iPhone and M3/M4 hearing-aid compatibility?

This may be the most obscure comment you’ll read in speculation leading up to the iPhone’s release, but I thought of this when testing out phones before picking my Treo 650, as well as the issues that my Mom is having with her dated Motorola StarTac (did I say dated? I meant ancient…)

My concern is with how well the iPhone may or may not work with hearing aid devices which I and other hearing-impaired individuals use. I should clarify further that I mean *digital* hearing aids – those that have a secondary mode which switches off the microphone and activates a telecoil “mode”. The telecoil allows (or did allow) for the wearer to put their ear up to a telephone and get a nice, clear signal from the phone. (if you try to put a hearing aid up to a phone or any surface normally, you get a nice, loud, squealing sound, and no usable audio gets through) This was a minor annoyance, but I could get used to it, provided the “switching interface” of the hearing aid was easy enough that I could press a button. In normal use, this worked great for me for years with landline phones.

Enter the digital cell phone. These devices are great, and provide a really nice connection compared to those old clunky analog phones. The problem for hearing aid users comes when those digital transmitters interfere with the normal operation of the telecoil. GSM phones are reportedly sometimes worse than CDMA in this area. My Treo with Verizon works fairly well, though there is a minor bit of buzzing. (because of its “contoured” shape around the top earpiece, I can use it without the need to switch to telecoil, since I get no feedback, and the output volume is great! I tried the Motorola Q, but its hearing aid compatibility was terrible, and the flat shape made for a lot of feedback)

I’m not familiar with how these devices work exactly, but my understanding is that the manufacturers have techniques that they can use to minimize if not eliminate the buzzing, hissing, and static for hearing aid users. The US government recently asked cell phone makers and service providers to make sure that their phones are compatible – by using designations of M3 and M4. My Treo works well (the buzzing is there, but not excessive), while my sister’s Samsung get-this-phone-free-with-a-plan-P.O.S. from Verizon does not. My dad’s Cingular-based Blackberry does not work well for my Mom’s hearing aids (nor me, either), but her old StarTac is slightly better, but you get a bad buzzing when the backlight is on. (my sister and dad have no need for hearing aids, so they aren’t as “picky” when it comes to phones)

Price does not seem to be a factor in how individual phones are built, as compatibility is all over the map, with the most expensive Blackberrys oftentimes being worse than the cheaper models (or more expensive Palm devices). Some Windows Mobile “smart”phones work well, others do not. I hate Nokia phones, and every one I’ve tried has horrible audio quality, with and without hearing aids.

Getting back to the topic at hand (Apple, of course) … will the iPhone work well for hearing aid users? With its cool messaging and email features, hearing-impared folks can make good use of its text; but can they also hear through it, if need be? Has Apple provided any information about this; will devices be subject to interference from the phone?