Everyone who reads this blog knows that I am passionate about the concepts of technology transfer. In brief, technology transfer sometimes called T2, means taking (or transferring) mainstream technology into access technology by making certain adaptations that provide the features that a person with a disability needs in order to operate the technology in question. Universal design, a concept about which I’m also passionate, means designing products for everyone to use without regard to disability. Universally designed products, however, remain rare while the concepts surrounding T2 are all around us.
Virtually all screen readers demonstrate examples of technology transfer. By installing JAWS, a user transfers mainstream technology like a Hewlett-Packard desktop computer, a Toshiba laptop, Microsoft Windows and lots of software designed for the mainstream market into products that are mostly accessible for people with vision impairment. Thus, one needn’t purchase a special word processor, spreadsheet, text editor or whatever other programs a user employs while running JAWS.
Unfortunately, while most computing tasks are handled using screen readers and, therefore, leverage the enormity of the mainstream market to benefit from the highly competitive prices on computer hardware and mainstream software, handheld devices seem mostly to remain in the blind guy ghetto. A few companies, Nuance, with its Talx screen reader for Symbian cell phones, Dolphin Systems, with Pocket HAL for mainstream PDA devices, Humanware with Trekker and Maestro on mainstream PDAs and, most impressively, Code Factory with screen readers for Symbian And Windows Mobile cell phones and Windows Mobile handhelds. Other than Talx, I’m only really familiar with the Mobile Speak line of products from Code Factory.
I’ve written twice already in Blind Confidential about my experiences with the brandy new T-Mobile DASH. The first detailed my trials and tribulations trying to get Audible Player installed on the device and the second about the terrific service I got from Code Factory when I found some nasty bugs In Mobile Speak SmartPhone (MSS). Now that I’ve lived with the device for awhile, I would like to proffer my opinion on it.
Plain and simply, MSS on my little T-Mobile DASH is without a doubt the coolest talking device I have ever touched. At approximately 4 ounces (119 g) it weighs in at roughly 1/8 that of the blind guy ghetto speech only products but it’s packed with far more features than any product from an access technology company. Among other things, this little device includes quad band GSM, Blue Tooth, 802.11 B and G, Edge, access to the most popular instant message systems (Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo), has loads of applications, a 1.3 megapixel camera and a ton of other really nifty features.
A user can add a ton of off-the-shelf programs Available for Windows Mobile like the audible player and other cool stuff like Microsoft voice command and almost anything else you can imagine.
In my opinion the coolest thing about it is that MSS reads nearly every application flawlessly. The software from Code Factory is not perfect but I find far fewer bugs with it than I do in any other screen reader that I use with any frequency. Also, Code Factory is really good at fixing bugs quickly and getting builds out to the consumers as rapidly as I’ve ever seen any company deploy updates. The nature of Windows Mobile Smartphone Edition that makes it especially nice for us blinks is that it is designed to be entirely keyboard-driven. So rather than having to simulate screen taps, the screen reader has keystrokes native to the system itself and only needs to add a few additional ones for screen reader specific features.
MSS And a Windows Mobile Smartphone is my favorite solution for my personal portable computing and communication needs. If you are looking for a notetaker or a PDA with the fully featured Windows Mobile five, programs like Word Mobile and Excel Mobile, you would probably be happier with either a PDA phone like the Hewlett-Packard iPAQ 6915, a regular iPAQ like the 2495 or something similar. If you plan on doing a lot of typing and you want to use either a Windows Mobile Smartphone or an off-the-shelf PDA running Mobile Speak Pocket or Pocket HAL you would probably benefit from adding a Blue Tooth keyboard to your collection of portable devices. All of the Mobile Speak products support Blue Tooth Braille displays but as I’ve never tried them at all I can’t comment on how well they work.
The economics of a Mobile Speak Smartphone solution is pretty intriguing. This morning, when I did a quick Google search to find the weight of the T-Mobile DASH, the page on which I found it is offering the phone for free, after rebate with a new T-Mobile contract. I paid approximately $300 for mine with a one-year T-Mobile contract extension and unlocked versions of the phone have been seen on eBay for around $450. A Blue Tooth keyboard runs about $50 and MSS cost about $500. Thus, at the maximum price, the cutest little system I’ve ever seen comes to about $1100 — almost exactly half that of the blind guy ghetto solutions.