Say What? : Hearing Aids, iPhones and My Apple Watch

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Don and I met during college Orientation in late July 1972. He was 18 and I was 17. Don was blind and I was heading in that direction. I have retinitis pigmentosa and had already lost my night vision. Don and I saw advantages to becoming roommates. He would teach me essential future blindness skills and, per his request, I would hide his bottle of Southern Comfort.

I started my university career with a serious problem. After the sun set, I could not find my way from my dorm in the northeast part of campus, to the dorm located on the southwest corner. This was terrible! The Freshman Girls Dorm was calling to me, and I was stuck. When it was dark, I wasn’t going anywhere.

In desperation, I bought a cheap wooden walking cane, which was way too short and only meant for appearing dapper. I tried to traverse the campus at night and only succeeded in walking with the slow and erratic gait of an inebriated toddler, slipping regularly off the sidewalk and looking very uncool.

Don was either embarrassed or took pity on me. He gave me my first white cane and tossed in some free mobility lessons. Before long, I was tap, tap, tapping my way to the girl’s dorm. My cane technique wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t elegant, but it worked. My delicate male ego was saved.

What I recognized in Don’s kindness was the utility of being prepared for inevitable changes in my vision. I learned Braille before it was absolutely needed and I mastered cane travel. I could do square roots on an abacus and I learned to love audio books before the lights completely dimmed. Because of my friend, I was fully prepared for the visual changes that followed.

Ah, had I only applied those lessons to the rest of my life. I subsequently failed to prepare myself for a different sensory change. Over the last couple of years, I have become increasingly aware that my wife of nearly forty years was beginning to mumble. Poor lady. I got used to saying that I could not hear her and that it would help if she spoke directly to me. Still, I could generally make sense of her words if I was in close proximity and everything else was quiet.

Amazingly, I noticed that other people in stores, at church and definitely in restaurants were frequently garbling their words too. Even Don was mumbling, but I could write that off on his age, or the wine we had been sharing for decades. I was surprised that people no longer articulated clearly.

On the off chance that the distorted audio quality of the world might have something to do with me, I visited an ear doctor, who then suggested that I go see an audiologist. At least that is what I think he said.

The hearing test I was given indicated that I could no longer hear sounds in the upper registers. And, lower pitched noises had also been impacted. Realizing that I might be a candidate for hearing aids, I reached out to people my own age and asked if they knew anything about them. A whole lot of them did. A whole lot of them already wore hearing aids.

I called a dear friend in California who also happens to be blind. She knows a lot about recent technology and I asked her what she might have heard about hearing aids. I should have known. She is six months older than me, so of course she already wore a pair. She loved them! She wore the Starkey Halo hearing aids and her husband loved them too. He no longer needs to repeat himself incessantly.

With her hearing aids, she could once again hear the full range of sounds and voices that had slowly faded away. However, our conversation focused on something even more important. What we discussed the most was how her hearing aids were always connected to her iPhone. VoiceOver was sent to her hearing aids. Music, email and messages were all audible through her hearing aids. Everything she did with her iPhone was sent via Bluetooth to her Made for iPhone hearing aids. Her hearing aids were discrete and hidden away. No more AirPods or wires hanging from her head. She could hear both the world and her iPhone anywhere and at any time.

I began to hope that the connectivity would stretch even further. I asked my friend if she was also able to attach her Apple Watch to the hearing aids, but that did not work. Even so, she could much more easily hear her watch and that was good enough for her.

My audiologist and I are well matched. She is smart and willing to put up with me. Very helpful personal characteristics. She is also very likeable. All I wanted from her was total restoration of normal hearing and perfect connectivity to my iPhone and my Apple Watch. That seemed simple enough. However, she wanted to focus on the real voices around me, like hearing my wife and friends. What? I wanted my hearing aids to connect seamlessly to my iPhone and Apple Watch so that I could listen to books, phone calls, music, podcasts and my writing apps without ever having to pick up AirPods, BeatsX headphones or my Bose Frames. I was ready to become the Bionic Man or assimilated into the Borg collective. I am Morgan, I am Geek.

She promised that we would work on both ambient sound and my gadgets. By pure chance, I was outfitted with my first pair of hearing aids on Don's 65th birthday. That first set, a demo pair for me to evaluate, were the Widex Evoke 440 Fusion 2 hearing aids. She offered to let me try them out for a couple weeks and she did connect them to my iPhone. It was amazing! I had no idea we had songbirds in my neighborhood, and I was surprised by the symphony of crickets at night. I also discovered that my wife was suddenly so much easier to understand.

However, I was underwhelmed by how this particular pair of Widex hearing aids performed with my iPhone 8. Latency was a problem and so was the occasional clipping off of initial syllables when VoiceOver began to speak. I found myself wishing for my very responsive AirPods. It was obvious, early on, that I would not be happy with hearing aids that made me wait for those grueling fractions of a second from when I interacted with the iPhone screen until I would belatedly hear VoiceOver. I also found that all of my Bluetooth keyboards interfered with my hearing aids, causing a significant amount of crackling. The final nail was driven in by the less than stellar accessibility of the Widex iPhone app. These Widex hearing aids were not going to cut it.

Ever patient and pleasant, my audiologist loaned me a pair of Made for iPhone Oticon hearing aids. This set was magnificent from the start. I could hear voices even more clearly in really noisy situations. I also enjoyed an excellent sense of where sounds were originating, which was critical to my safe mobility. And, latency was no longer an issue with my iPhone. The app was reasonably accessible and I felt like a man with super hearing. Over the multi-week trial, I heard that Oticon had just introduced a new version of the very aids I was wearing, so I took a chance. I purchased their latest model and fell in love when they arrived. They are the "Oticon Opn S 1 miniRITE" hearing aids.

My Oticon hearing aids are great with my iPhone, but no one could tell me how to also connect my Apple Watch. When I first received my new hearing aids, I asked my audiologist to please contact the company and see if I could establish an internal technical contact at Oticon with whom I could directly communicate. I thought that my 30 years in university academic and research computing might be helpful to both Oticon and me. I know my audiologist gave it her best shot. Unfortunately, all Oticon offered was a marketing contact. No thanks, I can read sales brochures all by myself.

Even without their help, I was on a mission. I found an accessory sold by Oticon called the "Connect Clip." It is one way to let other Bluetooth devices talk to your Oticon hearing aids. I could not find any reference or documentation suggesting it would work with the Apple Watch, but I was desperate. I shelled out the $225 to order this tiny little clip-on device that might or might not be useful for something. When it arrived, I picked it up from my audiologist and tried to connect it to my Apple Watch. In short order, I could hear my watch through the hearing aids. If I immediately then did something on my iPhone, I could hear it, too. Once connected, I can just go through my day listening to both my iPhone and my Apple Watch, all through my hearing aids. During the day, I carry the Connect Clip in my front pants pocket. At night, I recharge the Connect Clip with a micro USB cable. The Connect Clip uses LEDs to indicate its state, but I have memorized which buttons need pressing and for how long. It works. I have also found a way to hook up a spare iPhone running the latest iOS Beta software and use both iPhones with my hearing aids at the same time. Life is sweet.

As with any technology, the Oticon hearing aids are not perfect. Bluetooth keyboard interference is still a problem, but rebooting the hearing aids usually quiets the crackling. That takes about 15 seconds. And, if you just turn off your Bluetooth keyboard, the problem disappears. There are other times when only the left or right hearing aid will be communicating with my iPhone. This generally self-corrects quickly, but I created a little Siri shortcut that turns off and then immediately turns on Bluetooth services. It seems to help. The bottom line for me is that I hear the real world considerably better and am truly pleased with the hearing aid connectivity with both my iPhone and my Apple Watch.

I go out to dinner with friends every week and I can now hear all of them. I thoroughly enjoy my reading, writing and research when listening to my iPhone through my hearing aids. With all the work that I make my hearing aids perform, I still get four full days of hearing aid use on each battery.

I also discovered just how beautifully my old roommate still played his guitar. After I received my new Oticon hearing aids, Don's music was even crisper, fuller and clearer. Simply wonderful.

I've heard that hearing loss is often just another part of getting older. I would have liked to be a bit more aware of the change before I could no longer easily hear my spouse, but it sure is nice to be fully engaged again. Some of the changes that happen when we age cannot be easily addressed, but hearing better is one where there is such a delightful and rewarding fix. I enjoy my hearing aids. Sounds good to me.

Epilogue:

As was our regular custom, my wife and I visited Don at his nearby home on June 8 this year and spent the evening watching an old "Kung Fu" TV episode, enjoying some Whitney Houston, reminiscing about his late wife, and then I listened to my spouse and Don singing with the Marty Robbins recording of "El Paso." Shortly after we left that evening, Don McDowell gently passed away in his sleep. I wish that everyone could enjoy, as I did, such a glorious friendship for nearly 47 years. Life is best when you can share it with friends.

***

I have written 21 other blogs for AppleVis, including "Off My Chest: Confessions Of An Apple Watch Lover," "Cutting Loose: Unleashing The Power Of My iPhone 8" and "Down To Earth: My First Hundred Days With AirPods."

I would love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts below.

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17 Comments

#1 A beautiful article

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Thanks, Morgan. Not only did you provide excellent information and advice regarding hearing aids, which I desperately needed to read, but you also gave us insights into a special friendship and let us all be a small part of that. Thanks.

#2 Bluetooth and Latency

Club AppleVis Member

Hi. Nice blog!

I am getting close to upgrading my hearing aids because of latency issues I've been having. I have a few questions:

1. How long ago did you buy your hearing aids?

2. What was the price?

3. Would you give more details on any latency issues you are experiencing?

4. I have to use an external bluetooth microphone in crowded situations. How many external devices is the Connect Clip capable of handling at the same time? I would love to get a second or even a third or fourth microphone to be able to hear everyone at my dinner table when we eat out.

5. You mentioned using your Connect Clip to simultaneously connect your hearing aids with 2 iPhones. What success have you had simultaneously connecting your hearing aids to the connect clip to your iPhone and simultaneously also your MacBook or iPad or iMac computer?

Thanks for your blog, man. I await your reply with hope.

Bruce

#3 Another Blog Article

Nice article Morgan. It seems part of the challenge is there is information around here and there but it is scattered and hard to find. In addition everyone's hearing is different resulting in different needs. So what works for one might not work for another. But we keep trying.
I wanted to mention Jonathan Mosen wrote another article in this line and also discussed the Oticon OPN. Perhaps many have seen it, but in case not here is a link: https://mosen.org/nowhearthis2019/

Also for those seeking more information, do some searches on this AppleVis site, there are a few discussion threads that have valuable insight. This one in particular has some great comments about routing audio and fighting latency issues: https://www.applevis.com/forum/questions-about-using-bluetooth-hearing-a...

#4 Thanks for a great post

I have really enjoyed reading your post, especially now that I am starting the journey of looking for a hearing aid myself. Unfortunately, the audiologist I saw last week was neither knowledgeable nor patient, and it sounds like you need to start with a good audiologist. She did mention the Starkey Livio, which seems to have similar functionality to what you described with yours. It’s good to know that there are options out there, and thanks again ever so much for sharing.

#5 Thank you

Reeally loved it!!
Thanks a lot

#6 Thank you

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear Paul,

Thanks for such a kind and considerate note. I really have enjoyed the incorporation of hearing aids into my life. They are very comfortable and very effective.

I also appreciate your mention of my friend, Don. Besides being special to me and my family, he also had a computer consulting business where he helped many other blind and deaf men and women join the information age through access to all the wonderful evolving technology. He made such a difference during his time.

Wonderful hearing from you,

Morgan

#7 Answers for Bruce

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Howdy Bruce,

Thanks for the kind feedback and all the great questions. I don't know all the answers, but I'll give it a shot...

Question. How long ago did you buy your hearing aids?

Answer: I started with my first demo units on March 18, 2019. After test driving the Widex hearing aids for a couple weeks, I was given demo units of an Oticon set. I picked up my first personally owned hearing aids, the latest and greatest offering from Oticon, on April 24, 2019. (I got curious and checked old emails to find the exact date. Anniversaries are important.) My much appreciated hearing aids are the Oticon Opn S 1 miniRITE. For me, they are just what I needed.

Question. What was the price?

Answer. I have this fantasy of starring in a TV show called, "The Six Thousand Dollar Man." That is what they cost. That amount is fairly typical for fully featured hearing aids. My insurance picked up $2,000 of that expenditure.

Question. Would you give more details on any latency issues you are experiencing?

Answer: Honestly, I really do not notice any latency problems with these hearing aids. By latency, I mean any lag from when I interact with my iPhone and when I hear VoiceOver or other audible feedback. There could be some minuscule lag, as I am told exists with wireless devices like AirPods, but if it is there, it is insignificant to me. The latency with my demo Widex units was noticeable and unpleasant. Other Widex hearing aids, might have fared better.

I cannot really say if there is too much lag from when I interact with my Apple Watch, as responses have never seemed as snappy as the iPhone, with or without hearing aids.

Question. I have to use an external bluetooth microphone in crowded situations. How many external devices is the Connect Clip capable of handling at the same time? I would love to get a second or even a third or fourth microphone to be able to hear everyone at my dinner table when we eat out.

Answer: I really cannot fully answer this question, although it is a good one. Sounds like a question for Oticon or a great audiologist. I believe you can have up to eight devices recognized by the Connect Clip, but I have my doubts that it can handle more than one at a time. My only need was connectivity to my watch and once I had that working, I declared victory and poured a glass of Cabernet. I will provide additional data about support for multiple devices in my next answer.

However, I should first note that the Connect Clip will act as a remote microphone when you need one. During a recent visit to a museum, my wife clipped the device to her collar and, after I turned on the remote mike feature, she described the exhibits via the Connect Clip directly to my hearing aids. Very handy.

Question. You mentioned using your Connect Clip to simultaneously connect your hearing aids with 2 iPhones. What success have you had simultaneously connecting your hearing aids to the connect clip to your iPhone and simultaneously also your MacBook or iPad or iMac computer?

Answer: I should describe how I connect other devices to my Connect Clip. As a rule, I use the Connect Clip to make my Apple Watch talk through my hearing aids, while still allowing my iPhone to do the same. However, just like using an Apple Watch or an iPhone with AirPods, only one device will talk to your hearing aids at a time. So, if I am listening to the album, "Abbey Road" from my iPhone, I will not get any VoiceOver feedback from my watch. I can always turn on Airplane Mode on my watch to disconnect it from the Connect Clip and then it will speak aloud as expected.

To enable my spare iPhone to talk to me while still having hearing aid access to my primary iPhone, I do switch on Airplane mode on my Apple Watch and then boot up the spare iPhone. If I forget to do this and try to just switch on my spare iPhone, I get some unpleasant stuttering and lags between words. Although it may just take more research on my part to come up with a fix, I simply stick to using two devices at a time with these hearing aids.

I have not tried to use my Connect Clip with a desktop or laptop computer and I do not use an iPad.

These are not perfect answers, but it is what I know so far. Still, for what I needed right away, I am happy with the solution. However, it would be fun to stretch what it can do even further. Let me know if you hear additional information from someone else.

Thanks for the questions and feedback,

Morgan

#8 Bluetooth hearing aids in noisy environments

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

When I've paired my hearing aids to my iPhone in the past, I've had a very hard time hearing VoiceOver in any kind of noisy environment. Can you comment on any similar issues or situations?

In general, I do not pair my current hearing aids to my iPhone. If I'm in a noisy environment and need to use VoiceOver, I take my hearing aids out (they might already be out anyway if it's really noisy), pop in a pair of earbuds, and then I can hear VoiceOver just fine.

#9 Travis, thank you

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Travis,

Thanks for your helpful note. Your additional references are most welcome. I enjoyed reading about Jonathan's own evaluations with Widex and Oticon. Although I bought my hearing aids just before his own conclusions, we both had similar experiences. For us, Oticon worked out well. He has a lot of additional data in his article and it is fun reading.

Best wishes,

Morgan

#10 Re: Bluetooth Hearing Aids in Noisy Environments

Hi Paul,
I can't speak for Oticon as I have Starkey Livio. However I imagine it is similar. Since my aids' mics remain on when streaming from the iPhone, yes it can get hard to hear in noisy environments. I do have the streaming program configured to lower the mics a small amount to cut down on ambient noise without eliminating it. This is configurable by the audiologist, so in theory I could reduce it a lot or even mute the mics altogether only hearing a stream. I don't do this as it just seems to dangerous to remove all environmental noise. So if it is to noisy then for me perhaps it is just not a time to stream and I should either use Braille or get somewhere quieter.
Unfortunately my Starkey do not have multiple streaming programs so I can't have one to stream in normal environments and one to stream while muting the mics. Maybe they'll add enough memory to do this someday.
I hope this helps.

#11 Connect Clip and Apple Watch

Thanks for mentioning this. I have the connect clip, and use it for connecting to my Android phone, which I use on occasion, but I honestly never thought of connecting it to my Apple watch. I may just be doing that shortly. I've got a flight later today, and it'd be nice to have my watch go through my hearing aids. I'd like to know more about your SIRI shortcut for turning Bluetooth off and on. I just use SIRI, but if there's a faster way of doing it, and something that might be a bit more discrete if I'm in public, I'd love to know more about it.

#12 Finding the right audiologist is worth the effort

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear Zuhair,

Thanks for your kind note.

I really do think that finding a bright and patient audiologist can make the experience most helpful. And, since you are likely to need their active assistance for years, it can only help if you like them. I was lucky. I hope you keep looking for a great match. Finding the right hearing aids does take patience and experimentation.

Enjoy the journey,

Morgan

#13 Thank you Khushi

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear Khushi,

I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. Thanks for writing.

Morgan

#14 Paul, greater VoiceOver volume may be possible

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear Paul,

You mentioned in your comment above how it is so difficult to hear VoiceOver through your hearing aids in noisy environments and you asked whether I had had the same difficulty. Yes, I did. But not any more.

