Bluetooth streaming problems introduced in Apple's iOS 9.2 remain, have wide ramifications

Posted:
in iPhone edited August 2016
Apple's iOS 9.2 update in December has caused problems with Bluetooth audio streaming for many users, including hearing aid users. Who or what is to blame, and are there any solutions?




The release of iOS 9.2 on Dec. 8 brought improvements to Apple Music as a highlight, alongside the normal bevy of assorted bug fixes and repairs. Nothing specifically was mentioned for Bluetooth patches. However, nearly immediately, some iPhone owners with car audio solutions using Bluetooth started experiencing problems.

Some users reported no connectivity at all, but more common problems indicated that there was some sort of connection as track info was getting passed to the system, but no audio was playing. Shortly thereafter, some assistive technology users complained of lost Bluetooth functionality that existed in iOS 9.1, most notably the passing of phone call audio from the iPhone to a compatible hearing aid.

So, what happened?

Bluetooth is a catch-all term for a variety of different short range and secure wireless protocols all under one banner. It operates in an unlicensed band of frequencies restricted to "Industrial, Scientific, and Medical" equipment.

The standard protocol is governed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG). The Bluetooth SIG contains 30,475 members. Of the membership, 29,920 are adopters meaning companies that use the technology and have little or no say in how the specification works. Associate members total 548 and include heavy users and implementers such as Bose, Braven, Fitbit, and most of the major automotive companies. Associate-level members participate in the specification development process.

Standing above the majority of the members are promoters. Promoters are the heavy-hitters in the organization, and are Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Lenovo, Microsoft, Nokia, and Toshiba. Apple was added to this list in 2015 and was the first member to be added to the promoter ranks since 2005. Promoters have the most say in the future of the protocol, and historically have implemented changes and advances first, before the rest of the membership.

The current "core" specification of Bluetooth is version 4.2, implemented in December 2014. However, an addendum and series of fixes were fully adopted by the membership on December 15, 2015. AppleInsider has learned that the changes to the Bluetooth protocols specified in the addendum were implemented in in the shift from iOS 9.1 to iOS 9.2 on December 8, 2015 which caused the breakdown of some devices.

In the course of our research, we found other Bluetooth connectivity issues that manifested themselves at the same time. A series of assistive equipment for education of the profoundly disabled failed to work at the time of the iOS 9.2 update, but subsequent vendor patches restored functionality for most of the devices.

Who's to blame?

Consumers who have equipment that fails to work after a system patch or firmware update on a "host" like a macOS machine, or iOS device, generally blame the updated hardware as being flawed -- and this can be the case, at times.

In the early days of macOS 10.11, many FireWire audio peripherals no longer functioned to to changes in the Apple CoreAudio libraries. No FireWire protocol changes happened between macOS 10.10 and 10.11, and the fault was clearly Apple's.

Subsequent patches to the Mac operating system restored much, if not all, of the previously nonfunctional hardware. Other manufacturers were unwilling to wait, and released updated drivers for hardware.

The situation with iOS 9.2 and Bluetooth connectivity is somewhat different. All bluetooth members are expected to stay as up to date with the protocol as possible in device firmware and software. Apple's iOS 9.2 update accommodated the changes in the protocol, as dictated by the rules of the Bluetooth SIG.

Some car audio systems were affected by the relatively minor shift in the Bluetooth protocol in iOS 9.2. Some of that gear immediately started working again after unpairing and repairing connected Bluetooth devices. Other equipment needed a vendor-issued patch, while other equipment worked later as successively updated the iOS.

Assistive equipment manufacturers generally don't have the same manpower dedicated to electronics as Ford, or other motor companies. Problems introduced by a Bluetooth protocol revision, even slight, may never go addressed over manning or hardware issues, leaving users with a partially functional piece of equipment.

Big-box warehouse chain Costco sells the Kirkland Signature-branded hearing aid based on the original iPhone compatible ReSound LiNX, that allows for volume control and hands-free iPhone conversation through the device. With the release of iOS 9.2, connectivity was broken. In the case of the Costco hearing aids, customers were directed to bring the devices back to Costco audiology for a firmware update, which rectified the problem.




