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tens of millions of people around the world who need hearing aids but don't
wear them. The reasons are many — including stigma, cost and lack of awareness
of where to get help. Even though the hearing aid market has great potential,
it takes the average hearing impaired person almost seven years from the time
where a hearing aid could provide benefit until an actual purchase is made.
Starkey Hearing Technologies and Karten Design tackled the hearing aid stigma by introducing Halo™, a Made for iPhone® hearing aid engineered to coexist with the iPhone®, iPad® and iPod touch®.
Halo connects Starkey Hearing Technologies' superior hearing technology with the Apple iOS to deliver a seamless hearing experience for people with hearing loss. It works with the TruLink™ Hearing Control app (available for free in the App Store) to stream phone calls, music, and even Siri® directly into a wearer's hearing aids. Using the SoundSpace™ feature, users can easily fine-tune volume and tone settings from their iPhone based on their current real-time environment, giving them more control over their hearing experience and reducing visits to the audiologist for tune-ups.
By leveraging the Apple brand and a sleek design language, Halo elevates the hearing aid to a new level of "cool," appealing to today's tech-savvy consumer. Through color, texture, form, and strategic interaction design informed by years of user research, Halo disassociates hearing aids from traditionally negative stereotypes of age, disability and weakness, encouraging earlier and more effective treatment of hearing loss.
Karsten Jensen, Starkey Hearing Technologies
Jerry Ruzicka, Starkey Hearing Technologies
Tim Trine, Starkey Hearing Technologies
Jeff Bentzler, Karten Design
Eric Olson, Karten Design
Stuart Karten, Karten Design
The challenge with this project was to encourage patients to get hearing aids sooner, which benefits them in a number of ways. Research by Frank Lin, M.D., and colleagues in 2013 found that more people with hearing loss experience dementia than those without hearing loss. While there is not a causative link between hearing loss and dementia, hearing loss can cause changes to the brain and provide long-term serious consequences to healthy brain functions. The ability to address hearing loss earlier in adults will have a significant impact on their cognitive ability later in life. Hearing loss has also been related to reduced quality of life, isolation, depression, reduced social activity and more difficult communication in relationships. Hearing aids can help prevent this, enabling patients the ability to process sounds and keep them connected to the world around them. Keeping this in mind, designers set out to develop and design an iPhone-compatible hearing aid that would capture the interest of a slightly younger demographic with hearing loss (and, ultimately, help improve their long-term hearing/health by encouraging them to seek help sooner).
Designers overcame several design and engineering challenges throughout the development of Halo:
Challenge: Physically fit all the electronics required—including the industry's longest-lasting battery—in a small, aesthetically pleasing package that would fit discreetly behind the ear of a hearing impaired patient.
Solution: Engineers and designers utilized every square millimeter in the most efficient manner possible. Hardware and software engineers fine-tuned communication protocols to make a coin battery last over a week with continuous use.
Challenge: Provide consistent sound quality in various, ever-changing complex sound environments.
Solution: Engineers strategically spaced microphone ports to provide optimal directional performance, giving users unparalleled spatial awareness to better distinguish where sounds are originating. The geometry of Halo is rounded so as to eliminate "case noise" caused by hair or skin rubbing over the edges of the device, which can create unpleasant flicking noises in users' ears.
Challenge: Hearing aid users are often an older demographic and suffer from limited dexterity and tactile feeling in their fingertips, making hearing aid operation more difficult.
Solution: Designers removed physical controls from the Halo device, eliminating the need for users to search for tiny buttons and hard-to-reach controls used in other devices. A finger-pick battery door allows users to easily remove and replace the battery by hand.
Challenge: As a body-worn device, the hearing aid is susceptible to damage from ingress.
Solution: Halo was engineered using materials, techniques, and processes that provide maximum durability. The device is coated with a proprietary HydraShield2 nanocoating that repels water and earwax, as well as custom-formulated paint developed to withstand heat, moisture, buildup from wax, hairspray and friction from contact with skin and hair.
Product Features & User Benefits:
With an intuitive, discreet design that helps overcome the stigma of hearing aids, and features that enable superior hearing in any sonic environment, Halo empowers today's tech-savvy user and encourages people with hearing loss to get help sooner.
Used in conjunction with the Trulink Hearing Control app, Halo provides an unprecedented level of integration with iOS devices, helping patients engage with their hearing aids and adapt to a new world of hearing:
--Until Made for iPhone hearing instruments like Halo, all other wireless hearing aid products on the market required another body-worn or carried device to serve as an intermediary to connect to a smartphone. Halo and TruLink now seamlessly integrate patients' hearing aids to their worlds without burdening them with more hardware.
