Phones are continually getting smaller—the paper-clip sized phone that Derek uses in Zoolander was more than a joke, it was prescient.
But phone size and design are finally hitting a wall—the technology required simply can't get much smaller. (Well, at least until the quantum computer becomes a common reality.) However, Apple is forging a way to make the "hearing" part of a phone nearly invisible. How? By linking up with hearing aids.
Apple developed the Bluetooth protocol for hearing aids last year and this allows streaming audio and data delivered to the hearing aid. Here is the initial benefit for those already using hearing aids: ReSound and Starkey—makers of hearing aids—are using the iPhone as a platform that allows users to have some kind of an interface for the protheses.
Think about it: The thing is so tiny, it's impossible to have all buttons required to control and manipulate sound levels. Sure most current hearing aids have settings that automatically change with environments but they are woefully inaccurate at times (i.e., for a hearing aid wearer, having a conversation in a crowded room is painfully different from having that same conversation a quiet living room.) So these companies developed iPhone apps for the user to control the device without having to consult with an audiologist. Also—and this is really interesting—partnering with an iPhone provides the user with the added value of the iPhone's directional microphone. This option can make hearing the voice of a friend in a crowded restaurant a lot more easy and pleasant.
Of course the companies, and Apple, intend for a market where those with perfect hearing might also wear the hearing aid, as a nearly invisible, wireless headphone. (Wireless headphones are increasing in popularity, as a recent startup Bragi raised $3.3 million on Kickstarter, for their wireless headphones that do more than provide sound, they also track heart rate, and other body metrics.)
The new hearing aids will run about the same price as top-end hearing aids, costing as much as $3,000 per piece.
On a final, somewhat creepy note, ReSound is planning to bring the same tech to cochlear implants. If this takes hold it may mark the early days of mainstream adoption of brain-computer interfaces, also known as mind-controlled devices.