Thursday, July 06, 2006

Stories From The Exhibit Hall In Dallas-NFB 06

Well I am back from Convention, okay I was back on yesterday but slept until today, and I have news from the show Exhibit Hall floor.
One of the coolest things ever was the offer to clean your display for free. One of my co-worker's dropped off her Braille Note for cleaning and she remarked that this was better than any doo dad or water bottle giveaway. I tend to agree that this was a really neat idea as well.
I saw the new version of the My Reader, more of an updated OS really, and it looks a bit better and sharper than it's earlier models. And to me IMHO it seemed to scan just a second or two faster. Nothing else was new with it beyond that though.
The Xtend line of units, however, is their answer to the modular concept began by Optelec in the current line of Clearview products. The idea here is that this is one model with all it's features intacted. But you need a module, key kind of feature pack device to unlock some or all of the unit's features. Naturally this saves on shpping and the creation of specific and various models. The thing is that this isn't as nearly as interesting as the Xtend's keypad. Unlike the big calculator styled keypads found on older Humanware units the Xtend opts for a cleaner and more streamlined look and feel. The new keypad is a long box or strip that connects to the main unit like the external pads of yore, however, this resembles the My Reader pad rather than say one from the Smartview 5000KP or 8000 models. This keypad can be moved down to the bottom of the X/Y table Clearview style and the unit even sports a red locator reading light like the Optelec to boot. So you can simulate tray controls but the unit also has it's core functions on the front of the camera base for us traditionalists. The model I saw was brand spaking new and it had some quirks. So I reserve my official opinion for the actual shipping units. I do say that this is at least a positive step in the right direction for a company who's recent main focus seems squarely on Blindness products of late. See the Humware press page for a brochure and screen shots of this new CCTV here.
Speaking of Blindness Divisions the company that once touted a big eyeball as it's unofficial marketing icon is moving full speed ahead on a ramp up of it's core Braille products. The new ALVA BC series is sleek, flat and it makes you think of the Brailliant. Reps were quick to samck you if you said the B word on the show floor. And how can you not when Humanware is across the isle from you. But I digress..
The BC hosts some amazing features with a nice design suitable for laptop owners. The claims of it running your Screen Reader of choice are a little bit on the weird side as right now you can only run them like you would in a USB flash drive mode. That means if your not running Window Eyes everything else will have to be run as a demo. Again it's neat but not a feature I am thinking about being a selling point for new display owners. Wireless, bluetooth, smaller and the connectivity with the feature pack [theres that phrase again] are far better points of interest really. The units are poised for roll out in the next month and we should have a look at one then. The official link is in the June Tech update as well Larry Lewis was interviewed by Main menu on June 28th. Check their archives for that and Mr. Mozen's Keysoft 7.2 preview.
Oh .. and the real shocker of the whole Convention has to be Optelec publically telling me and others that they are no longer working on Low Vision technologies. This line of Clearviews may just be their last.
GW Micro:
The Sense View is really out and it's still really cool. 5 hours of battery life, digital zoom, color filtering, freeze frame and an expantion port for an external camera. And it's $825! Just as many if not more features than the Amigo at half the price. Just as wide a screen as the Pico but 1/4 the width. If your in the market for a hand held CCTV this is one YOU HAVE TO SEE!
I also saw the new case for the Small Talk Ultra. It's freaking sweet as well. The case folds out so you can use the 88 key external keyboard in situations where you don't have to use the on board extendable 57 keypad. I was told that heat was not an issue when leaving the STU in the case. And again it's still one of the neatest devices out there period.
Oh .. and it's official now. That thing I couldn't talk about in the Tech Update was the alliance between GW and Ai Squared. Zoom Text Magnifier can be loaded to run with Window Eyes on the Small Talk Ultra. While some may say that Screen Mag on a very small PDA screen is kind of useless I say that it's more for cleaning up fonts with xFont or changing color schemes without changing the Windows theme globally. Same way I feel about cell phone magnifiers as well. It's not making text bigger that's the key per say. It's the ability to make the text more legible from it's default style that should be the appeal for Screen Mag on screens 4 inches or smaller.
