Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Accessible turn by turn voice guided navigation on the iphone...?

As the turn by turn navigation apps start to roll in now that Apple has opened the doors to development of such things, voice guided navigation is now available for the iphone. AT&T have got one going for a monthly subscription in the US, so will O2 follow suit in the UK ? And even more importantly, will such things work with the iphone 3gs accessibility feature, VoiceOver ?

Often it's the maps that make such apps for mobile devices cost and arm and a leg, but I can't help thinking that those of us who are visually impaired and who need an accessible solution for navigation tend to get even more shafted by and large.
A prime example being Wayfinder Access.

In order to use Wayfinder Access, one has to have Nuance Talks or MobileSpeak on your mobile.  Talks is £150 for an IMEI based license, or £280 for a sim based license. MobileSpeak was £149 from Enableeyes last time I looked. Wayfinder Access itself is anything from £150 upwards depending on what maps you want. You need a data connection to use it. And of course you'll need your mobile phone to install all this on.
Wayfinder Navigator (which isn't accessible, so this is the version the "normal" people get to use) however, available on a 12 month basis (or a 36 month basis) is £49.99 for 12 months. You need a data connection for this too.
Having messed about with both of these, I wonder what Wayfinder Access provides, with regards to actual information to guide you, that Navigator doesn't. In my experience, nothing. It just works with a third party speech solution. So why is Wayfinder Access three times the price ? Oh, sorry I forgot - because it's a limited market (the stock answer). Perhaps if it wasn't so bloody expensive more visually impaired people would buy it.

Trekker Breeze from HumanWare is £485. Brilliant though it is - an all in one device about the size of a tv remote - a friend of mine who has one says the gps signal often drops out on buses. Dearie me. For that money I'd want it to be bulletproof. And don't even go there with the original Trekker, a bastardized Dell pda cum braille / tactile add on with extra bluetooth receiver and speaker. For the £1300 my fiance paid for it three years ago, it is fugly, and the development and support of it now very likely orphaned by HumanWare. And you look like a tit with all that gear hanging off you. Don't mention the 100 quid they would like to charge you for a new speaker - merely a rechargeable clip on effort with a run of the mill 3.5 jack to connect it to the pda headphone port - should yours crap out at the first sign of ambient moisture either.

Loadstone is a wonderful concept, free, and accessible (and coded by two blind blokes) - however as the "map" data is actually provided by users previously sharing route and area data with the program (PointShare), it's use is limited to those of us who live in an area already explored by other Loadstone users. Or those of us who are adventurous, or who have access to sighted guides to help us go over our routes prior to needing to traverse them alone. I wonder if an iphone version will surface ? I hope so. The iphone platform could offer so much more data provided by users for such an app, as there are so many of the sleek little Apple beasts out there.

For our sighted friends, we have an assortment of wonderful gps systems with voice guided navigation. Without voice guided navigation in car sat nav would be pretty unwise afterall, so voice guides are neccessary (and these days, usually standard). A quick look in Dixons reveals gps systems from 50 quid upwards, maps pre loaded. And you get the physical device included and ready to go !
Stick one in your silent but deadly hybrid car, listen to the dulcet tones of Celia (as my dad calls the mournful lady imprisoned in his TomTom), pootle blithely along and confuse a blind bod trying to cross the road today, why don't you.  lol.

I understand that just because most of my friends are visually impaired, it doesn't mean the rest of the world is too. I know I am in a minority. I know assistive devices are a limited market - but what sticks in my craw is that the tech for the things we need is already out there and being used in devices for the fully sighted every day. Yet the same thing is in an accessible form, it costs a shed load more. And often the very people who could use this assistive tech are the people who just don't have the money for this sort of thing.

I have been delighted to find that the majority of third party apps I've tried on the iphone 3gs have been at least partly accessible with VoiceOver. Some of them are completely accessible, and most of them entirely usable even if they don't speak everything on the screen. This is great because - ah, heaven ! - the visually impaired amongst us aren't charged any more than our sighted counterparts when we buy them. Perhaps, thanks to Apple's taking the accessibility bull by the horns with the iphone 3gs, the days of blind bods getting held over the proverbial barrel that is access to mobile phone software and given a good rogering are over. I really really hope so.
But I can't help fearing that when it comes to an accessible voice guided turn by turn gps solution, we may find ourselves yet again bent over and  looking at the rough ground of harsh reality whilst a company like Wayfinder Systems takes advantage of us. Here's hoping I'm wrong. Currently I don't have the money to give the current iphone turn by turn offerings that feature voice guidance a try on the accessibility front. If anyone else does, please let me know !

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