From stone tablet to a bite of the Apple


If you are among those who follow me on Twitter, you are likely already well acquainted with my recent changeover from one mobile phone platform to another. My intention to do this, as well as my reluctance, has long been a topic of discussion among my friends and fellow geeks. I’ve taken quite a bit of good-natured ribbing from people who, for nearly two years, have wondered how on Earth I can claim any expertise in accessibility, when clearly I am using technology from the Jurassic period. What follows is a short exposition on my long-overdue transition from the Windows Smartphone-based Motorola Q to the Apple iPhone 5.

The Moto Q, which my friends have dubbed The Stone Tablet, has been my only mobile device since 2007. To the dubiously named “Smartphone” operating system, I added Mobile Speak, a text-to-speech program by Code Factory. One feature I really liked about the Moto Q was the tactile qwerty keyboard, which made text entry easy. It seemed that most of the new devices were making use of touch screen technology. How could text entry be easy with a touch screen? I wondered. It’s not that I was unaware of the tidal wave of Apple products sweeping over the globe, it’s that I didn’t care. One could hardly avoid the constant din of Apple zealots, though, especially those for whom accessibility is a priority. But my setup served the purpose, it worked for me, and I had no real desire to give it up…that is, until the phone began to suffer from the ravages of old age, and yes, obsolescence.

For a variety of reasons, one of which was the necessity of accepting credit card payments when exhibiting my Elegant Insights Braille Creations jewelry at conferences and trade shows, I decided to at least entertain the possibility of switching to an Apple device, although I had no idea which one. My first foray into an Apple store was over a year ago at holiday time, when I stopped into my local Apple Store to buy a loved one a gift card. While there, I decided to ask the Apple associate to show me an iPad, which seemed like the best option for me at the time, and maybe get a demonstration of Voice Over, the text-to-speech feature built into Apple devices that makes using a touch screen possible for users who are blind.

Upon explaining my request to the associate, I was greeted by an awkward silence, and, according to my companion, a blank stare. “I don’t know what that voice thing is,” the young employee said, “I don’t think an iPad does that.”

“All of your products have Voice Over,” I declared, as confidently as I could, not entirely sure if that was true. “It’s built into the iPad, and if I knew how to bring it up, I’d show you.” Okay, now that was a bald-faced lie, I had never so much as held an iPad or IPhone in my hands, and I just really wanted to see one. But he never so much as let me touch one, since he began to back away, realizing that he would be unable to assist me, and the store was packed with people whom he could assist. I left the store empty-handed, except for the aforementioned gift card.

My interest was more recently piqued, though, when a friend showed me a variety of tablet sizes and models at a recent conference. I marveled at the full-size tablet, which seemed to be nothing more than a wafer-thin sheet of glass, reminiscent of a tray on which I’d served cheese at a dinner party.

After polling some tweeps and conducting a bit of my own research, I decided that in fact the device that would be best for me was the iPhone. While I had really enjoyed paying only $40 a month for my ancient cell service plan, I realized that having the phone combined with the iPad features would solve the most of my problems and meet the most of my needs. So, for my birthday, I decided to buy myself the gift of an iPhone 5.

Before it arrived in the mail, I gathered as many articles, podcasts, and user’s guides as I could get my hands on, and began to prepare for what I was sure would be a steep learning curve. Between the new operating system, the touch screen gestures, and a new speech interface to learn, the entire Apple IOS lexicon loomed large and intimidating before me.

Cutting to the chase, it took only a few days, once I got up and running, to master the device. Now, I can confidently claim fluency. However, it was the part of the process that occurred prior to the ‘after I got up and running,” part that I want to make note of here, simply as a way to help others who may be considering a similar switch. There are a few things you ought to know, and these things can make the difference between delight and utter frustration when it’s time to pull the device out of the packaging.

The first thing you ought to know is, people who know nothing about Apple devices really do know absolutely nothing. There isn’t much that can compare the Apple user experience to other devices that are made by other manufacturers, so do not under any circumstances listen to anyone who does not actually use an Apple product. This may include, but may not be limited to, cellular service providers.

