Friday, September 24, 2010

Multi-purpose Assistive Technology Device - Does Apple iPhone Make The Grade?

Written by Luke Hsieh of Community Access Center, Riverside

June 4th is a very important date to me. No, it's not because on that day in 1989 the Chinese government ordered a general crackdown on Tiananmen Square students, but it was on June 4, 2010 when I obtained my iPhone 3GS. This device has fundamentally changed my life.

The first device I retired was my much beloved iPod Touch (which I gave to my sister). The second device I retired was my 7-year-old Fuji Digital camera, which I probably chucked under the bed somewhere. The third was my Citizen Eco Drive watch, which I gave to my dad.

It is becoming fairly apparent that the Apple iPhone was designed to be an all-purpose PDA. Those who claim Apple’s iPhone 4G is inferior to HTC Droid because it comes with a 5 Megapixel camera as opposed an 8 Megapixel camera have completely missed the point.

The attraction of the Apple iPhone lies with the tens of thousands of third party applications for us technophiles to enjoy. Those third party applications are generally safe, cheap, and useful. Take my iPhone for example. I have turned it into an AAC device with Proloquo2go from Assistware, a GPS Navigation tool with Copilot, a hearing aid with Sound Amp from Ginger Lab, an 8 x Electronic magnifier, a barcode decoder, a portable scanner, dictionary, and a website reader. My customized iPhone feels like an extension of my brain. 

The problem with customizing an iPhone as an assistive device is that the iPhone performs every task at about 60% efficiency compared to a single purpose tool. For example, iPhone Electronic Magnifier won't be able to do real time color inversion because the video memory won't allow it to perform the task. The barcode reader won't locate 40% of the decodes inputted. The hearing aid drains battery power like nothing on earth, and the GPS could not find my house number. The iPhone comes with a built-in voice-over function for people with low vision or who are blind. However, operating an iPhone in the Voice Over Mode is so frustrating.  It is difficult to use without practice.

Having pointed out the limitations, I am devoted to my iPhone and would never regret the purchase.  However, as an Assistive Technology device, it is a light at the end of the tunnel, not the end of the tunnel itself. I look forward to the day when the iPhone XG can do all the assistive functions at 100% efficiency and cost about $200.

How have you customized your iPhone as an assistive technology device? What are some recommendations you have for Apple to improve the iPhone’s efficiency?


  1. I read your article and find that you say the barcode reader for iphone won't locate 40% of the decodes inputted. How could it? My phone can read such a barcode correctly. Sometimes the WIFI is not well, so the reader cannot work correctly, you can check your WIFI.