Google is developing a new open specification that will enable Android to support hearing aids natively from any manufacturer.

Android’s lack of native hearing aid support has been a common complaint from members of the hearing loss community. While Apple’s iPhones are generally compatible with most hearing aids, allowing users to stream audio directly to their hearing aid without requiring any apps or intermediary devices, Android’s fragmentation has made it harder for manufacturers to develop support for Android phones. Danish manufacturer GN Hearing, for example, has developed an app that makes its hearing aids compatible with Samsung Galaxy phones only.

Reports surfaced last year that the Google-led Android Open Source Project (AOSP) was working to bring native hearing aid support to Android, but the launch of Android Pie generated disappointment about the lack of a Bluetooth profile for hearing aids — or any other mention of hearing aid support. However, such things take time. Google and the AOSP can’t launch support all by themselves; they need to work with hearing aid manufacturers to ensure their devices play nice. And that is what this latest announcement is all about.

The new open specification, which Google has published here, means that hearing aid manufacturers can now get to work creating hearing aids that work flawlessly on Android phones across Bluetooth low energy (LE), replete with low-latency and minimal impact on battery life.

“Users with hearing loss will be able to connect, pair, and monitor their hearing aids so they can hear their phones loudly and clearly,” noted Google’s VP of engineering, Seang Chau. “Any hearing aid manufacturer can now build native hearing aid support for Android,” he added.

Accessibility

Nearly 500 million people globally have “disabling hearing loss,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO), a figure it expects to rise to 900 million within a few decades. So opening up native support to hearing aids also makes a great deal of sense from a business perspective, as consumers tend to buy devices that meet their needs. Up until now, many people seeking hearing support would have likely opted for an iPhone.

More broadly, technology companies are increasingly investing in improved accessibility across their platforms. Globally, 15 percent of people “experience some form of disability,” according to World Bank data, making this a large market companies would do well to actively support.

For now, GN Hearing will be the first manufacturer to “enable a full spectrum of direct audio streaming from Android devices to hearing aids,” according to a press release, though support will have to wait for a future Android release.