Phonak Launches New Belong Platform to the Global Market
AudiologyOnline: Martin, congratulations on your new role as Group Vice President Hearing Instruments Marketing.
Martin Grieder: Thank you.
AudiologyOnline: What was the purpose of the global Phonak Belong launch event in Amsterdam earlier this month?
Martin: The purpose of the global launch event was to share the excitement we have for Phonak Belong with customers. We hosted more than 600 audiologists and hearing care professionals from around the world. Judging from the overwhelming positive feedback we have had both from our customers in the U.S. and France who have fit the product in the clinical trials and since its release, as well as from customers who heard it about it for the first time in Amsterdam, we have definitely achieved this objective.
AudiologyOnline: What were the primary messages you wanted to convey to customers at this event?
Martin: There are two main messages with Phonak Belong. First, the Belong platform is about simplifying consumers' lives. Phonak Belong is a market first that pushes the boundaries on ease of use. Phonak Audeo B-R features built-in rechargeable lithium-ion technology that offers 24 hours of hearing on one charge and frees wearers of the hassles of dealing with batteries.
Next, Phonak Belong pushes the boundaries on hearing performance with a new and improved AutoSense OS. Both Phonak Audeo B and B-R are automatic, simple and deliver unmatched hearing performance.
AudiologyOnline: How were those messages conveyed during the meeting?
Martin: For example, at the event customers experienced the simplicity of handling the new Audeo B-R product. We had customers try on a pair of Cambridge simulation gloves. These gloves are used to simulate various dexterity challenges such as arthritis and are used in product accessibility research. Even when wearing these gloves, customers were able to correctly place the Phonak Audeo B-R in the charger in just a matter of seconds. Most of these same experienced professionals were not able to change the battery in a RIC device while wearing Cambridge simulation gloves. It was a powerful demonstration to the real ease of use that Phonak Audeo B-R delivers.
Additionally, we like to say that ‘hearing is believing’, so we wanted customers to experience the performance of the new AutoSense OS. We had a blinded listening demo where customers listened to Phonak Belong and premium devices from competitors using different signals such as music, speech in noise, etc. They compared and rated the performance of the products without knowing which product they were listening to. Time and again, Phonak Belong was rated superior to the competitive instruments.
There were other activities to educate professionals on the features and benefits of Phonak Belong, as well as peer-to-peer sharing from colleagues who have fit Belong in their practices as part of our extensive field tests.
Phonak Belong Audeo B-R and charger case
AudiologyOnline: The Phonak Belong Audeo B and Audeo B-R RIC have a new design.
Martin: Yes - in addition to simplicity and performance, with each new product launch we look at how we can further improve aesthetics. Aesthetics is not just how a hearing aid looks; it refers to the experience of wearing it on the ear. Phonak Belong has made gains in this area as well. By slightly changing the position of the microphones, we have diminished the sound of hair rustling. We have also increased the size of the push button, making it easier to manipulate.
AudiologyOnline: What has been most common response to Phonak Belong from professionals?
Martin: Until now, rechargeable hearing aids have had a not so good reputation in the market because they have not been able to meet consumer needs. This is why they have never taken off. When you first mention “rechargeable”, many hearing professionals are a bit suspicious.
That was also one reason why we felt it was important to do a comprehensive customer field test to hear firsthand what customers thought of our new product offering. We conducted this test in both the U.S. and France. We knew we would get positive feedback, but when the results came back they blew us away. Professionals rated the product on many different aspects, and the ratings consistently were in the 9+ range out of a possible 10.
Professionals state that Phonak Belong is a game-changer, and that it makes patients’ lives easier. Additionally, they indicate new patients are more willing to try hearing aids because Phonak Belong is available.
Professionals also report that they are thrilled to have rechargeable technology in a premium platform. This is a real innovation, delivering real consumer benefits.
AudiologyOnline: What is the most common feedback you’re hearing from consumers about Phonak Belong?
Martin: Consumers love the simplicity. When they put on the devices in the morning with a full charge, they know they will not run out of charge, no matter what the day brings. The battery will last, and it is no longer a guessing game about battery life. They are also relieved that they don’t have to deal with batteries. This is not only a relief for people with dexterity issues, but also for people in their forties and fifties who are starting to have blurry near-vision. As you know, managing batteries is annoying, to say the least. With Phonak Audeo B-R, there’s no need to worry about handling a tiny battery in a hurry between business meetings or while commuting, etc.
That is one of the reasons we knew that we wanted to have built-in lithium ion technology. With a full charge, it will last for 24 hours. Not 8 hours, or 10 hours, but 24 hours.
AudiologyOnline: Why do you think that rechargeability has not become more popular in our industry?
Martin: The problem is twofold; first, no other company has been able to achieve a 24-hour charge. We believe that a wearer needs to be able to hear for 24 hours with that hearing aid. If you consider all the rechargeable solutions out there today, they last 6, 7, or 8 hours, and it’s hit or miss. I think that was the number one reason these rechargeables were not well accepted. Second, with most rechargeable solutions today, the battery can be changed. Since Phonak Belong is an integrated solution, you never have to worry that your patients will try and charge a non-rechargeable battery, or have issues trying to insert or remove batteries. All those issues go away.
AudiologyOnline: Why did you develop Phonak Belong for a 24-hour charge, when most people will not wear their hearing aids for 24 hours straight?
Martin: Consider a busy working professional. He or she may get up at 6 am, put in a 12-hour workday, go out for a business dinner, and then return back home at midnight. That’s an 18-hour day. Phonak Belong hearing instruments with a 24-hour charge take the guesswork out of it. We want to be able to give every consumer the confidence to know that his or her hearing aids will work, no matter what kind of day they will have. That’s huge.
Phonak Belong Audeo B-R
AudiologyOnline: In addition to the 24-hour charge time, and the built-in lithium ion battery technology, what else makes the Phonak Belong rechargeable feature unique?
Martin: When we made the Belong rechargeable hearing aid using the lithium ion battery, the voltage of the hearing aid increased from 1.4 volts to about 3.7 volts. This is similar to what’s happening with cars. The first car makers are now moving their cars from 12 volts to 48 volts, just to have enough capacity and power to add more features. Also, Phonak Belong features the Palio 3 platform that provides the capacity to allow the hearing aid to perform more and faster than ever. The chip is 65 nanometers, has 45 million transistors, and can achieve 550 million operations in one second. With new and improved AutoSense OS with adaptive SoundRecover2, we've taken another step forward in speech understanding.
AudiologyOnline: Thank you, Martin! And best wishes for continued success with the new Phonak Belong.
Martin: Thank you! We’re excited and proud of the Belong launch, given the overwhelming positive response we’ve heard to date, and excited to launch in the rest of the world in the next few weeks. And we’re definitely excited about our direction for the future. Working hand-in-hand with our customers, we’ll continue to focus on helping consumers with hearing loss to live better lives.
Group Vice President Hearing Instruments Marketing, Phonak