The Bluetooth radio we find in our Android devices is named after a tenth century Viking king, Harold Bluetooth, famous for uniting a number of Danish tribes. The logo consists of Harold’s initials in Viking runes and the idea behind the Bluetooth radio is that it is a universal standard for communication, as a wireless equivalent of the RS-232 serial standard used before the original USB standard. Since its introduction, Bluetooth has moved through four main standards with Bluetooth 4 as the current technology, which introduced significantly reduced standby power consumption and (still) higher speed transfer rates. A huge number of devices have an onboard Bluetooth radio, including every Android smartphone and tablet, and it’s used in all manner of other devices from smartwatches, cars, headphones and hearing aids. The Bluetooth standard is maintained by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group and today’s news is that Samsung are preparing a new Bluetooth-compatible hearing aid, as a new product called the SM-R790 has appeared on the Bluetooth Special Interest Group website. It may come as a surprise that this appears to be the first Samsung hearing aid, despite their wide and varied business interests. These interests include a number of devices with Bluetooth already built in, such as Android-powered smartphones and tablets, Tizen OS-powered smartphones and wearable devices. It also includes a wide portfolio of devices that do not have onboard Bluetooth, such as ships and kitchen appliances.
Unfortunately, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group listing reveals very little about the device itself. The rumors and circumstantial evidence we’ve seen include how Samsung has applied for the “Earcle” trademark in South Korea and has included references to hearing aids in this product documentation. We’ve also seen hearing aid-relevant patents filed that contain additional hearing aid software functions, such as the “Sound Radar,” which graphically illustrates to users where the sound is coming from using a smartphone-like device (with a multiple microphone and likely a microphone array). The Sound Radar allows users to boost sound from particular sources. It’s unclear if the SM-R790 will include the Sound Radar feature, or how developed or advanced this technology is.
Samsung is no stranger to adjusting sound in order to help customers. The Samsung Galaxy S4 premiered a special sound enhancement feature that could adjust the sound to suit the user’s hearing when listening to music or telephone conversations over the earphones. We’ve also seen Samsung utilize the microphone array on modern flagship Galaxy handsets when using the device to record meetings, as not only will it record the sound but may also indicate where the sound is coming from and can be used to easily identify speakers. There are millions of individuals who could benefit from these sorts of frequency-boosting technologies and contemporary hearing aids cost many thousands of dollars. And whilst the SM-R790 would appear to be close to release, we do not have confirmation of the device features, cost, market availability or compatibility.