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mobile technology: choices and usage habits

I seem to be innundated lately with posts here, there, and everywhere about the IPhone, IPad, etc. It sometimes feels as if no other mobile technology is acceptable anymore unless it begins with the letter I. (That is meant to be a little humorous, and earlier I made a joke to someone that perhaps I would go to IBed.) If someone asks on a list about how to do something with a particular phone, I have even seen people post back, "You could get an IPhone. It would be easier, and you can do so much more..." This, in my opinion, is the height of rudeness. If someone posted a question about how to use the IPhone, I would not post back and tell them they should get a Fuze because it is a better phone. I would ignore the thread and let the IPhone users answer; or if no one answered, I would help them find an IPhone resource. The world is now big enough for multiple types of technology, and we really ought to be embracing that. I think the IPhone is a good thing. It is not something I see myself using. What I object to is not the existence of touch screen technology. It is the way that people have begun flocking to it and acting like it is the answer for all blind people. It is not the solution for everyone.

I have seen this occasionally with other mobile technologies as well. In general,if someone has a preferred technology, they think it is better and will subtlely snub someone who uses a competing product. Just as people prefer different screen readers, people prefer different mobile technologies; and we need to be able to respect that when talking to each other, especially when talking to someone who has never used mobile technology before. Someone might really take to a touch screen, or they might really need a keyboard. They might do well with a keyboard and a screen that maps to quadrants, like Mobile Speak does on some phones; or they might need a phone with no touch screen like the Moto Q. They might want a Nokia because it runs the KNFB Reader. Also, some people's choices might be limited by what carrier they want to use, and that needs to be ok.

I've heard people push new users toward the IPhone because they won't have to buy the screen reader. I really caution against this. If the IPhone is really the right phone for the person, the free accessibility is certainly nice. But sometimes we do need to pay for accessibility. It would be nice if it was all free like the IPhone; but we do get some very nice features in the software we are paying for. I have never used Talks, but I know people who do and from their descriptions it seems to be a comparable program to Mobile Speak in its features if you want to run a phone that needs it. I am deliberately avoiding a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of the special deals that carriers offer with special prices for phone and software bundles. Personally, I avoid them. The reasons why are for another post. In short, there are numerous factors to consider when picking accessible mobile technology: price, carrier, operating system, features desired on the phone, input method, previous experience with technology... It isn't necessarily an easy decision, and we need to respect that process for each other.

Now that my mobile tech snobbery gripe is out of the way, I will go on to the real reason for my post: what we do with this mobile tech while we are out and about...

When I looked up the IPad to find out just why people were going ICrazy about it, I thought, gee, the only thing it doesn't do is make your dinner! It's about the size of my Asus laptop; and it does everything a laptop does (with a touch screen, of course) and also functions as an MP3 player and connects to the data network. Oh, it is also supposedly a competitor to the Amazon Kindle. PCs have had tablet screens for a couple of years now; and in 2008 I bought a 12 inch PC that had a little bitty antenna that allowed it to connect to Verizon. Of course, I would have had to pay an arm and a leg at the time; and I chose not to.

I now use my little HTC Fuze on AT&T's data network. The Fuze is quite a little powerhouse, especially since I have finally properly upgraded my Mobile Speak. (Oh, I can even work on the touch screen now with the new version of Mobile Speak, though I can go back to the keyboard if I get mad at it.) It has Mobile Office on it, so I can read my gazillion scanned books or jot in my journal. It has Windows Media Player; so if I want a dose of music I can get some off my 32GB card. And it doubles as my phone! At one time I thought I would not like using my phone for all this extra stuff. I thought I needed to devote the phone to talk time--I didn't want to be caught out with a dead phone and not be able to call for a ride. That was before I discovered the extended battery. I haven't loaded the GPS software yet, and I don't know how that will tax the battery; but it does charge within a reasonable amount of time.

This all brings me to my point(s).

  • I have a huge library of scanned books. Do I really need a Kindle?
  • I often feel noise polluted and deprived of companionship. Do I really need music all the time?
  • And finally, do I need a device just because it is new? I've already resisted upgrading to the Tilt 2 because my Fuze is only a year old.

The other day I took my phone with me to my chiropractor appointment. I spend 30 minutes on a table getting electrostimulation therapy, and during this treatment I am face down. The room is often full, and people converse; but my voice is too soft and I cannot participate well. So I thought I would read while I was on the table.

I didn't realize that reading would affect me negatively. I felt very disoriented and disconnected from the room; and I realized that even though I wasn't participating in the conversations, I had been tuning in very purposefully to what people were talking about. I had been intentionally getting to know them. I know that usually J is on the table across from me, B is next to me, a husband and wife are on the tables next to J... When I am done with the table, I get another treatment procedure in a chair and I am able to converse... I am often across from the same person and he and I have learned enough about each other to begin greeting each other. If he comes in while I am on the table, he will stop and greet me there. If I am reading, I cannot greet him.

The phone has the power to disconnect me from the world. I'm not sure I want that! It is a good tool; but it does not need to be such a power over me.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 14th, 2010 06:17 am (UTC)
When I'm on the train or bus pretty much everyone around me has either an MP3 player, netbook, or a phone. No one talks anymore unless they know one another. I happen to like this because I'm not one to strike up conversations with strangers, but I definitely notice a difference now compared to even five years ago.

Also, I use an iPhone and I can't stand people who preach on about it as if it and Apple are perfect. It is not a perfect phone and it has some major drawbacks (lack of multitasking, lack of Bluetooth keyboard support, need for a monthly data plan, lack of GPS and scanning solution specifically for people with visual impairments, etc.). It is a great phone and I'm very happy with my purchase, but I bought it primarily because I was short on cash and it was cheaper for me to buy that than to buy Mobile Speak and Wayfinder for my Nokia phone (glad I didn't in the end as Wayfinder is no more, or so I've heard). My next phone will probably be an Android one if they are accessible by that point. I have a friend who bought a Nokia phone and is very happy with it. It all depends on your wants and needs. I happen to love the touch screen; my friend, on the other hand, much prefers physical keys. The iPhone has many apps but some basic things it can't do as well.
Mar. 18th, 2010 02:11 pm (UTC)
I for one wouldn't buy an IPhone if someone paid me to. And I'm also frustrated that it's being toted as the absolutely best thing for all blind people. Yes, free and built-in accessibility is a wonderful thing! Yes, paying an extra $300 for software to go on a phone to make it do even half of what everyone else can do is ridiculous. However, I guess this is what you're talking about: everyone's personal choices.

Liken it to the choices between toppings on a pizza, feminine products, or even brands of laptops! It is ridiculous how caught up people can get.
Mar. 14th, 2010 06:25 am (UTC)
actually- just to clarify- the ipad and iphone have a kindle application that is free, so they are kindle compatible. which is nice if you like kindle and all that it involves. not sure how i like it yet- i have it on my iphone, which i love as it is my first fully functional phone with my mac. and that is a huge relief for me. i love my macs, and i will be getting an ipad at some point. i love the idea of having a portable tablet that i can sletch on, but as they say, different strokes.

the one thing i do not understand is how touch screens can be easy for blind/vision impaired people to use. it's bad enough for me to use the keyboard on the iphone with my bad hand- i can't imagine trying to use it even with the installed speak soft wear.(which is loud- i have had it on, and it is ok, but nothing to write home about. as my dad says, at least apple does get that part right on their products- he has an iphone and uses the vocal option and says he prefers it over the verizon like phone he had)
Mar. 14th, 2010 11:39 am (UTC)
I do understand where you are coming from there. Some days I feel like I am too connected and have gotten caught up in texting and if I did not do that I would see if ATT&T had a flip that was accessible. I really do not have a need to have instant interent on the go or checking email from my phone. I basically want a phone to make phone calls with and if it is accessible enough to send a text message, then that is great too.
I think we have gotten too wrapped up in technology and don't know how to communicate any other way and that is really sad.
Mar. 14th, 2010 02:54 pm (UTC)
Let me preface what I'm about to say by stating that I applaud Apple's initiatives regarding out-of-the-box access. They have done great things. Having said that, it's hard for me to believe that the good times are going to continue forever. There may come a time when a new group of developers don't have as much of a commitment to the blind community. I've seen it happen time and again, with the most recent example being Wayfinder. For me, there is no absolutely perfect access solution. If I were starting over from scratch and had no computer or speech access software, I'd almost certainly give the Mac a long and hard look. But what I've got right now works fine for me. I've played with the iPhone, and I don't think it would be for me. I don't have a sensitive enough touch. All I'm saying here is just because something has worked for you doesn't necessarily mean it will work for someone else. With regard to people tuning out...I've seen that, too. I normally don't like to wear headphones when I'm out and about, mainly because they limit the feedback I get from the world around me. Somewhat akin to putting blinders on, no pun intended. Oftentimes when I take a transit bus, I hear no conversation of any kind. The only way I really know anyone else is on the bus is when I hear the music coming out of various headsets.
Mar. 14th, 2010 03:48 pm (UTC)
Just some perspective on Wayfinder... Sendero Group is actualy working on Mobile Geo these days. I think one reason Wayfinder was discontinued was the high cost of the solution compared to Mobie Geo on a phone. When I did my research, buying a BrailleNote plus GPS was quite expensive compared to a phone with GPS (under $1,000 for the GPS and my phone contract). Rehab would definitely have a preference. I think they should have kept support available for existing users, but they probably have to fund that and it likely was something they could not find a way to support financially--users didn't pay for map subscriptions, which was good for them but hard on the company supporting the map access.
Mar. 14th, 2010 06:14 pm (UTC)
wow.. I have a lot to say.. I agree on the rudeness. If you ask a question on a particular device, it's only polite to answer about that device, not say "if you had x.... ", and if you can't answer about that device, to not say something. Or at least I think.. I don't know. I've been mac and linux since before either were cool, so I've had my fair share of abuse from people telling me why windows is so wonderful. For what I do, it's not (I'm an astronomer).

