Apple's streaming calls into Julia's head and it's changed her life

Julia Sattout, who has hearing loss, said the Apple-Cochlear sound processor has changed her life.
Julia Sattout, who has hearing loss, said the Apple-Cochlear sound processor has changed her life.
Uaealesi Faatoia, 12, after recieving a special hearing aid, (pictured with his father, Viiga Faatoia), both who are from Samoa. Pictured at Westmead Private Hospital, Sydney. Photo: Peter Rae Thursday 19 May 2011.

Uaealesi Faatoia, 12, after recieving a special hearing aid, (pictured with his father, Viiga Faatoia), both who are from Samoa. Pictured at Westmead Private Hospital, Sydney. Photo: Peter Rae Thursday 19 May 2011.

When Julia Sattout had a Cochlear device implanted in her head five years ago, it didn't just restore her ability to hear again, it saved her career as a lawyer.

But there was one anxiety-inducing problem. Despite using the latest accessories, the simple task of picking up a call on her mobile phone often proved difficult.

"At one point I had a double adaptor, so I had a coil hooked over my right ear and an audio cable I had to plug into my sound processor," said Ms Sattout, 45 of Concord West.

"So when someone rang me, like a client, it was like, plug this in, plug this in, and by the time I was ready, I had missed the call."

Now, thanks to the first device born out of a collaboration between implant maker Cochlear and tech giant Apple, phone calls and music can be directly streamed from an iPhone straight to the Cochlear implant.

Cochlear's latest sound processor, called Nucleus 7, is its first "Made for iPhone" device and the latest example of how innovation can bridge the digital divide and not leave people with disabilities behind.

Almost half a million people worldwide have now been fitted with a Cochlear implant, which has two main components - the implant inside the head and the sound processor that sits behind the ear.

The sound processor picks up speech and sends digital information to the implant, which stimulates the auditory nerve. The processor is the component that has been given a technological overhaul.

Cochlear has made the sound processor smaller, lighter, and compatible with iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches.

"It's like you and I wearing a Bluetooth headset, but instead of going to the headset it's going straight to the sound processor," said Jan Janssen Cochlear's chief technology officer.

"It means when they're getting a call, watching Netflix or directions from a navigation app, they don't have to worry about cables and accessories. They can pick up the phone normally."

Cochlear has also made a new app, called Nucleus Smart, which allows users to control, monitor and customise their hearing via their iPhone.

The app includes a feature called "Find My Processor", which will be a relief for parents with a child who is prone to losing the external sound processor.

It's received Therapeutic Goods Administration approval and is now available for those with severe to profound hearing loss. The cost is usually reimbursed.

Unaddressed hearing loss can impact many aspects of life, from speech development to career progression. It is associated with depression, dementia and increased risk of poor health, as well as unemployment.

Ms Sattout, who trialled the device, described it as "life-changing" as she can now pick up calls normally, listen to podcasts, and even start learning French again.

"I did Skype lessons with a woman in Paris and I went to Paris and I feel like my whole life has opened up," she said.

"I can listen to the radio again and especially love Conversations with Richard Fidler because everyone speaks clearly and not on top of each other."

Renowned Cochlear implant surgeon, Associate Professor Catherine Birman, said it was fantastic the iPhone can act as a microphone.

"You could put the phone on a table closer to your friends in a loud restaurant and it picks up the sound and Bluetooths it to your speech processor, so it's like you're a foot or two closer to them," she said.

She said while sound processors were always becoming better, smaller and lighter, this announcement was significant.

"This is a profound change in that the ability to hear is much more in the hands of the patient, it gives them greater control over their hearing experience, rather than an audiologist just setting it," she said.

While Cochlear is the first to use the new system, Apple is reportedly offering the technology free to qualified manufacturers.

Apple's main competitor, Google, which runs Android, is understood to be focusing on captioning rather than hearing aid support.

This story Apple's streaming calls into Julia's head and it's changed her life first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.