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Will Apple iPhone And IPod Be Accessible For Visually Impaired Soon?

03 August, 2007 by Peter Verhoeven

A growing number of new mobile devices on the market have a visual-tactile interface. These products are inaccessible to the visuaaly impaired and can be dangerous while driving a car or crossing a street. Apples patents show ongoing effort to bring voice commands to its portable devices.

Did you ever try to use an iPod or iPhone with your eyes closed? A small group of visually impaired are using a iPod with the installed Apple firmware. They use the clicks of the clcikwheel to navigate through the iPod menus and also count the clicks while selecting a specific song in a playlist.

A relative large group of visually impaired, bought an iPod and replaced the Apple firmware by Rockbox firmware.
I am one of those Rockbox fans listening to audiobooks and music on a Rockbox enabled iPod Nano. See my review on Rockbox.

The Rockbox open source comminity did what the mainstream industry did not until now, making interfaces accessible for every one by adding audio feedback.

While some visually impaired are using an Apple iPod, Apple's iPhone is completely inaccessible for visually impaired. Hope Apple will change this soon and adds an audio interface to their products.

An Apple patent application published today by the US Patent & Trademark Office reveals that Apple continues to build upon past research -- Audio User Interface For Computing Devices" (2004) and "Voice Menu System" (2003) -- to develop a speech interface for general purpose computing.

"Audio User Interface For Computing Devices," an update of Apple's 2004 patent, describes "an audio user interface that generates audio prompts that help a user navigate through the features of a computing device.

The audio prompts provide audio indicators that allow a user to focus his or her visual attention upon other tasks such as driving an automobile, exercising, or crossing a street."

While Apple and Microsoft both have speech interface technology in their operating systems, this particular patent focuses on speech navigation for MP3 players and mobile phones.

Apple's rationale for a voice-driven interface should be familiar to anyone who has tried to dodge cars on a busy street while changing playlists on an iPhone or iPod and balancing a scalding latte: Interfaces for portable devices demand attention and they're not always easy to read.

"One reason is that the display screens tend to be small in size and form factor and therefore difficult to see," the patent application explains.

"Another reason is that a user may have poor reading vision or otherwise be visually impaired. Even if the display screens can be perceived, a user will have difficulty navigating the user interface in 'eyes-busy' situations when a user cannot shift visual focus away from an important activity and towards the user interface."

With Apple making deals to put iPods in cars and on athletes, the company clearly has a vested interest in seeing that its devices can be used in 'eyes-busy' situations.

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