I hadn't thought of iPhones/iPads etc being cool/good for visually impaired. I personally like them because you can easily zoom in and out on them to see details and stuff on pictures, and zoom in and out to focus on only exactly what you want to see. I love it, and forget sometimes when I switch to my regular computer that I can't do that. Sorry that's sort of a pointless comment ;-)

I have noticed, along with the others, that people seem to always be with their gadgets. I often walk around in my city, and I see people all around, always plugged into something. They are always on their phones, they always have their mp3 players on. I can often see a person walking or running or doing something by themselves, but I very rarely see them not plugged in - (not on the phone, not listening to the mp3, not texting or doing other things with their smartphones). Is the world so boring that they need to be constantly connected? I do not know.

Mar. 14th, 2010 08:38 pm (UTC)
my own thoughts on tech views.
I have the Iphone and adore it but realize it's not for everyone. I tested it, and because I couldn't pay enough attention in the apple store, I found the screen kind of annoying. But when ms began unvailing it's new upgrade, I realized, I would need to buy dectalk again and then another voice on top of it since now that it was supposed to be more responsive, I didn't want dectalk at all if I could help it. So you have just about two hundred dollars, and my thought was well, why not just get the Iphone seeing as how you'll be paying pretty much the same thing. My bill didn't go up very much, and if finances make it so, I'll delete texting, and minutes until i have the bare esentials left. having said all of this, I won't push the phone on anyone. I won't get the ipad simply because i have the Netbook, and the dell and that's it and the iphone makes three. do I need four? I'm more happy that Apple thought of us, instead of us needing the phone, and oh scrape together the extra money you don't have,if you really want to use your phone like a normal person. I hated asking for people to delete calls, and answering wondering if it was someone i wanted to talk to or not. Will I stay with apple? for now, yes. As for helping others, I always will.
Mar. 15th, 2010 01:29 am (UTC)
My real gripe is the fact that there seems to be no phone that all you do is to talk on the phone and maybe text without having to purchase a smart phone and expensive screen reading software. I have the deal with the Mobile speak and the software works really well, but frankly I miss my flip phone and really don't need or really want at this time to be able to surf the net and do email from the phone. I guess what I am saying is that my needs and wants are different from other people's and cannot seem to find what i am looking for without spending a lot of money.
Mar. 18th, 2010 09:20 am (UTC)
I couldn't agree more.
Amen to that! I am probably one of the very few blind folks who is a non-techy kind of guy. This doesn't mean that I don't know how to use a computer or software, I do. Yet I too don't see my own personal need to ever have a Smart Phone. I think oftentimes we try to max out a potential piece of equipment's capacity to do various things. This in turn taxes the battery life quite a lot and I'd rather have multiple devices that I carry around to do different things than to have one that does everything which could come up short someday. When it comes to a phone, I agree with the last commenter. I want a nice, reliable phone with lots and lots of talk time and maybe a text messaging option. I don't need nor want the web on it. I don't need email connectivity. I have a laptop to do those things.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah Blake LaRose
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