Just to give you one example of what I mean by this, realize that there is a difference between activating the new cellular phone service plan, and activating the device. You may think this point to be obvious, but one hapless Sprint customer service associate who was unlucky enough to answer my call did not. Further, I was told, in response to my question about where I might find the serial number that is required to complete the setup process, I was told that it is located inside the phone. I was told to remove the back panel of the battery compartment, and enter into the phone the numbers printed on the decal.

In case you don’t know, you cannot remove the back of the iPhone. There is no battery compartment from which to remove the back panel, the serial number is either printed somewhere on the packaging, or it is on file with the cellular service provider from which you ordered the phone.

You should also know that it is possible to set up the device yourself, right out of the box, without sighted assistance. However, if you are a person who is easily frustrated, know that there is an easy way to accomplish this, and a hard way. I was determined to get my phone working on my own, but if you know you have a short fuse, just do it the easy way…take the device to an Apple store or the store that supports the cellular service provider, and have them set it up for you. At the time, I had no access to a nearby store, so unless I wanted to wait for someone who was available and willing to drive me some distance, I had few options. I was impatient to get going. Ultimately, though, doing it my way may have actually taken longer than waiting for four wheels and a couple of eyeballs.

Setting up the phone requires quite a bit of data entry, and if you are unfamiliar with how text entry is achieved on an Apple device, it also requires quite a bit of patience. Text entry was a matter of some concern to me, but as it turned out, I caught on quickly, and was able to enter the required information easily enough. What I found frustrating was that I wasn’t always entirely sure I understood what the phone was asking me to do. To express this idea in terms of the English language, the Apple dialect is a bit unfamiliar, word choice, usage, and syntax is different than what I had been accustomed to when using the “stone tablet.”

If you have not yet decided to change your outdated technology to an Apple device, are reluctant, or maybe just reject all things Apple out of hand, one reason you may feel this way could be due to your concerns about privacy. If you are among those still clinging fast to the illusion of privacy, I’m sympathetic. You should know that the moment you complete the setup process of the new Apple device, you have slipped from the edge and are now freefalling into the Apple abyss. You should carefully and thoroughly read the terms and conditions of use, as well as the Apple Corporation privacy policy, and that of the “artificial intelligence” assistant, Siri. Furthermore, you should scrutinize the TOS and privacy policies of any apps you download, whether free or paid. Frankly, I had to delete a number of apps, simply because their privacy policy, a misnomer if I ever heard one, made my skin crawl. If you have not already done so, and you are a blind user who has downloaded some of those object identification apps, you should take the time to learn what happens to the images of the items you photograph. It’s a little disturbing. If you are taking pictures of documents and mail for text recognition,place or object identification purposes, don’t think for a minute that you are the only one privy to the contents of that photo. Same goes for your use of the voice dictation features. There’s more, but I’ll let you make that horrifying discovery on your own.

I’ll say this for my new iPhone: Since it arrived, it has seldom left my side. I have never been one to keep my cell phone strapped to my person, I have never enjoyed using a cell phone, I dislike talking on one, I don’t like the way it makes voices sound, it’s harder to hear, it gets hot in your hand, and other than the few times it has been extremely convenient that I’ve had one, I find the overall experience of using a cell phone to be mostly dissatisfying. Since I’ve loaded up my IPhone 5, however, I’ve come to think of it as simply a hand-held computer that happens to sport a phone. I can easily see a day when I will, as eagerly as everyone else, anticipate the latest release of IOS, the newest app to drop, or the sleekest, lightest, most feature-rich iteration of the device itself. So…What’s next?

LL

Mobile Accessibility is Now Available for Purchase


Making Android Phones Accessible to the Blind
Terrassa (Barcelona), Spain, March 30th, 2011
Mobile Accessibility, our screen-access application that allows people who are blind or have low vision to use an Android phone in an intuitive, easy and simple way, is now on sale.  Mobile Accessibility is the first accessible Android application that permits intuitive touchscreen navigation of Android phones, featuring text readback via natural sounding voices powered by Nuance’s Vocalizer® text-to-speech technology.

