Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Magical apps for your iPhone or iPad

By Jeff Samco, Assistive Technology Advocate, FREED

I work as an assistive technology advocate at FREED, an Independent Living Center in Nevada City, California. I am also legally blind, so I use AT everyday in my life. Here is a quick overview of the "magical" apps I use on my iPhone 4. 

Note: I do have a little useable vision for pointing a camera, although not enough to see what is on the screen, nor in the viewfinder. Also, I've only had the iPhone for 2 months. I solely use it via the built-in screen reader called VoiceOver. And, for those interested, I do not use it as a phone since I cannot afford the monthly service fee. Instead, I use it with apps that are entirely self-contained on the iPhone or those which work via a Wi-Fi connection such as I have at home, work and at some public venues.

US Currency Identification apps:

EyeNote, developed by the US Treasury, is a free application for your iDevice. I do applaud the US Treasury's effort to make US currency more identifiable for those who are blind or visually impaired. However, the implementation of the free EyeNote app falls significantly short in its performance compared to that of a previously-released commercial app by LookTell called Money Reader that costs  $1.99.

Here's my brief comparison of the two apps:

The EyeNote snaps a picture which is then analyzed and, if successful, speaks the denomination. The bill needs to lie quite flat in adequate lighting to be recognized. If not recognized, the user needs to again snap another picture and wait the few seconds of processing time.

The Money Reader app uses a continuous video stream from the iDevice's camera and activates an iPhone 4's built-in flash if needed. Recognition takes less than a second. Bills can be quickly passed in front of the camera and identified one after another. It will recognize a bill when fully open, folded in half or less, flat or krinckled. It rarely cannot identify the bill.

And cameras can do more than identify money. oMoby object identification is a free app that requires data connection via Wi-Fi or cell. You snap a photo of an object such as a box or can of food, and the image is sent off over the Internet for comparison with a database of images. If a match is made, a short text description is returned and VoiceOver can speak it. If no match is made, the image is sent to a live human who views it and types in a short text description returned to the sender. I've had great success in identifying various food items in the kitchen. Of course, results are only as good as the photo image taken.

Let's move on to GPS applications. The Navigon GPS app retails for around $70, but can be found on sale a couple times a year. I have quite a bit of experience with the Trekker Breeze (a handheld talking GPS device retailing for approximately $900) and will use it for comparison.

The Breeze: Very good with naming cross streets, distance to next turn, customizing walking routes and marking personalized locations. The Breeze's limitations include: It does not announce on which side of the street you will find your destination address, Points of Interest are limited, recalculating a route is slow, it comes with only one regional map (e.g., California only), it costs $75 to purchase maps for the entire U.S., and the Breeze is not so precise with vehicle directions.

Navigon: Certainly more limited with no ability to announce names of cross streets. Always tells the street name currently travelling, announces distance to and name of next turn, announces which side of the street destination address is on, includes all U.S. maps, and is much better with Points of Interest. The Navigon recalculates routes quickly and has better vehicle directions and information.

After using Navigon for a month now, I have found it to be adequate for my walking and driving needs (driving in the sense that I am the navigator for my wife).

And for the fitness minded, the iTreadMill walking pedometer app is only 99 cents and is self-contained on an iDevice. You can easily learn distance walked, current speed, average speed and number of steps, whether on a treadmill or out for a walk. The iTreadmill does not use GPS, but the motion sensor of the iDevice. Typically there is no way of getting information on a treadmill display other than viewing it.

I use non-AT apps, but these are the main ones that still amaze me for the added capabilities they add to my life.

What AT-related mobile device apps amaze you? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

1 comment:

  1. The Money Reader app is amazing. It can read paper currency in virtually any condition.