Monday, December 31, 2012

The Top 10 Blind Bargains AT Stories of 2012 Part 1

I’m always honored and flattered to be asked to help with this famous list over the years. To be able to give back this year with content and links from the SPN podcasts was even more of a thrill for me. It may sound crazy, but it never gets easier to pick these 10 stories, but putting them into a publishable format does become somewhat of a second nature to me now. And others will point out that I have no shortage of opinions. Therefore, two thirds of a massive undertaking complete! Now it just comes down to reading more than 200 articles and remembering 200 hours of recorded audio. Wait… what? Crap, note to self, be less talkative in 2013.
This year. To save on time and space, I’ll break it up into two sets of five stories. Then, just to be unique, I’ll follow it up with my own list that naturally differs a bit from the final one set by all the judges. Oh, and you can hear us discuss the official list on SeroSpectives: This Year In AT too. Here’s a link for that in case you are interested.
Now let’s review the bottom five of the list…
10. 10 Windows Phone still with No Access
Here’s what was said over at Blind Bargains
My thoughts are below…
On the surface level, ha! See what I did there? I should be more dismayed about this than I actually am. But when you kill the Microsoft Kin off in a matter of weeks from its launch, you rebrand Zune into Xbox Video/Music and you thumb your nose to those who joined you on the Windows Phone 7 stopgap train to Windows Phone 8, I honestly can’t get too upset about this beyond the issue that we expect that most major players are now coming to the table with something on board their new platforms. I can honestly say that the Amazon Kindle issue bothers me more on the fact that the install base is just a bit bigger than that of the Windows Phone platform. Okay, a whole lot bigger actually.
The train wreck that has been Windows CE, er um Windows mobile, no wait Windows Phone is such a long and winding tale that it actually is too complicated and involved for me to encapsulate the sad saga into a readable, and still vastly uninteresting, story here. Suffice it to say, it isn’t and hasn’t been good. And subsequent releases have been getting worse for AT Users. The fact that some are now saying that Windows Phone 8, for the mainstream, is monumentally and profoundly better is astounding but not so earth shatteringly astounding to me that I pine away at night in hopes of getting some sort of screen reader access on the thing. The former Rehab Engineer in me says I should care. The Tech Pundit next to him says I should care. The advocate for the Blind guy and gal agrees with them. But the other voices of my multiple personality disorder had a vote and the consensus was “Um… nah”. So, while I know that employment opportunities that require this platform are closed off until screen reader access arrives, I’m just beyond getting upset about Windows 8 Phone. Now that Windows 8 thing, on the other hand, I’ll get back to that later in the Countdown articles. For now, Microsoft could do us all a favor by releasing a Windows Phone based on the Surface technology. At least the improved narrator would probably let you send and get a call? We speculate on that in SeroTalk 129.
9. Amazon Adds Accessibility to some Kindle Models, but falls short
A ton of interesting comments over at the Blind Bargains page for this story.
My opinion is below…
As we’ve speculated on SeroTalk, we think that relying on the built in Android access isn’t a full proof plan to providing a suitable solution to the problem. And it doesn’t solve the issues for those using the Kindle app on other devices and platforms at all. So, waiting for Amazon to fork Android v4.2 isn’t the answer as this built in solution still may not work well with Amazon’s kindle hardware products. Minus a big operating system update, a redesign of the software and a commitment from Amazon to fix the issues for the Fire and other platforms, this story will continue to be a relevant one in 2013.
We have a great roundtable discussion on this, and we also link to our previous coverage on our distain for Amazon’s previous dropping of the E Reading ball, in SeroTalk 135. Which just so happens can be found at the very link below.
8. iPad Refreshed Twice, iPad Mini Added
Direct link to the Blind Bargains article
And you know I’ve got an opinion for this one….
