Google Gets Serious About Hearing Loss Help

Sound Amplifier and Live Transcribe are new apps for Android smartphone users

Google is getting serious about smartphone accessibility for people with hearing loss. Its new Sound Amplifier app enables Android phones to compete with the hearing-enhancement features built into Apple's iPhones. And Google's whiz-bang Live Transcribe voice-to-text translation app (still in beta) aims to attract even die-hard iPhone users to its Android Pixel phone.

Sound Amplifier app enhances hearing

Google Sound Amplifier App

The Sound Amplifier app lets users control their own listening experiences by adjusting audio and microphone settings with simple equalizer sliders. It enhances microphone audio through wired headphones, boosting quiet sounds and reducing unwanted or distracting noises.

The app is built into new Pixel 3 phones and available in the Google Play Store for any other phone running the new Android 9 Pie operating system.

The Sound Amplifier app doesn't appear to break new ground in smartphone hearing enhancement. Quick searches of the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store reveal plenty of third-party apps featuring amplification and treble-bass equalization.

And for now, it's limited to wired headphones, whereas other hearing-enhancement apps often utilize wireless headphones and ear-buds. In fact, Apple’s Live Listen feature turns an iPhone into a remote microphone that can be used either with its popular AirPods or with Made-for-iPhone hearing aids.

Competing with Apple

Even so, the Sound Amplifier app gives the Android platform a significant boost in its ongoing competition with the iPhone.

Apple integrated similar hearing enhancement features into the iPhone years ago. At about the same time, it started working with leading hearing-aid manufacturers to deliver Made-for-iPhone hearing aids. For a long time, the iPhone was the place to go for hearing-aid users or for people wanting smartphone-based hearing enhancement.

But Google has responded aggressively. Last August, Google announced it was working with Big-Six hearing-aid manufacturer GN Hearing to create a new spec for Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids with Android phones.

GN ReSound was the first to stream wireless audio directly into Made-for-iPhone hearing aids. The “Made-for-Android” announcement from Google signaled their intention to pair hearing aids with the much larger universe of Android phones.

Now with the Sound Amplifier app, Google is providing Android phone users with free hearing-enhancement features seamlessly integrated with the smartphone's operating system.

More affordable hearing-enhancement apps to come

In the meantime, software developers, makers of affordable personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), manufacturers of the upcoming generation of low-cost over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, and traditional hearing aid manufacturers have been working on their own new smartphone solutions.

For example, last year Bragi, developer of the intelligent wireless Bragi Dash hearable, began collaborating with Mimi Hearing Technologies on Project Ears. The two companies intend to develop self-testing, self-fitting and self-adjusting apps for a new generation of Bragi products providing individualized listening settings.

And don't be surprised if Big-Six hearing-aid manufacturer Starkey Hearing Technologies gets into the act as well. Since 2016, Starkey and Bragi have been collaborating on a possible future Bragi over-the-counter hearing aid.

Live Transcribe seeks beta testers

Meanwhile, Google's new Live Transcribe app is currently undergoing beta testing. An "unreleased" version is listed by Google Research on the Google Play Store, and users who want to join the beta test can apply on the Android web site. Or if you have a brand-new Pixel 3 phone, you can activate Live Transcribe in its Accessibility settings.

Live Transcribe promises to provide real-time voice-to-text transcriptions of conversations in up to 70 languages and dialects. It supports external microphones in wired headsets, Bluetooth headsets and USB mics. And it's available on Android 5.0 phones and later.