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iPhone as Hearing Aid?

A new application for iPhone and iPod Touch called soundAMP claims to be the “first assistive application that turns your iPhone and iPod touch into an interactive hearing device”. Its description includes that “soundAMP improves your hearing, whether or not you have hearing loss”. Released on June 11, 2009, this app joins a host of other similar apps including iHearClear and SpyApps - Listen Up that beg the question of whether iPhones will replace traditional hearing aids.

As the name implies, soundAMP is an amplifier. Meant to work optimally with headphones or earbuds, soundAMP’s simple display allows the user to increase the volume of sound coming into the device’s microphone (or the user’s headset microphone). In addition, a tone control with four settings allows the user to select amplification with a flat response, or using three additional slope settings to amplify only mid-high frequencies. With the repeat feature, the user can tap the device to play back up to the last 30 seconds of incoming sound, if part of a conversation is missed.

Those familiar with the sophisticated signal processing of modern hearing aids and the required customization and counseling necessary for real benefit and satisfaction are not the target market for this app. However, soundAMP’s bold marketing language certainly may intrigue those who have yet to try hearing aids. Its description includes statements such as: “For those of you with hearing loss, soundAMP reawakens your sense of hearing; sounds come to life, and you hear better again”. Heck, it even cares about you, “We hope it helps you in a variety of situations, including lecture halls, restaurants, coffee shops, at home talking with family and friends…”

Does it work? It does amplify sound, much like using a volume control or a cheap personal sound amplifier. Its reviews are mixed – with half calling it “junk”, “not worth it” and “disappointed” and the other half positive with reviews such as “worth the price” ($9.99). Will it replace today’s hearing aids?  No chance, given that today’s hearing aids are much more than simple amplifiers and are proven to improve quality of life.  Let’s hope, however, that it does help initiate discussion of hearing and hearing problems among those who care about their hearing, and motivate people to seek qualified treatment and real solutions through hearing care professionals.

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