as background murmur and conversation.
Abram: I know Chatable uses artificial intelligence to remove background noise from speech. How does this technology work?
Giles: Yes, we have developed a process called end-to-end neural speech synthesis. Sound goes in complex, and comes out simple. The neuroscience-led AI listens and renders speech in real time, enabling us to provide loud and clear speech. So while the result is ‘removing background noise’ what we actually do is create a new voice-only output. From there, you can use the slider to add back in background noise if you want to.
Abram: When someone downloads Chatable, what sort of experience should they expect?
Giles: The app is for 1-on-1 conversation. Since you are familiar with “remote mics” you can think of our app as a next generation remote mic. It’s extremely simple to use—download the app, connect to headphones (or hearing aids or CI sound processor), switch it on, adjust the sliders. The app will show you which end of the phone to point to the person you wish to hear better.
From that point on, just have a chat! Put the phone near the person speaking to you, and start listening - play around with our two sliders for comfort: background noise slider down, volume start low and move up.
Importantly, there is no need for a hearing test, there is no personalized sound amplification, and it works for all hearing loss types, which is why audiologists are calling it a “universal hearing aid.”
We recently found with social distancing and increased use of face masks, the app can be useful for conversations at range, or to help hear someone talking with a face mask—typically both challenging situations for hearing aid users or lip-readers.
Abram: It is my understanding that the app can be used with AirPods. How well does this work? Is there much lag?
Giles: We’re working on latency everyday and its getting better all the time. We think we’re already more or less where LiveListen is now as a benchmark, but we have a whole layer of AI working on top, so thats really quite a big achievement. Everyday we are working on this though, so expect further improvement. In fact, there’s a further improvement about to go live tomorrow - all the time we’re making tweaks to make voice that much clearer and easier to hear.
If someone is really struggling with latency, they could try a ‘wired’ connection, which doesn’t have the burden of bluetooth, and I think that it’s market leading.
Abram: Is it possible to use Chatable to improve hearing in background noise with made-for-iPhone hearing aids?
Giles: Absolutely! You can connect easily if you have bluetooth aids, and wired via a neckloop or similar systems. The proof is in the pudding - I encourage everyone to try it! We have literally had people tell us they don’t go to noisy places any more, due to their hearing aids and the overwhelming noise or lack of ability to follow conversation, and now with our app they will go out again.
Abram: What prompted you to start this project, and what has the journey been like so far?
Giles: The journey started with Andy, realizing that he had the potential, based on his research, to create a fundamentally different solution to hearing loss, that could work on an everyday smartphone, and therefore be accessible and affordable to everyone in the world struggling with conversation.
I joined as CEO last summer when the app was just about ready for trials, and it’s been an incredible journey for me already. Firstly, understanding the sheer scale of the problem we’re addressing— the 466 million with disabling hearing loss—I think it’s about a quarter of who we can help. We’ve learnt how the app can help those with profound loss all the way down to those mild loss, we’ve seen audiologists bring their ‘problem’ cases to us, and we’ve helped. Next, we’re interested to see how noise-cancelling headphones plus our app could help people with APD, autism, hyperacusis and other brain-mediated issues. We’re also interested in helping with glue ear, which may lead to developmental and long-term behavioral issues if untreated in adults. Most exciting I think, is for us to learn how transformative the tech can be for people who have no chance of ever accessing or affording hearing aids—I genuinely think we are the first technology with a chance of treating a global health epidemic.
There's a video on our youtube channel, quite early on in my journey, where Patsy had just been to visit the Audiologist, and I was invited to meet with her. She has hearing loss, struggles in noise. We had a large Bose speaker with us, and we filled the room will all sorts of noise. I’ll never forget we had this really loud Jazz music playing, my head was almost shaking, I could hardly hear myself talk, and yet Patsy who has hearing loss and usually relies on her hearing aid, was answering my questions as if we were watching the sun going down in a tranquil garden! No problem at all. I still laugh with disbelief every time I watch that. We have the potential with this tech to improve millions of lives—that’s extremely exciting, and quite a burden at the same time.
More reactions to the Chatable app
After the interview, Giles sent over a couple of videos that illustrated the overwhelmingly positive responses he’s seen to the Chatable app.
Please let us know what you think
Have you tried Chatable? Please leave a comment below. We’d love to hear your feedback. Oh, and if you haven’t tried the app yet, here are the links to download the Chatable app from the App Store or Google Play: