Jul 31, 2017

A Cochlear implant that talks to an iPhone

Rachel Waterman, calling her dad, using the made-for-iPhone Cochlear implant for the first time. Ina Fried / Axios

This week, the company behind the Cochlear implant announced a new version of its processor that connects wirelessly to an iPhone. That means anything on the phone — calls, movies on Netflix or songs from iTunes — get streamed right into the ear of those with severe to profound hearing loss.

Why it matters: The new Cochlear-iPhone connection highlights one of the most important trends in the mobile industry. Whereas once it was all about the changes being made to the phone itself, now even basic smartphones are so powerful that the most impactful innovation is coming from all the things that connect to the phone. Medical devices, which typically take longer to come to market because of regulatory approval, but promise to shift this from matters of convenience to improving and ultimately extending life.

Two testimonies:

  • On Saturday, I watched as 23-year-old Rachel Waterman swapped her old processor for the new one and hit play on her favorite song, Dirtwire's Sailing the Social Shore. "It just sounds like I have the musician right in my ear playing it for me personally," Waterman said at the Apple Store in San Francisco's Union Square. "This is...wow." She also called her dad and heard him in a way she never had been able before. "It's working amazingly."
  • Mathias Bahnmueller, who works in the auto industry in Detroit, has been using it for four months now. To him the most important part is being able to hear his teenage daughter for the first time. Too often if he made her repeat things she would just say "forget it" or "never mind" and he'd miss out. Now, on work trips he can not only call, but FaceTime.

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