On the other hand, the Oticon Streamer Pro is a Bluetooth receiver that turns a pair of compatible hearing aids into a small wireless headset for the convenience of the hearing impaired. It allows users to switch seamlessly between an iPhone, a microphone, and another source of audio. It also functioned as a phone headset in conjunction with the Bluetooth connection on an iPhone, until the protocol changes in iOS 9.2 were introduced.

AppleInsider reader Michael reached out to us, and discussed with us his issues with the Oticon Streamer Pro after the iOS 9.2 update. "After numerous engagements with Apple on the issue resulting in a phone swap and basic technical support such as resetting network settings, reinstalling IOS etc. the problem still prevails" said Michael. "My 14 year old son is equally frustrated."

Michael didn't limit his inquires about the problem to just Apple's tech support personnel. "The updates that Apple has rolled out since then have been for unrelated issues," Oticon told Michael in an email. "Teams at Oticon's headquarters continue to work with Apple to find a resolution for Streamer Pro."

Oticon suggested that the user of the Streamer Pro shift to a wired connection to the phone in the interim, or downgrade the iPhone firmware -- a procedure not supported by Apple. Oticon has not as of yet responded to our inquiries about the matter.




So, who's to blame for the problem, and who needs to fix it? It remains hard to point a finger at a single culprit. While the iOS 9.2 patch itself did cause problems with functionality in some Bluetooth wireless devices beyond just audio, the protocol that caused the problem is dictated by the Bluetooth SIG and doled out to all members for implementation, including Oticon.

Hardware not yet updated by a vendor to the new errata, such as the Oticon Streamer Pro, may continue to pose problems for owners until a software solution is found, and it may never be depending on a number of factors. In a perfect world, the solution is Apple, the Bluetooth SIG, and hardware vendors all working together instead of blaming each other for the problem, or denying that a problem exists.

In Apple's defense, there have been some fixes for Bluetooth audio above and beyond the protocol shift in December in iOS, but none of them have addressed the specific problems with Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids.

The future, and the past

Time, hardware, and software marches on. The decades past are littered with deprecated hardware as a result of OS advances over time, be it iOS, macOS, Android, or Windows. Apple stops updating software for its own hardware intentionally from time to time -- ask any LaserWriter owner how OS X advances have treated them, or owners of an original iPad how the last three years have gone. A LaserWriter or an iPad is not a third party's piece of gear out of Apple's control, nor is it particularly essential to life, however.

It has never been fair to demand that somebody abandon a very expensive piece of assistive gear as a result of a software update. AppleInsider hopes that a solution for those suffering from this Bluetooth protocol is found by either the vendor, or Apple, or both -- but we are also concerned that it may not be.

As technology advances, problems are often introduced as a result either by accident, or by design. In the case of the Bluetooth protocol changes in iOS 9.2 the problems are from both accident and design, and there is no single party to blame.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 63
    Have a 6s with the LG Bluetooth headset and have had to listen to "Call Ended" 4-7 times before a voicemail will play for the past 12 months. Did not have this problem originally. Thought this was just an issue with the headset, but my new F160 does the same thing if I play a voicemail while iPhone is connected to Sync 3.
    jbdragonelijahg
  • Reply 2 of 63
    larryalarrya Posts: 547member
    Headphone jack removal apologists, take note. Wireless not always as great as it sounds. 
    cnocbuianantksundaramrtdunhamhagarglynhwaverboyrobertwalterrhonintiger2jetpilot
  • Reply 3 of 63
    supadav03supadav03 Posts: 443member
    larrya said:
    Headphone jack removal apologists, take note. Wireless not always as great as it sounds. 
    Pretty sure you can still used wired headphones even without the headphone jack. So missing your point? It's called lightning connected (not wireless) headphones 
    awilliams87williamlondonration alDeelronlkruppmagman1979chiarepressthispscooter63applepieguy
  • Reply 4 of 63
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    supadav03 said:
    larrya said:
    Headphone jack removal apologists, take note. Wireless not always as great as it sounds. 
    Pretty sure you can still used wired headphones even without the headphone jack. So missing your point? It's called lightning connected (not wireless) headphones 
    Not without a diminishing of your user experience and bank account.  'Shouldn't have to' beats 'can', every time.
    jetpilotdysamoriabaconstangelijahg
  • Reply 5 of 63
    supadav03 said:
    larrya said:
    Headphone jack removal apologists, take note. Wireless not always as great as it sounds. 
    Pretty sure you can still used wired headphones even without the headphone jack. So missing your point? It's called lightning connected (not wireless) headphones 
    Yes, but that requires you buy a new pair of headphones or an adapter to use the old, and wired use compromises the ability to charge the device at the same time. There is also the the potential problem that the perception of such issues could have a negative impact on sales. (After all, there are seemingly reasonable-sounding people, even Apple fans, bringing it up). Are those not issues? 

