Noopl is designed to help people who struggle to hear clearly while having face-to-face conversations in noisy environments. This is an issue for millions of people.
It can happen whether or not you've been diagnosed with hearing loss. And it's an issue even for many people who use using medical hearing devices (hearing aids or cochlear implants).
So if Noopl can help in a challenging environment (one where there is a lot of background noise), why don't you recommend it for use in quiet settings?
How audio gets from your iPhone to your ears
It's helpful to keep in mind how audio gets from your iPhone to your ear-level device (whether that's an earbud, headset, hearing aid, or cochlear implant). Your iPhone uses Bluetooth to stream audio to your ear-level device. The audio itself — music, videos, audiobooks, and Noopl — has no control over how fast the audio is transmitted via Bluetooth. That transmission is entirely dependent on the iPhone and the ear-level device.
There is some amount of delay or "latency" in the Bluetooth transmission. Latency is another way of saying delay. In the implementation of Bluetooth that Apple uses with their own earbuds and headsets as well as with "Made for iPhone" (MFi) hearing devices, that delay is about 90 milliseconds.
There are times when you don't notice that delay. For example, if you press play on your iPhone to start a song or a podcast, you don't realize that there was a 90-millisecond delay until the audio started playing in your ears.
But playing back recorded audio is much different than using Bluetooth in a live setting where the source of the audio is a person talking to you.
How this affects Noopl
Let's use two scenarios to illustrate:
1. Using Noopl to watch TV
Imagine a couple where one of them has trouble hearing the TV at normal volume. For the person who has trouble hearing, they need the volume much higher than someone with normal hearing. And it can be tough to find a volume that's comfortable for them both. Now imagine that someone orders Noopl to help while watching TV. Keep in mind that using Noopl in a quiet setting (like at home) isn't its purpose.
The person using Noopl will likely say they are hearing the sound from the TV echoing (some use the word "feedback"). What's happening is that they are hearing some of the TV sound reaching their ears directly. And then they are hearing the TV sound which is picked up by the Noopl microphones, processed by the Noopl Listen app, and then streamed by the iPhone to their earbuds. The sound streaming from the iPhone will be subject to Bluetooth latency, so it arrives 90 or so milliseconds after the direct TV sound. For many people, that's too annoying to be useful.
So in the scenario of using Noopl in a quiet location with live audio, Noopl generally isn't a good solution.
2. Using Noopl at a busy restaurant
Now imagine that a couple goes out to dinner at a busy restaurant. This is the type of location where even with hearing aids, one of them has trouble clearly hearing their partner's voice amidst all of the noise around them.
This is a case where latency doesn't matter since the entire hearing problem they have is defined as not being able to hear their partner's voice directly anyway. So the background noise is masking the voice they want to hear. When using Noopl, this means that the only voice they hear clearly is the sound that has been picked up by Noopl's microphones, processed by the Noopl Listen app, and then streamed from the iPhone to their hearing aids.
Is there anything that can be done?
As we can all attest to, technology improves over time. On the horizon is Bluetooth 5.2, a new version of the specification. One of the primary improvements is to audio, which should significantly reduce the latency of audio streaming.
Remember that Bluetooth audio streaming is handled by the phone (which is transmitting the audio signal) and the earbuds/hearing devices (which are receiving and decoding the audio signal). Once Bluetooth 5.2 is adopted and implemented by phone and ear-level device manufacturers, then Noopl can become more useful in scenarios where people need help hearing better in quiet.
A word about hearing healthcare
Noopl can be a useful tool for people. It can make people comfortable getting into social situations that they had retreated from due to the frustrations of not being able to hear and participate.
We believe that hearing healthcare should be an important part of everyone's healthcare. Regular hearing screenings are critical. And since there are multiple causes of hearing loss, a hearing health professional should be consulted to find the proper treatment.
If you have any questions about Noopl — let us know, we're here to help.