Sunday, 9 March 2008

Mobile phone for the Blind/Disabled

spice-blind-1.jpg At the Mobile World Congress trade show, I was lucky enough to run into Sonia Sharma from My Mobile, who has a job even better than mine: she's like me, but in India. I write about cell phones. She writes about cell phones that are completely transforming a nation of a billion people, many of whom don't have running water.

Both she and I were very interested in Spice Mobile's low-cost phone for the blind, shown at left. The "Phone for the Visually Impaired" is a very simple, voice-only phone with a braille keypad. When you press a button, it speaks the number, and when you press the call key, it speaks the number you dialed. It has ten speed dials, and it could retail for less than $20.

Spice reps at the show said they're in touch with various advocates and charities for the blind, and could produce the phone in European, American GSM, or even CDMA models, covering the globe. If it's sponsored by a charity, the phones could even be free.

Voice phone calls are probably one of the most blind-friendly technologies I can think of, so it's very surprising to me that Braille phones with voice prompts are so few and far between. Samsung released one in China in 2006, and Samsung phones in general can be set to speak everything they do, but the low cost of this model could get a lot of blind people across the globe connected.

Spice also showed the "People's Phone," which is like the Braille phone but without the Braille. The displayless People's Phone will retail for $10-20 in India, said Spice product development head Anuj Nangia.

Removing the display helps the People's Phone avoid the fate of the MOTOFONE F3, a black-and-white-display phone produced by Motorola that didn't sell as well as expected in India. A display raises expectations of text messaging and multimedia, where removing the display (and pricing the phone at $10) makes it clear this is just a voice device, Nangia said.

"It's like the olden days, when we had fixed lines with no display," he said.

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