    (For the record, I've owned a pair of wireless Headphones for a year now, and it works fine for me.)
    rtdunhamgatorguycnocbuirhoninbaconstangHabi_tweetelijahg
  • Reply 6 of 63
    johnnashjohnnash Posts: 128member
    I'm on the new beta and have had BT issues ever since the first one, including connectivity to my watch. 
    repressthisduervobaconstang
  • Reply 7 of 63
    supadav03 said:
    larrya said:
    Headphone jack removal apologists, take note. Wireless not always as great as it sounds. 
    Pretty sure you can still used wired headphones even without the headphone jack. So missing your point? It's called lightning connected (not wireless) headphones 
    Yes because Lightning headphones are so plentiful on the market. Oh wait...they're not.  Apple doesn't even make them.
    zeus423baconstangHabi_tweetelijahg
  • Reply 8 of 63
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 3,917member
    larrya said:
    Headphone jack removal apologists, take note. Wireless not always as great as it sounds. 
    I have a pair of JBL wireless and if I'm watching certain video on my iPhone, like from YouTube the audio and video are never in sync.
    cnocbuirhoninrepressthisjetpilotpscooter63baconstangelijahg
  • Reply 9 of 63
    jetpilot said:
    supadav03 said:
    Pretty sure you can still used wired headphones even without the headphone jack. So missing your point? It's called lightning connected (not wireless) headphones 
    Yes because Lightning headphones are so plentiful on the market. Oh wait...they're not.  Apple doesn't even make them.
    Your comment proves that even Apple fans lack imagination. This is similar non-sense I heard about the disc drive removal.
    ration alDeelronboopthesnootmagman1979netmagerepressthiscanadiandude
  • Reply 10 of 63
    A fine and intelligent article I read. Thanks for explaining to some of the bafflements I am going through with my Parrot car audio Bluetooth. I will try getting an update. 
    rtdunhamgatorguyrobertwalterrhoninmagman1979repressthisHabi_tweet
  • Reply 11 of 63
    Article doesn't really in the end explain the problem, although it suggests it is mostly about hardware vendors not providing testing or updates to make sure they meet changes in Bluetooth protocols.
    repressthis
  • Reply 12 of 63
    ...this excellent explanation/article has convinced my to stick with copper wires and vintage audio equipment (amps & speakers) that still work 30+ years later, or are repairable with available components such as coils, diodes, resistors & capacitors... I have a very expensive pair of BT integrated amp/speakers with no audio inputs that are now unreliable, out of production, unsupported & offer no parts after a mere few years. How is this reducing waste and bettering the sustainable design the world arguably needs ? I am left ready to pull them apart & wire a manual coil & cap crossover for them to ensure longer term reliability...
    magman1979cnocbuiduervobaconstangelijahg
  • Reply 13 of 63
    This was a GREAT ARTICLE!   I did not even know about Bluetooth hearing aids!  (They start at $900 each, BTW. Very glad I'm not hard of hearing). When Apple implements phone-to-phone audio (they have a patent on this) w/o the cell network it will be a great boon to the hearing impaired. Thus, this article about Bluetooth problems is quite newsworthy. True, it does not explain the exact cause butthat might not be possible. It sounds like a class of problems rather than just one. 
    robertwalterrhoninmagman1979pscooter63baconstangelijahg
  • Reply 14 of 63
    emoelleremoeller Posts: 432member
    xraynano said:
    Article doesn't really in the end explain the problem, although it suggests it is mostly about hardware vendors not providing testing or updates to make sure they meet changes in Bluetooth protocols.
    The problem is simply, "changing standards are not properly communicated and adopted".