You can purchase the application directly from the Market application of your Android phone, or from the web page:

US English: https://market.android.com/details?id=es.codefactory.android.app.ma.vocalizerenu&feature=search_result
UK English: https://market.android.com/details?id=es.codefactory.android.app.ma.vocalizereng&feature=search_result
For more information on how to purchase your copy of Mobile Accessibility please go to http://www.codefactory.es/en/products.asp?id=415#getit

If you still have not tried it, you should do it now. Our 30-day demos are available here:

Mobile Accessibility Demo US: https://market.android.com/details?id=es.codefactory.android.app.ma.vocalizerenudemo&feature=search_result
Mobile Accessibility Demo UK: https://market.android.com/details?id=es.codefactory.android.app.ma.vocalizerengdemo&feature=search_result

Mobile Accessibility is only available in English at the moment. Languages to follow soon are:  Spanish, Italian, German, French and Portuguese.

Mobile Accessibility doesn’t support multiple languages at one time. If you buy the English version of Mobile Accessibility you will not be able to use it in another language like French or Spanish. There will be a specific version of Mobile Accessibility for each language and each version will have to be purchased separately. US and UK English are 2 different languages.

Mobile Accessibility is two products in one:
A suite of 10 accessible applications (Phone, Contacts, SMS, Alarm, Calendar, Email, Web, Where am I, Apps and Settings) that have been specially designed for the blind and visually impaired. They all have a simplified interface whose textual information is spoken using Nuance Vocalizer® voice synthesis.
A screen reader that allows users to get out of the suite and navigate the standard interface of their phone.

The major features of Mobile Accessibility are the following:
Touch navigation: You can use Mobile Accessibility not only with the trackball or the physical keyboard of your phone, but also with its touchscreen! Simply move your finger around the screen and the voice synthesis will read the text located under your finger. Or if you prefer, you can also swipe up/down/right/left and tap on the screen to navigate through the interface. And if you wish you can enable sound and vibration feedback.
Easy to input text: In or outside the Mobile Accessibility suite you can use the touch QWERTY keyboard as well as speech recognition to write text quickly and easily. Imagine writing an SMS or an Email using your voice only.
Voice synthesis: Code Factory has been making mobile phones accessible to the blind and visually impaired for many years now, and they know that the voice matters… and a lot! For Mobile Accessibility, Code Factory has partnered with Nuance® to leverage its trusted Vocalizer text-to-speech technology, providing consumers with natural sounding voice readback. 

Inside the Mobile Accessibility suite of accessible applications you can do the following
Phone: Make calls, answer calls, hear the caller ID and manage your call log.
Contacts: Manage your contacts, even those from social networks such as Facebook. 
SMS: Compose and read short messages. Manage conversations.
Alarms: Set your alarms.
Web: Full web browser experience, similar to what you can find on your PC. Jump by the control of your choice (links, paragraphs, headings, forms, etc.) to navigate faster to the information of your interest. Bookmark your favourite webpages.
Calendar: Create, edit and delete a calendar entry. View all events per day, week or month.
Email: Full access to your Gmail account
Where am I? : GPS application that gives you updates on your current location.
Settings: Change ringtone. Configure feedback and notifications (vibration or audio). Configure keyboard echo, punctuation verbosity, speech pitch and rate, etc.
Quick access to date and time, phone status information such as battery level and network coverage, number of missed calls and unread messages, etc.

To hear Mobile Accessibility in action listen to videos and audio demos at http://www.codefactory.es/en/products.asp?id=415#video

Mobile Accessibility supports all Android phones from version 2.1 and above. Please note that voice recognition is only supported with version 2.2 and above. Note also that if you want to use the screen reader functionality of Mobile Accessibility you will need a phone with physical navigational controls such as a trackball or trackpad. You can find more information about Android phones at http://www.google.com/phone/#manufacturer=all&category=all&carrier=all&country=all&reset_filters=1

To learn how to use Mobile Accessibility for Android, please consult the user guide at http://www.codefactory.es/MA/en/ma_1_0_manual.html. For technical assistance, please submit a ticket through Code Factory’s Help Desk at http://www.codefactory.cat/helpdesk/

For more information, feel free to contact Code Factory S.L.:

Code Factory, S.L., Rambla d’Egara 148 2-2, 08221 Terrassa (Barcelona)
HelpDesk, www.codefactory.es
Code Factory, S.L. – 2011

 

LL

Oratio for BlackBerry now available!


Another release by Code Factory. Wow…these folks have been busy. Read on if you’re a BlackBerry user.