--SoundSpace allows a patient to use an iPhone to modify hearing settings to better suit a particular environment or scenario. For example, the patient can adjust the settings within his or her favorite restaurant to maximize sound quality for the acoustics of that specific space. The patient can then geotag and save this memory using built-in GPS system of the iPhone. The hearing aids automatically change to that optimized setting whenever the patient returns to that location.
--The Remote Control allows patients to easily change volume and switch memories on their hearing aids with a touch of an iPhone. Because both are adjusted via a visual indicator bar, patients have better control and nearly infinite levels to suit their preferences, reducing visits to the hearing care professional.
--TruLink Adaptive Car Mode automatically detects when a patient is in a car, reducing the annoying sounds of driving and enhancing the patient's "audio" driving experience.
--Find My Hearing Aid shows a location and time stamp of where the hearing aid was last on. A signal detector shows a stronger and weaker signal as the patient moves toward or away from the hearing aid.
In addition to connecting to iOS devices, Halo provides a standalone, complete solution for hearing impairment by offering high-quality hearing aid features:
--Best-in-class feedback cancellation system, which identifies, classifies and eliminates annoying whistling and buzzing in all environments.
--A robust noise reduction and speech preservation system, helping the hearing aids optimize speech clarity in any environment. It classifies inputs every six milliseconds and adapts every 20 milliseconds to diminish noise between syllables.
--Frequency lowering engineered to enhance real-time audibility by intelligently identifying high-frequency speech cues and replicating them in lower frequencies where they're easier to understand.
--Some people who wear hearing aids hear a buzzing sound when using their cellphones due to radio frequency interference. Halo allows direct-from the-iPhone streaming of phone calls, music and media — so patients can easily understand conversations during phone calls on iPhones.
--The Halo's TruLink Technology extends the bandwidth and doubles the dynamic range of other wireless platforms, resulting in pristine sound and uncompromised signal even in crowded environments.
--TruLink and SoundSpace enable patients to easily fine-tune sound settings based on their current real-world environment. Instead of fumbling with small control settings on the outside of the hearing instrument, patients can discreetly adjust frequency and tone by simply moving their finger on their screen. As patients move their finger around the blank screen, the settings in their hearing aid(s) will temporarily change so they can listen to a variety of options. Users can adjust 64 different hearing aid parameters in real-time to match specific environments. This extension helps drive patient engagement, faster acceptance, and increased user satisfaction.
--ISO Compression allows for independent control of soft, moderate and loud-level speech to provide more nuanced sound quality for speech.
--Voice iQ2 technology helps patients zero in on
what's being said and block out background noises. It is the first digital
noise reduction algorithm proven to significantly improve acceptance of
noise in a background of speech babble.
While Halo is virtually invisible when worn behind the ear, designers also explored colors and materials that aren't so invisible — for example, providing black/silver and white/silver color options that match available iPhone colors to reinforce the perception that Halo is consistent with today's latest technology. Being able to connect directly with the iPhone encourages consumers with untreated hearing loss to seek out help at a higher rate and sooner than they would otherwise.
Furthermore, hearing aid patients readily acknowledge that they don't want others to know they use hearing aids. Frequent touching and interaction with their hearing aids can contribute to feelings of embarrassment, shame, and anxiety in social situations. Designers responded by incorporating features—such as a longer lasting battery (7-9 days of full functionality, versus the industry standard of 3-6 days), fewer controls on the outside of the Halo's hearing instrument, and automatic sound adjusting—that lessen physical interaction with the device, giving users the freedom to communicate and engage with others in confidence.
Materials & Components:
The hearing aid has two main components: the external housing and the internal components. The external housing's casing is molded from Grilamid, a biocompatible, wear-tested resin. Parts are fitted tightly together to protect against moisture penetration.
The Halo's internal components feature proprietary flex circuitry and antennae design developed in collaboration with Apple, enabling the device to incorporate 2.4GHz Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology. Nylon variants were used for the plastics.
Halo won a
Red Dot award and has received coverage in national publications including New York Times, NBC's Today Show, The Atlantic, San Francisco Chronicle,
re/code, Information Week and USA Today.
Sales of Halo have exceeded original forecasts, and feedback from both hearing professionals and consumers has been overwhelmingly positive. Starkey Hearing Technologies has over 40 mobile apps in the iTunes App Store, and downloads have doubled with the release of Halo/TruLink.
Tried to move the category forward in a slightly more consumer electronics fashion, make it a little bit more of a simple design statement.
It's a lot less cluttered because it's an app driven product...Allows for more customization for users...We really like the integration with the app...Gave a hearing aid a high tech feel to it with the aesthetic - which is a challenge and I think they did a great job with it...The simplicity is evident in every little detail.