    The solution is communication throughout the process.  From Apple's side they need to provide more detail in their update releases, clearly noting to customers what implications those updates may have to their various devices.   Bluetooth, because its protocol is widely adopted, has millions of devices from tens of thousands of manufacturers.  Ideally each of those would have a location on their service page noting their current support level for their device and advising customers how best to perform firmware updates to achieve current compliance.

    Failing this the Bluetooth SIG could create and post a master list on its website from all of its member companies to accomplish the same task.  But in the end it is communication back to the end user that is causing the frustrations.

    As an aside (and off topic, sorry), last night my AppleTV 3 had to re-login to iCloud (the AppleTV 3 had worked fine because it was already logged in, but a power outage demanded I re-login and that's when my troubles started).   "Couldn't connect to iCloud server" or "incorrect user name or password", no matter what I did.   Spent hours checking Apple's website only to finally find a single user post that AppleTV 3 does not support two-part authentication.  Nothing anywhere else about this issue and I'm sure I'm not the only one have it.   Again, Apple simply needs to communicate on its two-factor authentication page that AppleTV 3 isn't support (in a round about way Apple does this by not noting that AppleTV 3 is supported), but then should go on and explain how to resolve the issue (which for me was to delete authentication on all devices, login on the AppleTV 3 and then re-initialize two-part authentication - a multi-day process per Apples protocols).
    rhoninnetmageai46elijahg
  • Reply 15 of 63
    bb-15bb-15 Posts: 252member
    Back to the article topic. Since upgrading to iOS 9.3 (from 8) my Bluetooth earpiece does disconnect more frequently. It is still workable but still an annoyance.

    Finally re: the concerns about this site, I prefer AI. I get my Apple news here. The site is laid out well (unlike 9 to 5) and it is not swamped by trolls (like MacRummors).
    magman1979ai46macseekerbaconstangwilliamlondon
  • Reply 16 of 63
    mtbnutmtbnut Posts: 191member
    Apple is 100% responsible for the wretched state of BT on its devices. My Alpine head unit kicked ass back in iOS7—I would get in my car, turn on my ignition, and BAM! instantly connected. Since iOS 8 and to today it has gotten progressively worse, even though my head unit's firmware has remained the same.

    Now, I'm about 1 out of 5 in connection success when I get in my car. Sometimes I have to reboot the phone to get it working again. But this is progress, right? Must be Alpine's fault, not Apple's. 

    To paraphrase Eddy Cue, "We're Apple, we do what we want with Bluetooth, and we don't wear suits."


    edited August 2016 chrispoerhonincnocbuielijahg
  • Reply 17 of 63
    adrayvenadrayven Posts: 460member
    johnnash said:
    I'm on the new beta and have had BT issues ever since the first one, including connectivity to my watch. 
    BETA
    netmagerepressthiszeus423
  • Reply 18 of 63
    Why doesn't Apple simply provide backwards compatibility for certain devices that can't be updated to the new spec? Devices can be easily identified by their UUID codes.
    robertwalterrhoninHabi_tweet
  • Reply 19 of 63
    My 83 yo mom is severely hearing impaired and totally dependent on a higher (than average) powered device to hear.  

    She specifically upgraded her 4s to 6 In Sept 2014 to prepare for buying a MFi hearing aid.

    She tested an aid from Starkey for several weeks (ultimately not powerful enough for her extreme case, but with a great iPhone app and great switching to a profile based on location or driving) and later for several months from ReSound (powerful enough but a rather lame iPhone app UI-wise). There were monthly trips to the audiologist to fine tune settings and to train mom. 

