Onward Through The Fog: iPhones and Hearing Aids

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Life is grand. I am content, happy with my home and neighborhood and live a relaxing and rewarding life. I'm just your average blind, retired and elderly fellow who wears hearing aids. The blindness is here to stay, as is my retirement status and I suspect I will continue to age. The only thing I really aspire to change is how well I hear and how well my hearing aids work with my iPhone.

I am a retired executive and computer geek who still loves ´┐╝problem solving. When something doesn't work as well as I'd like, I always assume that either I or some poor soul that I persuade to help, will make things better. Right now, I'm on a mission to find deeper bliss with Made for iPhone hearing aids.

Truth is, my hearing aids do me a lot of good. When I first started wearing them two and a half years ago, I discovered that my wife of more than forty years had not really slipped into mumbling at me. Her voice happens to reside closer to those higher frequencies where I am no longer hearing very well. I also discovered the wonders of listening to VoiceOver, Apple Music and Audible all through my very discrete hearing aids. I was likewise thrilled that the particular brand I procured did not have that latency lag I found in some other hearing aids, where there was a noticeable delay in speech or when initial words were clipped.

So, what am I griping about? Just those little, and sometimes not so little imperfections that make this old man crazy. I cannot say that it is the hearing aid manufacturers fault, and I cannot offer indisputable evidence the irritations were brought on by flaws or choices made in the iOS operating system, and I cannot easily prove that it is not some kind of user error, meaning me, that leaves me somewhat unsatisfied.

Folks who have read my blogs over the years, know that I long ago transitioned to using my iPhone as my singular personal computer. I spent thirty years of my career in the computer industry and have worked on laptops, desktops, minicomputers, and Big Iron. But, none of those will fit in my shirt pocket. As dainty as my computers may have become, I still want everything perfect, and right now. My audio experience with my iPhone and hearing aids is not quite what I desire.

To be fair, I do love my hearing aids, and I ought to. A pair of Made For iPhone (MFi) hearing aids can easily cost more than a handful of brand new iPhones. They are way more expensive than my much loved AirPods Pro. In fact, my hearing aids are more than ten times the cost of my AirPods Max, and I didn't think there was anything more expensive than those, presumably, solid gold headphones. However, I own AirPods Pro and AirPods Max because they are capable of doing some wondrous things that my hearing aids just can't do.

Now, as you read along, please know that if you look at my complaints and are saying, "But, wait, my hearing aids do all of that!", then please say so in the comments. I know that I will live longer if I can remove these mild stresses from my life.

So, what drives me bonkers? Just to belabor the obvious one more time, the cost of hearing aids should drive us all nuts. Admittedly, I do want the best possible hearing aids, but gracious they are expensive. OK. I'll stop fussing.

What improvements would I like right now to make my hearing experience even better? I want all phone calls to talk straight into my hearing aids from the moment I answer a call. For the first two years of wearing hearing aids, when I answered the phone, the voice of my caller would instantly sound through my hearing aids. Now, the voice of my caller frequently starts out talking through my iPhone's built-in speaker, and then after a number of seconds, something will mute the voice on the phone and several seconds later transfer the caller to my hearing aids. This is a reasonably recent hiccup, so it could be me, the hearing aid manufacturer, or an issue with Apple. I have discovered a not-so-obvious work-around. In this case, if I just reboot one of my hearing aids before I answer the call, then the incoming call will go directly to my hearing aids. It's a Rube Goldberg solution, but it works.

I'd also prefer that the occasional blasts of very loud static into my hearing aids to disappear for good. Now, I know that many folks with hearing aids had this start happening some time during the early days of iOS 14, if memory serves, as I did report it to both the hearing aid company and to Apple. Apple seemed to acknowledge the problem and a software update took care of 95+ percent of those crazy-loud white noise bursts. However, and granted it may only happen about once a month or so, but I still occasionally have a hearing aid decide to attempt to disintegrate one of my eardrums. Although very infrequent these days, I always react within micro-seconds of a sonic blast and rip the offending hearing aid out of my head. I calmly reboot the hearing aid and all returns to normal. Still, it is unpleasant.