Ai Squared;
Blah. Nothing new. The same keyboard from CSUN is now partying it up at Convention. I guess it had such a good time at Spring Break that it needed a Summer Tour. I got some distressing news about ZT 9.1 and there was some nasty comments made about Vista by several people but both aren't worth going into now. Maybe later when IE7 rolls.. or right before I sign another Non Disclose Agreement for the next round of Beta tests.. LOL
Pocket HAL for Windows Mobile 2005 rolls in two weeks. Publisher/Producer is gaining a foothold in the US. And I know that to be true. A Community College in the Houston area bought the program and it's one of their exclusives for the creation of DAISY documents. They just love the program and I believe they will be speaking about it at the next few AHEAD events.
Let's pretend I don't know a lot about the K-NFB Reader shall we? Okay that isn't working. I have seen, used and tried to ignore the throng of interest about the joint project. And it's recent price hike from $3,000, mentioned during the Beta, to $3,500 is just insane. The drawbacks of this thing doesn't make the price of admission worth it by a long shot. Part of the problem is the old "how do you describe the color orange to a totally blind person?" thing. This product is most accurate when there is a lot of light, a very flat surface, really clear print on non colored materials and that also can't be an odd font style as well. Reading menus? Um.. Olive Garden. Low light levels with script and cursive writing. Not going to happen.
Now don't get me wrong. This device will eventually be redesigned and updated as the technology gets better.. and CHEAPER. But is this device ready for general use? Not really. The time you have to spend in lining the device up and then scanning and then waiting for it to speak will drive you nuts. A stand alone scanner may be a pain to carry but it's actually cheaper and more accurate. Remember also you have to charge up a camera and a PDA as well when using the Reader.
Honestly we have one coming into the Unit in the next week or so and I am quite sure I will have a lot more to say about this device in the very near future. But once again I say "Buyer Beware" as in my opinion this is not ready for Prime Time just yet.
And.. Kurzweil 1000 version 11 is coming. Better forms support, the ability to bookmark and add notes to MP3 or just about any other supported format are just two more features on the way in the next version of this wonderful OCR package. It's said that it will ship with Vista support whenever Vista ships. Their words not mine. Ha!
new units, with Flat Panels, coming on line in Q4 this calendar year. We may get a look at a prototype in Q3 so stay tuned.
Freedom Scientific:
These guys are super busy. They have added development staff to work on Vista and it's unique issues. But their release schedule has just doubled over the next 18 months. Hope you have your SMAs up to date. And before you say "money grab" I can say in FS's defense that this is not the case. The company will have to develop, created code and expand it's support not only for Vista but for the Open Document problems on the East Coast. I actually feel some stress is not to be scoffed at as the company will be facing some of it's biggest challenges ever between now and 2008. Well just about every company will with Vista but no one has the large install base and diverse product line like Freedom Scientific. no wonder Eric and Dusty's hair are turning grey. I would be losing the rest of mine if I took on their upcoming tasks.
Sighted Electronics:
The newly updated Trio Braille Display was on the floor. It sported a somewhat modified design to the one I saw in LA. If anything it's a direct rival to the new ALVA BC in it's feature set, however, I think the BC is going to street first with a bit more ATV support. Still I like what the Trio has to offer and I can't wait to see it's final release version ship later this year.

Ah... I feel better now. The coffee is wearing off and the Tivo becons me to my nice comfy couch. So off I go back to slumberland. .. zzz..

1 comment:

Gaurang Kanvinde said...

Wow! That was one comprehensive review!

I missed the exhibit hall at the Convention. Anyway, I guess it's never too late to introduce a good thing!

I am entrepreneur in the Assistive Technology field, and my company, Proaxsys Instruments, has recently launched AccessibleNews. It is an online tool that makes news webpages more accessible to screen-readers, by removing all the irrelevant links, advertisements, graphics, etc from the page.

I invite you to review it and tell us know about your opinion!

Best regards,