Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I Have Been Meaning To Post About This For Some Time

For all that I make fun of iPhones and the other smart phones, but especially the narcissism that they seem to encourage (or perhaps just amplify) there are things that they do that have to count in the life changing, make the world better category.  There are programs that run on your iPhone that let you plug earphones into it, and amplifies sounds.  One of my wife's students who was very nearly deaf used this a couple of semesters back.  It made it possible for him to hear and understand her lectures.  He described it as life changing. describes some of these applications that you can buy and install on your iPhone; the most expensive of them is $4.99.  Ear Machine sounds like it might be the app he was using: it is $3.99.


asdf said...

I have to ask. Why not hearing aids? Is it the price? 3.99 is cheap, but you can't use it all day.

Clayton Cramer said...

Hearing aids have traditionally been expensive and poor quality -- perhaps the digital age finally caught up with them. I don't know how these apps work, but I would hope that they give you graphic equalizer type control so that you can adjust volume per frequency range. That is not something that traditional hearing aids could do.

w said...

I don't use hearing aids, but if you do some research you will find they are extremely expensive. There has been some movement to create an industry of affordable devices to circumvent the high price/proprietary industry. Apparently government regulation may be playing a role in keeping the prices high!


PhaseMargin said...

A set of leading edge hearing aids can cost $5000. A set of "hunter's ears" that can do more is about $300. Yes, both have graphics equalizers and various bands, etc. DSP is a wonderful thing and pretty cheap these days.

The difference between the two is that the first are "medical devices" dispensed and tuned by audiologists, while the second are consumer devices.

This is not to say that the medical guys are making a killing, but to point out that the way the system is structured adds huge costs. A medical device can only be dispensed by an approved medical professional at additional cost. It also has to undergo a huge number of tests conducted and supervised by medical doctors, a mountain of paperwork from regulatory agencies, and a huge amount of legal work to get everything done. To get a feel for how things work, the budget to develop a pacemaker hardware and software is much less than 10% of the overall cost of taking the device to market. And if everything goes perfectly in trials, and if the FDA is on top of everything and nobody complains, you might only take eight years between when development stopped and production begins. And of course you have to keep the design team around the whole time in case there are changes needed, huge amounts of documentation required in the development, etc. There's a lot of overhead in medical device companies for that reason.

So yes, it is extremely expensive to put out a medical gadget. Throw in the fact that with centralized medicine in most of the developed world that won't pay for R&D and regulatory approval costs and you get the entire budget for most medical devices paid for by US consumers, adding to the price.

The student you're talking about probably didn't have insurance and was exposed to the full cost of the device and system. He routed around the problem by reusing hardware he already owned. There are dangers in this like improper equalization and over-volume limits, but it's what he could afford.

(Discussions about the practical and budgetary implications of adding millions of newly insured folks to a gold-plated medical device market are left for others.)

Rob K said...

Another thing about them that I think is life changing, is the ability to have real time location and mapping, and the ability to discover nearby services. That's probably the biggest reason my wife wanted a smart phone.

jdunmyer said...

I got an iPhone just a couple of months ago, and I'm rapidly getting used to the features:

The Weather Channel app.
Gas Buddy
Easy texting
Bluetooth connection to my car's audio systems, even though I seldom use the phone in the car
The flashlight
Just getting started with the camera
Maps & navigation.

But yeah, it's $100.00/month instead of the <$9.00 of my old TracFone.