I tried out both Widex and Oticon hearing aids and discovered that VoiceOver was never loud enough in raucous restaurants or similar environments. Not being able to hear my iPhone made me crazy. I, too, carried around wired EarPods. Ugh! I expressed the concern to my audiologist and finally figured out, that at least with the Oticon, the ability to allow VoiceOver and streaming audio to play louder on my hearing aids was something she could set. I believe she did not originally give me greater volume control as too much sound could hurt my ears. Audiologists hate to hurt your ears. However, I convinced her that I absolutely needed the ability to make my iPhone loud enough in noisy circumstances. She made the change and now I can have my iPhone whispering in my ears or bellowing just enough to hear my iPhone talking in a cacophonous space. I'm happy now.

Unfortunately, my Apple Watch, which is connected to my hearing aids through the Connect Clip, does not give me the same range of volume control, so if I am in a very noisy place, I will have trouble hearing it. Since my iPhone works so well, I have not hunted around for a solution, but I will probably look for a fix. I sometimes leave my iPhone at home when we go to the gym, but sound from the Apple Watch through my hearing aids is not quite loud enough around a lot of clanging and rumbling exercise equipment.

Paul, by the way, I really like your own writing style. Thanks for your contributions to AppleVis.

Best wishes,

Morgan

#15 Girl's Dorm

The question did you ever explore the girl dorm? That is what about going to college. I also was lucky to meet a great friend in College but unlike your friend my died young. Still remember him and I know he is in a better place waiting for me.

#16 Apple Watch connectivity

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear cat_lover,

I used to be a cat fancier before guide dogs romped into my life. The three kitties who owned our house were called Kink, Boo Boo and Scuzz. I am not particularly known for naming cats.

On to your questions. I am incredibly private about what my devices say in public, and that includes my Apple Watch. The Connect Clip meets my need to hear my Apple Watch through my hearing aids and the iPhone works through the Made For iPhone hearing aids accessibility settings. Even so, here are some mild challenges.

The connect Clip documentation emphasizes seeing the LEDs to know how things are configured, current battery level, and what state the device is in. I memorized how many times to press particular buttons and have gotten adept at saying "One Potato, Two potato, three potato, four" to get it to link to my watch. Sometimes, the Connect Clip is having a bad day, and the old trick of forcing the watch to call up Siri by holding down the digital crown often does the same thing that calling up Siri used to do on the iPhone when you wanted your AirPods to be noticed.

I'm sorry I did not get back to you before your flight, but sadly, the loudness of most flights may be noisier than the volume you can get out of your Connect Clip. My Apple Watch is easy to hear through my hearing aids at home or in not real noisy places. However, I do have a little trouble hearing my watch in a noisy restaurant or on a flight. Although VoiceOver through my hearing aids is great from my iPhone, I still need to figure out how to boost the volume from my Apple Watch to the Connect Clip to my Oticon hearing aids. I need to do more investigating.

On the subject of my Siri shortcut. I had listened to the AppleVis podcast on creating shortcuts and decided I wanted one that I named "Flipper." All I did in the shortcut script was turn off Bluetooth and then immediately turn it back on. Like you, I prefer to be discrete in public and this Siri shortcut sometimes helps getting my hearing aids to reconnect or to stop the stuttering interference from Bluetooth keyboards. So, all I do is wake up Siri, and then say "Flipper!" and it goes to work.

I hope you do put your Connect Clip to use with your Apple Watch. I like reading messages from my watch, or going through email, or listening to books and music. When I have my Apple Watch talking only to me, I can leave my iPhone at home and still have a great information station on my wrist.

Take care,

Morgan

#17 Girl's Dorm Revisited

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear Holger,

You asked if I ever explored the girl's dorm? Alas, no. Social restrictions were considerably tighter back then. Young men were allowed to enter the lobby and to use a phone at the front desk, in front of the dorm mother, to call a young lady living there. There were , of course, curfews. Still, we might meet someone new in the lobby and start a conversation. We lived with hope.

The boys dorm was a tiny bit more lax. Once a semester, we could invite a young woman to our dorm room, but it was for only a half hour, on a particular day, at a particular time. The young lady would have to check in at the front desk and we had to leave our dorm room doors wide open. We also had to have our rooms decorated only with tasteful posters that would not call our moral scruples into question. Still, some guys looked forward to that 30 minutes a semester. I guess it was a chance to show off their tiny room that they shared with someone else. It was a different time. I don't think I ever convinced someone to drop by my room during that visitation period.

Sorry to hear of your own loss of a dear friend. I do understand.

Good to hear from you again,

Morgan