Last week, I installed Windows Mobile 6 (WM6) and a private beta build of Mobile Speak Smartphone (MSS) on my T-Mobile Dash. The WM6 installer I downloaded from the T-Mobile web site required a little sighted assistance and, because I installed a private beta (sorry readers, most of you will have to wait until Code Factory releases the new MSS to give it a try) and the associated debug certificates, I did so over Skype with the brilliant, talented and beautiful Roselle Ambubuyog, the Philippines greatest contribution to the world of blindness related technology, with me in case I needed some help. The MSS installer from Code Factory (link above in the companies section) did not require any assistance and I could have done it without help but any excuse to talk to the lovely Roselle is a good one.
Over the weekend, I did what I could to run the Dash with WM6 and the new MSS through its paces.
The addition of Office Mobile makes for the most notable new feature in WM6 Standard Edition (for no reason apparent to me, Microsoft now calls the Smartphone version of the Software “Standard Edition”). Under the Start Menu, one can now find an entry for Office Mobile and in its submenu, Word, Excel and PowerPoint Mobile. For no obvious reason, you cannot use these programs to create new Word, Excel or PowerPoint files but, if you copy files to your Smartphone from some other computer or receive them on your phone as an email attachment, you can now read and edit the files on your phone.
I successfully used Word and PowerPoint Mobile with the latest beta of MSS and found the performance quite impressive. I do not know if Code Factory did anything special to improve the speed in this release but the notes about and reviews of WM6 all say that Microsoft has made some excellent performance improvements and on a 200 mhz T-Mobile Dash, the improvements are quite nice in all areas of the system. To my knowledge, MSS is the only screen reader to support PowerPoint Mobile which I find useful from time to time.
I next reinstalled Audible Player. The WM6 installation completely erases the system memory on a Smartphone so one needs to reinstall all applications they use after doing the upgrade. The Audible installation went as smoothly as any Audible experience and it still works great with MSS. I haven’t tried the Audible utility to get my magazines sent directly to the phone yet.
I started playing around a bit with Voice Command, now included by default with WM6. I hadn’t read the documentation and didn’t get too far with it but MSS spoke properly in all areas of the program that I tried.
WM6 includes support for Voice Over IP (VOIP) and Microsoft’s “Live” system included in the OS upgrade has support for doing voice chats from a mobile phone. Skype has a beta for WM Smartphones that CF claims will be supported with scripts sometime after the upgrade to MSS comes out. It’s hard for a screen reader manufacturer to support a beta as they don’t know what will change before Skype releases its final version but, knowing CF pretty well, I’m confident that they will be true to their word and support Skype on the Smartphone soon after the software is released. Having VOIP on a mobile phone means that anyone with a data package can call friends around the world without incurring the often criminally high rates for mobile international calling. If one makes a lot of calls around the world, having Skype on their mobile phone will more than pay for the cost of a data package in just a few calls.
I will certainly write more in the coming weeks about the new MSS and WM6. This weekend was a first look and I haven’t really started beating it up yet. I can say without hesitation, though, that the MSS solution with a Smartphone continues to make me believe it is the coolest solution a blind person can find for portability today. With a wireless Braille keyboard/display from Optilec or a Brilliant from Humanware, a T-Mobile Dash and a Blue Tooth Keyboard, the entire weight comes to just over a pound. The price of this interesting component model is considerably less than any of the integrated solutions from an AT company and, when the phone gets an upgrade (I’m waiting for T-Mobile to put out a 400 mhz Smartphone) it will be cost effective for me to give my current phone away to a friend and get the new one for profoundly less money than a hardware upgrade to one of the blindness specific products from the AT vendors.
In conclusion, WM6 is pretty cool and, if memory serves, Code Factory will sell the only screen reader for WM6 Smartphones and PDA devices when it releases this new version of MSS and MSP. I remain very impressed by CF technology and suggest that everyone looking for a portable speech and/or Braille solution give it a try.
The Freedom Scientific v. Serotek case remains the hottest topic in the blindness blogosphere. As I had expected Darrell and Jeff (Blind Access Journal and Desert Skies – links above) have taken the lead on this story and are on leading the community of people opposed to this sort of lawsuit with an online petition. As I wrote on Friday, I have no experience involving trademarks (I have a long history in software patents and user interface copyright but trademark is outside my area entirely) so I will keep my opinion on this matter to myself and point to the other guys who are writing about the issue as things unfold.