In advance of an expected new iPhone announcement on September 10, Apple filed a trademark request for “Live Listen” last week. The trademark application doesn’t provide details on the usage of Live Listen but instead lists out a myriad of potential device uses explaining one particular usage.
“Live Listen helps the iPhone to act as another microphone to catch sound and send it to your hearing aids. My audiologist said that if it worked as advertised that it could save someone about $250 in expenses for a similar piece of equipment. I have tried triple clicking the home button to bring this option up, but no matter if I turn the hearing aid button on or off on the hearing aid options screen, my VoiceOver toggles on/off.”
I checked the Accessibility settings on my iPhone 4S which is running the version of iOS 6.1.3and sure enough, I see the Live Listen feature mentioned. I tried to connect the iPhone to a Bluetooth enabled hearing aid and even to a Bluetooth enabled hearing device with no luck. So I cannot say for certain Live Listen is even working. Moreover, there is no indication in the Google Groups threads that Merritt was able to get it working either.
Filing a trademark for Live Listen doesn’t mean it will suddenly be enabled with iOS7 and the newest iPhone, but it’s not an unreasonable expectation either. So it is possible that by next month folks with Bluetooth hearing aids will be able to use their handset as a secondary microphone for better sound reception.
As a hearing healthcare provider I do have a questions about how Live Listen would actually work. Hearing aids cannot catch a Bluetooth signal on their own – they all need some sort of “streaming” device. At this time every hearing aid manufacturer (Phonak, Unitron, Oticon, ReSound, Starkey, etc.) has their own way of transferring the signal from the source (your phone) to the hearing aid and none of the manufacturer’s transferring devices are compatible with other manufacturers’ products. So how will Apple be able to “stream” sound from an iPhone to every manufacturer’s hearing aids?
And based on the vague uses for Live Listen I the trademark application, it’s possible that the feature goes beyond hearing aids. Third party hardware or Apple TV could gain a listening feature for voice control, for example. Or, maybe Live Listen will come to Siri and she’ll be waiting for your spoken command, just like the new Touchless Control function on the Motorola Moto X handset.