‘Made-for-iPhone’ hearing aids’ (MFi)

android v apple hearing aids

The term MFi is more colloquially recognised now as ‘Made for iPhone’, but ultimately means for iPhones, iPads and iPods (and Apple Watches).

MFi was / is a licensing program for developers of hardware and software peripherals that work with Apple’s iPods, iPads and iPhones.

The MFi program covers various device connectors including the headphone jack, original dock connector and the newer Lightning connector, as well as Apple AirPlay support. Companies joining the MFi program and passing certification tests are able to display certain MFi-related logos on their product packaging, like the “Made for iPod” badge.

So, ‘MFi‘ is an Apple specific certification that allows / approves other technologies to integrate with Apple devices.

Smart-phones became ubiquitous in the late noughties (true smart-phones as we now know them that is), and it was soon obvious to hearing aid manufacturers that their digital hearing aids would have to be designed to be able to be directly linked to our mobiles phones in order to make them more functional, effective, and appealing.

It was Apple who took the lead in working with leading hearing aid manufacturers despite Android being the more widely used platform. Apple have a simpler single platform system to work on (see section below for more info on this).

Made-for-iPhone (MFi) hearing aids were first introduced by ReSound in 2014 (with their ReSound LiNX hearing aid), followed very shortly by Starkey with the ‘Starkey Halo’. There are now five  leading global hearing aid manufacturers offering premium spec hearing aids with made-for-iphone technology (ReSound, Starkey, Widex, Bernafon and Oticon).

The main three benefits of MFi hearing aid technology are:

  • Direct wireless mobile phone streaming without the need for an intermediary accessory – phonecalls, phone apps, music etc
  • Direct wireless TV streaming without the need for an intermediary accessory
  • Direct remote control functionality –  via a phone app, volume & programme control, plus advanced features such as directional focus etc.

Four important notes:

  1. ‘made-for-iPhone’ hearing aids can be used simply as great hearing aids without an iPhone – you just lose the mobile phone benefits above.
  2. Android phone users can use MFi hearing aids for remote control, and TV streaming – but NOT for direct streaming from the phone.
  3. TV can be directly streamed to MFi hearing aids via an intermediary streaming accessory regardless of what mobile phone you may use.
  4. You can stream to any other mobile phone using the appropriate intermediary streaming accessory made for each hearing aid – see all accessories here

 

The big question, especially from avid Android phone users, is why was this technology limited to Apple iPhones (the streaming technology that is) – which is a very valid question being that Apple only makes up between 15-20% of global market share of mobile phone distribution.

One reason stated is that it is purely hardware driven. iPhones are a closed architecture (which some would say is an advantage and some would say is a disadvantage), but Android is open architecture, which means every single model by every different manufacturer essentially runs a slightly different version of Android to work with their specific ever-changing hardware. As a result, if a manufacturer were to put in a lot of Research & Development on making a Samsung Galaxy 7 able to stream without an intermediary streaming accessory, most likely it would not work on any other Android device, including a Galaxy 6 or Galaxy 8. Chances are, that until a manufacturer or manufacturers agree to a closed standard, we will not see direct streaming of an Android device without an intermediary device.

Another reason given lies with an Apple strategy to make their devices more accessible to a wider pool of consumers. They stole a march on Google’s Android – their most competitive operating system available for mobile phones – and worked with ReSound to develop a system to connect hearing aids to their phones. Google does intend to make similar features available on Android phones, but it must now find a way to do that navigating around the patents that Apple has filed.

MFi does use the generally available BLE technology – Bluetooth Low Energy – but also uses several additional system calls and tweaks that enable enhanced functionality. At least that’s what Apple says, but we suspect the primary objective is to make it hard for Google to hitch onto the standard without running foul of patent protections. In practice, the hearing aid is forced to pair with a special interface on the device, and not with the general, standard BLE interface; thereby locking out app developers and Android.
ReSound and Apple did a good job of marketing the initiative fast enough to get it adopted by other hearing aid makers, so that the methodology has become the industry standard.
The bottom line is that it is hardware / technology that prevented hearing aids from connecting with Android. Apple moved much more quickly than Google and managed to establish a commanding competitive lead.
However, it was only a matter of time and the day of “Made for Android” hearing aids is now here – only they are not called ‘Made for Android’ as they can connect to most phones with Bluetooth technology – so we call them ‘Made for ALL’ hearing aids, or MFA hearing aids – more information on MFA here.

MFi hearing aids are currently made by:

ReSound Oticon Widex Signia Starkey – Bernafon 


MFA hearing aids by

Phonak – Unitron

 

The ability to link a phone app to your you hearing aids adds a high level of personalised control and improved speech clarity for phone calls and streamed audio.

Streaming

The key feature is being able to stream your phone calls, audio-books, music, and apps (i.e. Google maps directions) direct to your hearing aids for improved speech clarity.

Using your phone app means you no longer have to carry around a separate remote control.

Direct high definition stereo streaming from TV’s  without the need for a neckloop or clip on accessory (you do require a TV adaptor though).

You can also use more advanced features such as foreign speech translator apps to hear what a foreign person is saying direct in your hearing aids!!

Remote control

Having more control allows you to fine tune your hearing aids in different environments to suit your needs – sometimes we can then fine tune them based on how you use your controls.

These functions will change between the phone apps provided by each manufacturer.

Basic remote control functionality may include:

  • Volume control, synchronized or left / right separately
  • Mute function
  • Home function – to reset any changes back to default
  • Programme change – for different environments
  • Changing directional focus for noisy environments
  • Controlling wind noise and general noise
  • Changing the frequency response

You can also save your settings to a ‘favourite programme’ for future use, and can set that programme to turn on automatically when you reach a frequent destination (such as a surround sound programme for the local cinema).

Streaming your calls and apps – i.e. using a foreign language translator to translate what someone says to you, and hear it direct in your hearing aids; or using google maps sat nav app and hearing directions crisper in your hearing aids whilst driving.

ALSO:

You can locate lost hearing aids using the built in hearing aid locator

We can remotely assist you by changing the settings of your hearing aids and sending them to you via the app – meaning less visits to see us in the early fine tuning days.

Find My Hearing Aids

Some of the brands have a find-my-hearing aid feature helping to locate lost hearing aids. This technology works using location services from the phone and you can track where the hearing aid was last used and hopefully find it again – to the point where the battery was last live.

Phone calls

MFi hearing aids do not (at present) have the ability to answer phone calls via the push button on the hearing aids, nor do they transmit the speakers voice via the microphones on the hearing aids – thus ‘handsfree calling’ is NOT a feature of MFi hearing aids.

Interference

We have had a client who had interference problems from other wireless products (Christmas lights and doorbells).  We are monitoring this issue as it is rare – but obviously was a problem for them.

 

MFi hearing aids are generally available as medium sized receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids (including rechargeable option) or  ‘full shell’ / ‘1/2 shell’ in-custom ear hearing aids.

 

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