Apple is at a very critical time in their transition from unexpected record highs to expected continuations of record highs. The iDevices are no longer unique, some would say iOS is showing its age and when you make more than 100 million of anything you really can’t be considered a boutique company anymore. Apple is now where sony was in the 80s. The bigger question is can Apple avoid being the Sony of the new millennium? Fragmenting your products, rapid releases of new models and not establishing product differentials were the first things Steve jobs fixed when he returned to Apple. The releases of these new products does cast a shadow on the old saying “history Repeats”. For those who need the AT spin on this story, fragmenting product lines means that only the people who can afford to purchase the latest Apple anything will be able to enjoy the best VoiceOver experience as new chips make all of Apple’s products run faster and better with VoiceOver. And before you disagree with me on that, try a 3gs on iOS6. Or take my less than 3 year iPad 1 out for a spin on iOS 5.1. Apple makes money on hardware and this trend won’t change at all in 2013 with iPad Mini 2, iPad 5 and iPhone 5s all on the horizon
I plan on elaborating about this and other Apple related viewpoints, in later posts. For now, to the chagrin of my friends at Triple Click Home, my initial thoughts on this subject can be heard in audio form with the “SPN Special: Scratching The Surface With Mike Calvo”.
7. Focus 14 Braille Display Released, Focus 40 Refreshed
Here’s the link to the Blind Bargains article
My take is …
The buzz about, the desire for and the product spotting in the wild of the Focus 14 have been on full display at almost every event I attended in 2012. People want a small, cheaper display that works well with JAWS and still pairs to other devices like an iPhone. And this unit may just fit the spot, and the pocketbook, for many looking for this kind of display. There are many options in the 20 cell and below field, however, it sure seemed like Freedom Scientific was able to capture a lot of the conversation in this arena during 2012 with the release of the Focus 14.
And here is a link to our audio interview with Freedom Scientific from the Blinded Veteran’s Association National Convention coverage that goes into more detail about the Focus line.
6. GWConnect Updated, causes debate with ad-supported model
To read what people have said in the comments section for this story, visit
here’s my take on the story
We in the blindness Community want to emulate the mainstream in everything we do. And everyone is on board… until the need for revenue of some kind comes into the conversation. This is even truer when it comes to advertising. The visual world is bombarded by ads in movies, in magazines, on YouTube videos and now on the walls of restrooms in restaurants. When it comes to ad spaces in the mainstream, almost nothing is sacred. However, when a company tries to offset the cheaper cost of providing an access solution through the use of ads… people who aren’t exposed to this mainstream way of how the internet works get upset. The New York Times experimented with placing their content behind a pay wall. Facebook is constantly in trouble for trying to capitalize on their platform with ads. And even Skype its self has ads within its opening views and has even considered ads before a call is connected. If selling ad space means that G.W. Micro can continue to offer and update a good service at a lower cost, then I don’t begrudge them at all from wanting to do so. It’s the way the internet works. Nothing is ever truly free online.
If we continue to adopt mainstream solutions for solving our real world needs then getting used to how real world technologies make their money is part of the deal. What G.W. Micro is doing is not unlike what a 3rd party Twitter client used to do before Twitter got all crazy with changes and locking down their API. The term that G.W. micro is applying here exists in program development and it is known as the “Freemium” model. No, I’m not making that up. See this article to know more.
The point is that what they did is about as real world mainstream as it gets and it is going to be the future for many programs you are going to use moving forward. Either the “free” tag in iOS with paid “In App” upgrades or things like G.W. Connect. As budgets grow tighter, traditional markets disappear and the way the web just changes so darn much, this is just a way of the world and adapting to the new playing field isn’t something I think people will grasp as the norm for a little bit longer. But it really is normal and, to me, that is a good thing. In a few more years, as AT Users become more exposed to this mainstream concept, it will just become common place. For now, it’s a big story because it’s new to many who don’t encounter it as often as our sighted peers.
I’ve got the other five stories coming later in the week, and after that big podcast I mentioned above where we cover all ten with a great panel of guests, so check back to read those and my own version of the year’s biggest later.

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