I've also noticed that I no longer seem to be able to pinpoint the direction of the sounds I hear. For the first two years or so, and I started wearing hearing aids on March 18, 2019, I could locate the direction of sounds I would hear through my hearing aids. Now, when walking in my neighborhood, which has no sidewalks, I frequently cannot tell if sounds are coming from ahead of me, behind me, or by my sides. I now feel like more of a physicist, trying to discern the doppler shift of the sound wave forms. Again, I don't know if it is Apple, the hearing aids or just me. I'd like to know though as one of my goals is always to avoid running into anything and that includes moving cars and buses. Thankfully, I have a fantastic guide dog with a strong will to live.

I'd also like to be able to do a few of the things with my hearing aids that I can do with AirPods Pro and with AirPods Max. Luckily for me, I can use both of these Apple products, even when my hearing aids are in my ears. I love being able to instantly stop music or a book when my wife or someone else speaks. Right now, if I am only using my hearing aids, I have to whip my iPhone 12 mini out of my pocket and two-finger double tap that screen over and over again until the phone is properly awake and willing to follow my tactile commands. I suspect I not only appear rude when I take so long to listen to someone talking to me, but also a tad nuts with how often I seem to be frantically tapping my iPhone. And, heaven forbid that I have left my iPhone on my comfy chair arm when I step into the kitchen. If I need to stop the music or answer a call, I have to quickly run back down a short flight of stairs to my living room, grab up the phone and tap-tap-tap-tap until the magic happens. I also have to hope that I will not plow down my poor spouse or dog as I make the mad dash.

And, that's not all! Right now, with my hearing aids, I have to talk into the bottom of my iPhone as my particular brand of hearing aids will not use one of their onboard mics to pick up my voice for the call. I know of one brand that will do that, but have never tried them out. Gee, for the kind of money we spend on our hearing aids, a little two-way communication seems ever so reasonable for this technology.

I'd also like to be able to lower the volume of music playing so that VoiceOver output could actually be louder. There is a very limited capacity to change this on the iPhone, but I'd like even greater control. I'd like music to be really soft in the background and VoiceOver still comfortably loud reading my email. Ducking is useful, but not the solution in this case. That desired feature enhancement, I think, belongs to Apple. And, while I am talking about sound levels, wouldn't it be cool if you could be listening to the voice menu at your local pharmacy and then, as it continues to remind you to hang up and dial 911 or press some other key, if you could actually hear VoiceOver say the name of the buttons as they pass beneath your fingertips? Just asking...

Like the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, I sure would love it if my hearing aids could tell my music and book software to skip forward or skip back. And, just to reiterate, Play and Pause would be grand, too. And, even though I own an AppleWatch, I do not find it a reasonable substitute for quick actions as I have to hear VoiceOver to know when I have finally found the right buttons to press.

I really do love my hearing aids, and I really do love my iPhone 12 mini. I also love both my AirPods Pro and my AirPods Max. I'm a loving sort of guy. Even so, I just want everything to work together so much more smoothly.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a perfect set of devices that makes you deeply happy? Please leave your thoughts about hearing aids and your iPhone in the comments section below.

If you'd rather mention your favorite red wine, that is my backup solution.


This is my twenty-seventh blog for AppleVis. Previous contributions include "Think Dainty: The iPhone 12 mini Kicks Butt," "A Dozen Dozen: Dreaming of iPhone 12 and iOS 14," and "Staying Home: Already A Pro."

And, dear friends, please stay safe and stay healthy.

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Comments

Submitted by Oliver Kennett on Thursday, October 7, 2021

How do features such as transparency mode on max and pro, and the new conversation boost on pro compare with your hearing aids?

I suspect, like with any product that isn't mass market, from hearing aids to pro musical instruments, there are diminishing returns on what you pay. Still, if it is even a slight improvement on quality of life (within reason), it's worth it. :)

Submitted by Roxann Pollard on Thursday, October 7, 2021

Oh my, Morgan. Symultaneously laughing myself silly and very frustrated, shaking my head in disbelief that you are experiencing these sort of absurd issues, in 2021. Wow! I am always amuse whenever I get to read something from your desk. It's unbelieveable that these sort of seemingly basic things are still not working together. You would think that, in our present age of tech, none of these problems would even exist anymore. I mean, if Captain Kirk himself is going into real outer space next week, it shouldn't be so hard to get all these communication barriers fixed. I guess those who creat the tech don't need the tech, therefore, people such as yourself and many others are left frantically grabbing for the offending piece of tech, all the while telling your guide dog that you are sorry you just ran him over again. Then, next, you find yourself having to buy your wife flowers and chocolate, once again, because you also piled into her, along the way, knocking her flat yet again, while still grabbing for the techno-jam.

