Entertainment holds a place of high value in our technology; the number of game apps in the Apple App Store are a key example that we're using our handsets for fun and not just functionality. However, more and more, smartphone technology is being utilized in areas beyond spreadsheets and VoIP. Doctors can now store patients' records on their iPhones, diabetes forums are debating about which app best helps monitor blood sugar levels, and there's even an application to monitor your blood pressure.
This month has already seen a few announcements that push the boundaries of how we use our handsets. Sprint announced the latest handset in its line of CapTel phones, the CapTel 800i, designed specifically for deaf or hard-of-hearing users. Part of Sprint's line of Relay services, the CapTel 800i automatically routes incoming calls to a captioning service where operators use voice-recognition technology to transcribe everything the caller says into text. The text is instantly transmitted to the CapTel 800i over the Internet and appears on the phone's 5-inch, tilting LCD screen. The CapTel 800i works on any telephone line (digital PBX systems will require an analog port) and requires a landline and an Internet connection, preferably high-speed. Interested parties are also hopefully patient, as Sprint says the release date is "in the near future." However, there is a waiting list.
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Two Google engineers asked the question, "Why do you have to look at a touch screen to use it?" From there, they developed the Eyes-Free shell for Android. The software finds the user's finger on the touch screen and defaults it to the number 5 on a keypad. It takes only a swipe up (number 2) or down (number 8) to locate the rest of the keypad numbers and dial a contact. There is a slight auditory tick as your finger moves over the buttons, which are synced with a slight vibration so that the experience is similar to that of a physical keypad. If you make a mistake, you can simply shake the phone to undo. The software also provides single-touch access for date and time, as well as audio alerts for battery life and signal strength. Perhaps most important, it works with the phone's GPS to announce your location. There are currently five videos available that demo the process.
While that program might wind up being more frequently used by sighted touch screen owners who, for example, don't want to take their eyes off the road, it's certainly a step in the right direction. Finnish researchers have been busy developing a Braille method using piezoelectric touch screen devices. This Braille touch screen method uses a single pulse of intense vibration to convey a raised dot, and a longer, fainter vibration of several pulses to represent a missing dot, which work together to spell letters. It's not mobile-ready -- they're using a Nokia 770 Internet tablet -- and there's certainly a learning curve involved as users have to reacclimate to the feel of the letters. However, if you consider this development in addition to the Google software and the shake-to-dial functionality of Muhieddine El Kaissi's A Special Phone application, things start becoming interesting. Some possibilities aren't far from becoming reality for users both sighted and blind.