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Mimi Launches An iPhone App To Combat Hearing Loss

TechCrunch TechCrunch 7/05/2014 Anthony Ha

, a company launching today as part of TechCrunch’s Disrupt NY Startup Battlefield, plans to use the iPhone to help people with hearing loss.

I didn’t know much about the issue before discussing it with co-founders Philipp Skribanowitz and Pascal Werner, but they pointed me to a number of and about how widespread hearing loss has become, affecting an estimated 350 million people worldwide.

And four out of five of those affected in the United States . The reason, Skribanowitz argued, is that for hearing aids is long and complicated, and then the devices themselves are expensive (usually costing ).

Mimi, on the other hand, is launching an iOS app that allows users to test their hearing using their existing earbuds. It can also simulate the experience of enhanced hearing, which should convince some users that it’s worth paying for treatment. And conversely, if your hearing is fine, the app can simulate hearing loss so you get some sense of what, say, your friends or family might be going through.

Skribanowitz let me try the app (it was pretty strange to interview him while Mimi was muffling my hearing), including a key feature that isn’t available in the current version — live hearing enhancement. In other words, users could potentially walk around with the app on and their iPhone would continuously enhance their hearing. However, that’s being left out for now because it would categorize Mimi as a medical aid, which comes with a lot of regulatory requirements. (That’s also why Mimi can’t describe the product as a “hearing aid”.)

The company will go through the government approval process eventually, Skribanowitz said, but it wants to get a basic version of the product onto the market first.

The app is based on , who has a Ph.D. in electrical and electronic engineering from the University of Nottingham and was formerly a researcher at the University of Essex. In the product release, Clark said Mimi uses “digital signal processing to enhance the audio experience for the listener, and machine learning that utilises data from all of the places where Mimi’s technology is deployed.”

As one example of who might use Mimi, Skribanowitz pointed to his father who is unlikely to go in for a diagnosis and might be skeptical about paying for an aid. On the other side of the spectrum, he said hearing loss is increasing among younger people as well, and app-based testing system should appeal to them, too.

The app is free, but Mimi plans to charge a monthly fee for premium features like unlimited hearing enhancement. It will also sell hearing enhancement devices that use similar technology but don’t require you to keep your earbuds in at all times. (In that case the phone is used for setup and fine-tuning.) However, Skribanowitz emphasized that Mimi’s focus is on software, not hardware, meaning the company could also integrate its technology with other apps and devices.

During his Disrupt presentation, Skribanowitz said that whatever option customers choose, the cloud technology will allow them to “change the settings, whenever and wherever, while getting guidance from Mimi.”

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