Heres hoping that somebody gets a clew and fixes these ridiculous issues that you deal with, so that you can simply use the tech that you dropped a mortgage payment on the counter for.

Please keep writing. I smile and laugh every time I read.

Be blessed.

Submitted by Travis Roth on Thursday, October 7, 2021

Hi Morgan,
I also have an iPhone 12 Mini. My hearing aids are Starkey so not the same manufacturer. I have not experienced the call audio switching bug (knock on wood!) and that does sound terrible. I had a thought: have you tried changing the settings for Audio Routing? I use Automatic which is the default, but perhaps change it to Always Hearing Devices? Btw, if your hearing aids happen to not be connected, Always isn't really Always and sends it back to the speaker. See Settings.Accessibility.Hearing Devices.Audio Routing.
As for directionality as I'm sure you know there are a couple of possibilities. The best case scenario is possibly one of the mics on the aids is malfunctioning a bit and confusing the aid. Sadly more likely is a change in actual hearing. I'd recommend a new hearing test. Possibly the aids can be programmed to treat the change, or perhaps a new more powerful model will be needed. Yeah, gut punch to the wallet.

Submitted by Angelo on Thursday, October 7, 2021

I have a pair of Phonak Paradise aids and they seem to address many of your issues. First of all these are not MFI aids but I use them with both an iPhone and iPad. The aids connect very well with both. The aids automatically connect to whichever device I'm using at the moment, switching seamlessly to my phone when a call comes in. Then all I need to do is tap my left ear twice to answer the call, and when done tapp again to hang up. The right ear controls play and pause of whatever I'm listening/watching . Really comes in handy when my phone is out of reach or my hands are full and tapping the side of my head with the back of my hand ptoggles the play. One issue though is that pausing audio also mutes voiceover but volume up or down on the aid unmutes. Another feature I really enjoy is stellar noise cancelling on the aids. While listening to audio, I can raise the volume using the button on the aids and ambient sound decreases until it near disappears. Phonak, I hear (hah!), is coming out with an upgrade where the killer feature is ability to use the aids in the shower or in the pool.

Oliver,

I have gotten the new Transparency Mode to work on my AirPods Pro and it does not work as well as my hearing aids, but I can see how they can enhance my hearing under some circumstances. Of course, I just got the new firmware on the AirPods Pro yesterday, so I need much more time to get them balanced just right for me. I'm really glad that Apple is making this effort. I really enjoy my AirPods Pro and AirPods Max for their own feature sets. Another nice, nice thing about my hearing aids is that they (almost) never get in the way. With more than a year of regular practice, I can slip on or off a mask without dislodging them.

Thanks for your note!

Roxann,

My wife and I were so glad that you found this latest blog and sent along a comment. It always means a lot to us when we hear from you. I hope all has gone well for you during this viral calamity.

Thanks for your thoughts on the tech that we really wish would work better together. Of course, if that ever happens, I won't have anything to write about.

Although I have been absent from doing much writing of late, I have continued to read AppleVis on a daily basis. And, I am hoping that I can get back to more frequent postings. I really enjoy being a part of this community.

I frequently think of the time I spent in Mount Pleasant in the 1950s and 1960s and now associate that town with you, too. I hope you continue to do well.

Now, time for a glass of Cabernet!

Warm wishes from Texas,

Morgan

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Saturday, October 9, 2021

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

In reply to by Travis Roth

Dear Travis,

Thanks for all the thoughtful feedback. I did note that you were a Starkey user, and it was actually a Starkey user that first convinced me that it was time to look at hearing aids. Although I ended up with Oticon, I started out this adventure by looking into your brand.

I have tried the setting changes you suggested and I think the problem persists. I suspect, but am unsure, that these hiccups started when the manufacturer swapped out my pair of hearing aids. They were still working, but not well, the battery doors were getting loose and I was regularly listening to a lot of beeping indicating some sort of error condition. Although just a guess, I'm thinking it boils down to some change in the instruments over which I had no control. I'm just waiting to hear back.