    She loved the way audio was routed directly into her aid (previously dependent on speakerphone at full volume - in public settings through the earpiece but with trouble to hear and telecoil never worked well) and with the expectation that the little connectivity bugs would be worked out with s/w updates.  

    Because independence is important to her, and she had developed a sensitivity to not wanting to look and be treated like a deaf person (thinking they were funny, some idiots have been cruel to this nice lady in the past) she, from her fixed-income and limited resources, bought the ReSound aid for around 5k $US. (At the time, Starkey and ReSound were the only two high power MFi aids on the market.)

    At at first it worked mostly ok (occasionally dropping signal when she got too far away from her 6, but rarely dropping when she was near her phone) but the performance was quite uneven and really quite far from the "just works" expectation she had developed from her 4s and Mac experience.  

    The idea that by using an app she would have an overview of her pre-selected settings, that she could fine tune them, and that the aid would automatically switch to based on gps or motion or speed calculated by the phone as in leaving a building and entering a car never quite worked and was far away from that seen with the earlier Starky test unit.

    Then in April 2015, she bought an Apple Watch.  Her killer apps?  Replacing the Red Cross lifeline unit for emergency calls; Apple Pay so she wouldn't have to pull out her phone or worry about card skimming in the supermarket (or Costco); and possibly controlling her aid settings from her wrist.

    With the watch paired to the phone, connectivity went downhill fast.  Calls started in her aid dropped out back to the iPhone's earpiece.  Reconnecting didn't result in sustained connectivity during the call. Neither did hard resets.  

    Back to using the speakerphone.  But not really, because if somebody else was there to participate in a speakerphone discussion, the phone and aid would then conspire to fuck that up too; this when within arms reach of the phone as opposed to the limit of BT range. Multiple switches back to speakerphone would, in a few minutes, be undone by MFi by putting the call into the aid. 

    So it soon became a case of using control center to turn off BT to keep a sustained speakerphone conversation going. Problem was that everybody always forgot to turn BT back on so the watch became a collateral victim as its utility was somewhat diminished. 

    With every iOS update, we re-paired the unit with hopes that connectivity would improve, it never did.  In between she visited her audiologist every month (a 70 mile round trip for her) trying, to no avail, to find the magic fix.

    In my opinion, either BT 4.x really wasn't up to sustainably supporting multiple simultaneous devices, or MFi was by no means ready for prime time, or Apple was a bit too free with certifying MFi aid manufacturers. 

    I read this week, relative to Apple developing custom BT ear buds, that "if something is not 100%, it doesn't launch" and i had to shake my head, because in the case of my mom, she's out close to 6-grand and her MFi combo (not including Watch) doesn't even rise, performance- or UI-wise, to the "it just works" level. 

    If Apple is going to promote and market MFi or other iOT like CarPlay or HomeKit, it has to do better make sure that not only after launch, but from the start, that it's certified partners are committed to "just works" on launch and for a reasonable number years after the sale (longer for more expensive items).

    Although she's active and healthy, I don't know if my mom will live long-enough to afford another hearing aid, but this experiment has been a failure until now.  She could have stayed on her old aid and kept her 5k$ for a stable production-ready MFi set-up. 

    We remain hopeful, however, that iOS 10 will address some of these issues. 
    edited August 2016 rhoninnetmagecnocbuiemoellerai46roundaboutnowbaconstangHabi_tweetk2kwwelshdog
  • Reply 20 of 63
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,019member
    My iPhone 6+ started having serious Bluetooth problems with the first public beta of iOS 10 including frequent drop-outs even when the connected devices were only inches apart. No such problems with iPad Air with the same version of the beta iOS. With the latest public beta of iOS 10 my iPhone 6+ Bluetooth reliability has returned to normal. Go figure. I know it's beta and "use at your own risk" so I take it with a grain of salt and deal with it for now. But I do hope the RC version of iOS 10 is fully tested including the Bluetooth reliability with the iPhone 6+. 
    edited August 2016 rhonin
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