Oratio for BlackBerry ® is now available
Longueuil, QC, Canada and Barcelona, Spain, February 1st, 2010 HumanWare and Code Factory are pleased to announce that Oratio for BlackBerry(R) smartphones is now available for purchase. Formally known as Orator for BlackBerry smartphones, Oratio is the first screen reader software solution that enables visually impaired users to access and operate BlackBerry smartphones using state of the art Text-To-Speech technology to convert the visual information displayed on the BlackBerry smartphone screen into a intuitive speech output. This enables its users to use BlackBerry smartphones to increase their independence and productivity in todays competitive world.

The name was changed from Orator to Oratio to avoid any confusion with an existing product called Orator being manufactured by a telecommunications company in the USA. Although we got accustomed to the name Orator for BlackBerry in the last few months, Oratio is less generic and provides a more personalized name and sound for the product says Michel Pepin, Product Manager at HumanWare.

Availability:
Oratio will first be released in North America in English, supporting the BlackBerry Curve 8520 smartphone from AT&T, available through online purchasing from www.oratio4bb.com for $449 US for a single license. Support for additional BlackBerry smartphone models and languages will be available in subsequent versions of Oratio.

Oratio is the product of the joint collaborative efforts between HumanWare, Code Factory, the leading provider of screen reader technology and maker of Mobile Speak, and Research In Motion (RIM), the maker of the award winning portfolio of BlackBerry products and solutions. Oratio users will experience more freedom and independence in their activities with the ability to stay connected anytime, anywhere. Users will also experience greater flexibility to manage their day-to-day activities in ways that are most convenient for them, increase their productivity and achieve more by quickly and efficiently accessing information they need.

Oratio also provides employers with an accommodation solution for blind and visually impaired employees that leverages an organization’s existing investment in BlackBerry infrastructure and technologies.

Feature rich, through its easy to use menu and efficient shortcut keys, Oratio will provide users with:

Intuitive and familiar audio user interface.
Easy-to-use customization options for frequently used settings.
Auto start mode when the device turns on.
Different verbosity levels to allow users to define the amount of information provided.
Keyboard echo settings for text entry.
Easy to use command structure.
Support for BlackBerry smartphone’s core applications.

BlackBerry smartphones offer multiple applications essential in a business environment. Oratio was designed to support the core application found on the BlackBerry smatrtphones allowing visually impaired users to:

Manage instant messaging, emails, SMS and MMS.
Make and receive calls with access to caller ID on incoming calls.
Manage contact list and call log.
Schedule appointments and tasks with alarms and reminders.
Access to the phone’s settings, ring tones, speed dials and voice tags.

Oratio is the first screen reader solution for a JavaME operating software (O/S). While this first release version may not answer each specific individual user’s needs, HumanWare, with the joint collaboration of RIM and Code Factory, remain dedicated and committed to the future development growth of the product. We invite Oratio users to share their experiences with the product. This will provide us with directions on how to improve their BlackBerry smartphone experience says Michel Pepin. Our goal is to provide equal access to visually impaired users by enabling them to access and operate BlackBerry devices in a manner that is functionally equivalent to solutions offered to sighted BlackBerry users.

About HumanWare
HumanWare (www.humanware.com) is the global leader in assistive technologies for the print disabled. HumanWare provides products to people who are blind or have low vision and students with learning disabilities. HumanWare offers a collection of innovative products, including BrailleNote, the leading productivity device for the blind in education, business and for personal use; the Victor Reader product line, the world’s leading digital audiobook players; the SmartView family of handheld and desktop electronic magnifiers; and myReader2, HumanWare’s unique “auto-reader”. For more information about HumanWare, visit www.humanware.com.

About Code Factory
Code Factory is the leading provider of screen readers, screen magnifiers, and Braille interfaces for the widest range of mainstream mobile devices. Our mission is to break down barriers to the accessibility of mobile technology for the blind and visually impaired. Our accessible solutions are used in more than 50 countries and 30 languages. Among Code Factory’s customers are well known organizations for the blind such as ONCE, and carriers such as AT&T, Bouygues Telecom, SFR, and Vodafone. To learn more about Code Factory, visit http://www.codefactory.es.

©2010 HumanWare.

LL