The directional difficulty could be a change in my hearing, but I was tested again recently and my hearing has been pretty stable through the pandemic. I know that my hearing aids can be configured to be set to present all sound at equal levels, which would goof up the ability to sense the direction of sound, and perhaps that setting was inadvertently left turned on. Sadly, I know of no way to check that setting or modify it. Hopefully, in the next week or so, I will know more

I am also starting the search for the next great set of hearing aids. I am not tied to a particular brand, rather I just want better hearing and much better integration with my iPhone 12 mini.

And, I see you have the same kind of iPhone. It does take more attention to charging, but I absolutely love the smaller footprint. A very sweet iPhone.

Again, thank you for your help.

Best wishes,

Morgan

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Sunday, October 10, 2021

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

In reply to by Angelo

Angelo,

What a great note from you. Although I have never worn Phonak hearing aids, I have heard them discussed before and it sounds like they have really added some incredibly useful features. I've actually spent a fair amount of time looking into these aids since I got your message. It sounds like you have to use the rechargeable model to get the tapping feature, but I wonder if the batteries would hold up for an entire day as I use my hearing aids all the time with my iPhone. I use my iPhone as my primary computer and I read a lot. How do you find the battery life on your Phonak hearing aids?

Thanks again for your thoughtful, and very useful, reply.

Best wishes,

Morgan

Submitted by Ramy on Sunday, October 10, 2021

Am using Phonak here, but i can not remember there exact series, am using them with compilot, it's like a remote control that is responsible for connecting my Hearing aids to my phone, they are always working with some lags, but they are working.
THe only thing now, is that,in the past, my 2 Hearing aids were connected to my phone, this is ok for me to listen to music and playing games, but it's very bad on street, because i need to listen to the GPS with just 1 ear, tried to do this from my Iphone but failed to do, so i asked the Company to pair only 1 hearing aid to my phone, it's working now, but i can not listen to music in my 2 Hearing aids through my COmpilot remote control, if i can find a way to tell my Iphone to send sound in 1 ear or 2 ears, it will be great to do so, specially now, even calls still in my 2 ears, and i hope to have calls only in 1 ear, is it possible?

You're very welcome Morgan. I am constantly streaming, be it voiceover, audiobooks, music, podcasts, etc. and I'll get about fourteen hours before getting the low power signal, which means I have about half an hour to charge. I have backup aids and then it's just a matter of charging the Paradise for 15 minutes for every two hours more I'll think I'll need them. I'm happy to answer any other questions you might have.

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Monday, October 11, 2021

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

In reply to by Ramy

Ramy,

You posed a great question. Unfortunately, I've never worn Phonak hearing aids and do not know the answer. However, with the reader comments about Phonak attached to this blog, my interest in them has been rekindled. I've already talked to an audiologist today about a trial with the Phonak Paradise P90 aids so that I can find out how well they might integrate with my iPhone 12 mini. I know they are not MFi (Made for iPhone) hearing aids and I'm wondering if I will notice any differences in use. So, once I get to try them out, I may yet figure out the question you asked.

For now, I'd suggest you check with your audiologist or hearing aid specialist to see if your Phonak devices can be set up to switch from one ear streaming, to both, and then back to one again, all at will. I agree that it would be really handy!

I very much appreciate your writing. Thank you.

Best wishes,

Morgan

Hi Morgan,
Not sure if you have seen the latest announcements, Phonak has just came out with Audeo Life. According to Doctor Cliff on YouTube if I understood him correctly these are an update to the Paradise platform. So, just be sure to get the latest and greatest when you get to do trials!

Thanks so much for your information, however i hope if we can do this through the Iphone itself?
is it possible?

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

In reply to by Angelo

Angelo,

It sounds like you use your hearing aids in much the same way I do. Thank you. This is exactly the kind of real-world info that I needed. I really appreciate your candid feedback.

Best wishes,

Morgan

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

In reply to by Travis Roth

Travis,

This is fun. I had not heard of the new enhancements to the Phonak Paradise hearing aids, but I've sure been looking into them now. Thank you! Now, to find out how these work with my iPhone 12 mini and my Apple Watch.

Cheers,

Morgan