Thursday, January 07, 2010

Detroit 2009: The Lost Humanware Notes Are Now Found!


The simple truth is that I renamed the file in which I had these notes and then promptly archived it away for safe keeping.. from myself it appears. And in even a more embarrassing admission, gulp, it was in a fairly completed state of being postworthy.

I was already in a reflexive kind of mood from my talks with Blind Bargains on the stories of 2009. So I figured I’d go ahead and post this info in the spirit of nostalgia. Or what was already on the table pre Braille Note Apex. In either case, I’ve not altered the tone of the write up. Nor did I drop in pieces of knowledge from the far flung future that is 2010. With that said, as promised more than six months ago, I give you the lost Humanware notes from the NFB 2009 National Convention. 




The room had the best air movement and temperature out of all the rooms I was in for the Convention. It, like so many others, was small and 60 chairs fill up quickly than convention goers realize. People came and went during the presentation as Humanware broke their time into specific product meetings.

The first hour was devoted to the Trekker Breeze. I arrived 30 minutes into this discussion and, to be honest, it was the same questions/answers I heard about the product in Dallas 2008. It breaks down to this… some people don’t know how GPS works and some people want it to do more than it currently can [or ever] can be offered professionally. I like the Breeze for point to point travel and if that isn’t enough for some people Humanware has two other solutions with even more functionality available.

So I’ll pick up with the Braille/Voice Note meetings. Keysoft 8 will be arriving soon. The update will feature the new Keychat program that will let you expand your abilities to talk with other users over the web. The update will also have support for Audible formats like it’s Victor Reader Stream cousins. Generic printer driver support has been enhanced and the company has worked with HP to have better on board driver support for their lines of printers.

The crowd cheered when it was announced that the Eloquence synth was coming to a Braille and Voice Note mPower and PK near you really soon. The sub folder improvements that came with the 3.0 edition of the Victor Reader software will also now be coming to Keysoft 8. Enhanced support for USB drives helps you keep more stuff in those folders, however, it is recommended that the USB drive not be a U3 compatible device. The units can detect non U3 USB sticks better. You can always uninstall the U3 portion of a drive if you already have a drive that you want to use with your mPower though.

Another great improvement with Keysoft 8 comes in the form of support for WPA wireless encryption.

Several questions were asked about the memory and storage limitations with on board memory in the Braille and Voice Note lines. The panel wanted to stay away from a technical chat on hardware and Windows CE specs, however, info did slip that Humanware looks at their product cycles in a 5 year plan. The company didn’t have anything to announce today but quick math shows that the mPower is coming up on its 5th birthday very soon.

Once when the cat jumped out of the bag on the possibility of new hardware, the team announced that it was time to talk about the next version of the Victor reader Stream software.

They moved right into the Highlight reel and then topped it off with talk on the update with little preamble. Some of the features that were spotlighted were the following tender morsels :

A statement was made that all updates will be free for the stream.

E pub book support was coming It was said that this was a sub set of the DAISY format and Google is looking to use this in future E Books initiatives.

Selectable and variable sample rate MP3 recording is on its way.

The team is considering support for the Office .docx format for a later release.

Support for “Save as DAISY” is also an upcoming feature being considered for a future release.

The panel was inundated with requests for the “Date and Time” feature to be a priority for an upcoming version of the software updates. The panel did their level best to quell the rising tide, however, they said that it was not set for release just yet.

More requests now for Kindle and PDF support. Now it gets technical. Some discussions on how fast these formats change and how often it would take to keep up with it all. Minor discussions on conversion and the Humanware Companion software. But nothing earth shattering.

A great tip for training someone on the Victor Reader Stream is to use the unit without a SD card on board. I may have to use that one next time I do an overview on this product.

The last session focused on Humanware Mobile. Some time was given to the new Braille Connect 12 cell display. The crowd was unmoved, however, this can work with mobile phones and may be a neat alternative for those who go for the mobile phone option over a larger more friendlier Netbook display.

A representative for RIM is on the panel. Here come the facts and figures.

25 million Blackberry users active in over 150 countries.

13,000 employees worldwide.

Their app store, called App World, is now going and they now have an accessible API.

AT solutions will come from 3rd party development.

14 point font is a built in feature for Low Vision users.

Alphabetic speed dialing for those who memorize their contact lists.

Voice dialing options.

The rep went on to say that previous versions of the Blackberry OS were very JAVA dependent. The memory of older versions of the popular phone could not accommodate common TTS software solutions. Therefore, only the newer phones going forward would be able to use Orator.

RIM will be openly working with their developers at their public events to design applications with a need to have accessibility “baked in” with future releases. Information from these events will be released to the public and it looks like tere is a concerted effort to have third parties on board.

Some of the designs in mind include a Training Wizard for new users and support for external keyboards for those who dislike the “stickyness” of the track ball. I asked specifically if this sticky behavior was object or element based. At the time of the event it was said that it was based on elements.

A brief demonstration of the early GUI and main menu navigation was given. The unit was in a solid beta, however, the release of Orator is dependent on several issues. The timing of hardware that supports the product is hampered by the partnerships RIM has with their carriers. Subsidies and hardware inventories can complicate the release of any new phone. And so is the case with RIM and Orator. The good news is that when the product does go live it will be ready to go on many of RIM’s later releases.

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