Phonak Audéo B-Direct "Made for All": a new era of connectivity

International launch

Phonak launches Audéo B-Direct
Thomas Lang, Senior Vice President Product Marketing ©D.K.

Denmark, home of Bluetooth, was the specifically chosen venue for the unveiling of the Phonak Audéo B-Direct. Hundreds of audiologists at the conference centre were joined by many more on the live streaming of the launch of a product Phonak say is Made for All.

Claude Diversi, Group Vice President Hearing Instruments Wholesale, welcomed 500 hearing care professionals from across the world to the international launch of Phonak Audéo B-Direct. More than 200 German acousticians attended the event at the conference centre of the Bella Sky hotel in Copenhagen; they were joined by their peers from Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the US and 25 hearing aid dispensers from the UK.

Diversi was joined on stage by Thomas Lang, Senior Vice President Product Marketing, and with a mixture of French and Swiss humour they launched the Phonak ‘Made for All’ hearing solution that connects to any Bluetooth enabled mobile phone. It was no accident that the Swiss manufacturer encroached on the home country of three of their rivals in Denmark for their latest product launch. The country renowned as the birthplace of Bluetooth was the perfect setting for the unveiling of the first hearing instrument that connects directly to any mobile telephone that has Bluetooth.

Phonak Audéo B-Direct, powered by the Phonak Belong technology, is built upon the new SWORD 2.4GHz radio chip. Thomas Lang said, “We had to go an extra mile in the digital age. You need a voice, but then we need a language that we understand, and the same is true for wireless communication.” He continued, “Only 10% of the world population has iPhones. There is no chip for all mobiles. So, we have developed our own SWORD chip which will be at the core of all our wireless technology.”

The SWORD (Sonova Wireless One Radio Digital) chip enables direct connectivity to any mobile phone as well as ear-to-ear communication using only one single radio technology. The ‘extra mile’ Lang referenced is the SWORD chip which supports the classic Bluetooth protocol, providing direct connectivity to any mobile with no extra body-worn streaming device required. A solution Phonak is calling "Made for All".

What customers want

The stage was given to Gavin Buddis, Director Launch and Channel Development and Oliver Frank, Director Product Management Mainstream to explain the main drivers behind the SWORD chip development and the Audéo B-Direct product. Based on extensive consumer research in the US, three main drivers for connectivity were highlighted: direct connection to mobiles, handsfree calls and TV listening.

Whilst it may seem that everyone has an iPhone following its introduction in 2007 iPhone market share has declined year-on-year. In the 50-64-year age group 10% have iPhones, 64% have Android, 1% have another operating system, 23% still have flip phones and 2% do not have a mobile at all.

Not only will the Audéo B-Direct connect directly with any Bluetooth enabled mobile phone, the product also offers real hands-free calling. You don’t even need to know where your phone is as wearers can answer or reject a phone call simply by pressing the button on their hearing aid. If the call is accepted, the conversation is streamed instantly both ways.

The third benefit of the product is the ability to act as wireless TV headphones. Using AirStream technology, Audéo B-Direct connects wearers seamlessly to their TVs through the new TV Connector. This is a true plug-andplay system. Research on the TV connector shows that it is 8 times easier (than competitor products) to install the TV connector when not given user instructions. Gavin Buddis, explained that “The system can connect to multiple hearing aids simultaneously and provides 80 hours streaming – more than enough for a good Netflix marathon!”

And for the professional?

For the professional, Phonak have focused on making the fitting easier. A live demonstration of the wireless fitting showed how the hearing instruments were automatically detected by the software even though the patient was not close to the PC. Buddis and Franks also demonstrated the automatic detection system by wandering around the stage, in and out of range of the fitting computer. The pairing is saved and will be detected automatically when a patient returns to the hearing care centre. Oliver Franks announced to the audience, “Welcome to the world of Made for All. At Phonak we build solutions for everyone; today marks the start of a new era of connectivity.”

70 years of innovation

Claude Diversi reminded people of the product innovation from the 70-year-old manufacturer. In the last year the Belong platform was launched, followed 6 months later with the titanium ITE, “Now we launch the world’s first Made for All hearing aid.” Diversi introduced two testimonials. The first was a French model who is wearing the Audéo B-Direct product and the second was a hearing care professional from the UK. Robert Davies is owner and audiologist at South East Hearing Care Centres and was among the first professionals to fit the new Made for All hearing instrument. Davies said more than 50% of his clients want wireless products and he has fitted several of the Audéo B-Direct products, “It is still early days, but it really was a wow, eureka, moment,” Simplicity for his clients, no interface between products and easier for the fitter were the key features for Davies.

An evening of product demonstrations around a dining experience awaited the delegates after Thomas Lang shared one last video, ‘a vision of a connected future in a couple of years’… But that is for a future article.

Victoria Adshead, Audio Infos UK