2006 Conference General Sessions



Pierre Hamel


445 du Parc-Industriel

Longueuil J4H 3V7 Canada

Day Phone: (450) 4631717
Fax: (450) 4630120
Email: pierre.hamel@humanware.com

Future Accessible and Highly Portable Computing Platforms
By Pierre Hamel, Vice-president Research & Development, HumanWare Canada October 1, 2005
The introduction at the beginning of years 2000 of mainstream Pocket PCs opened the door to the development of accessible and highly portable computing platforms. The recent introduction of accessible Smartphones represents another step towards computing portability.

Visually impaired users now have access two 3 distinct categories of accessible computing platforms: standard desktop/laptop PCs; Notetakers in a box and portable PocketPC/Smartphones.

Pocket PCs/Smartphones offer significant differentiators compared to PCs and conventional Notetakers: low acquisition cost, limited accessory obsolescence over time and portability.

Low acquisition cost comes from the fact that Pocket PCs are mainstream devices that are produced in large quantities and that offer a good performance versus price ratio to the users.

Limited accessory obsolescence over time applies to the comparison between Pocket PCs and Notetakers in a box. With Pocket PCs, expensive Braille devices (keyboards but more importantly displays) are not any more bundled with a CPU in a single package. A new paradigm is now emerging: users can carry with them a computing platform anti a set of accessories adapted to their needs (Braille/qwerty keyboard; Braille display; external speaker/headset; GPS receiver; etc). Limited obsolescence over time applies to these accessories: a Braille display is a Braille display, and a good Braille display shall remain a good Braille display in 5 years from now.

Portability comes of course from the fact that Pocket PCs have a small form factor. But portability is also a side effect of the new paradigm described in the previous paragraph:
users now have the possibility to carry with them only the accessories that they want, thus reducing the overall size of what they need to carry.

In the following sections, we will describe elements that will accelerate the deployment of accessible Pocket PCs/Smartphones:
- Arrival of Windows Mobile 5 running on the latest generation of Pocket PCs/Smartphones
- New mainstream technologies
- Ubiquity of Orientation aids


Finally, we will discuss the future of Pocket PCs versus Smartphone and we will address the following question: which category of products will prevail?

Windows Mobile 5 (WM5)
The launch in Fall 2005 of Pocket PCs running Windows Mobile 5 (WM5) will be bring tangible benefits to visually impaired users.

WM5 introduces persistent Flash memory for data and installed software. This means no more lost of data (hard reset) when Pocket PC batteries are dead. RAM (Random Access Memory) is reserved for execution of software applications.

Advances in hard drive storage technology mean that each year we see dramatic increase in the amount of data we can store in smaller spaces. Pocket PC and Smartphone manufacturers using the new WM5 specification will now be able to build hard drives into Pocket PCs and Smartphones thus expanding the storage capacities of these devices.

WM5 also introduces a cost-effective mobile messaging solution. This solution enables business users to easily stay connected to their Microsoft Office Outlook Mobile information while on the go.

Finally, WM5 expands both the Bluetooth and WI-FT wireless capabilities of Pocket PCs.

Bluetooth. WM5 Pockets PCs will now support multiple serial/HiD (Human Interface Device) Bluetooth devices at a time. Simply stated this means that a visually impaired user will now be able to type/read Braille using simultaneously his Bluetooth serial Braille keyboard and his Bluetooth serial Braille Display, while listening to audio output through his Bluetooth HID headset.

WM5 Bluetooth support will also enable Pocket PC users to remotely browse and transfer PC files.

WI-FI. With WM5, ActiveSync (file synchronization between Pocket PC and PC) can now be executed over a wireless WJ-Fl connection. This means that the Pocket PC does not have anymore to be inserted in its cradle for file synchronization with the PC.

New mainstream technologies
Bluetooth UPS receivers. A large number of Bluetooth UPS receivers have been introduced in 2005. They know come in small form factors (approximately 70 x 40 x 25 mm) and are very light (approximately 60g). They also typically include a rechargeable and replaceable Lithium-ion battery. Being Bluetooth, these devices do not need anymore to be physically connected to a computing platform (no more cables).


We believe that Bluetooth GPS receivers will accelerate the deployment of Orientation aids running on Pocket PCs.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFTD). RFID tags are low cost small integrated circuits (IC) connected to an antenna, which can respond to an interrogating RFID Reader with simple identifying information, or with more complex signals depending on the size of the IC.

RFID tags will open the door to the development of several applications running on Pocket PCs. For example, RFIF tags will enable visually impaired users to easily identify products. In fact, REID tags were primarily designed for product identification (replacing the old UPC bar code). Through an Electronic Product Code (EPC), a single REID tag enables to uniquely identify a specific product (manufacturer, product, version, and serial number).

RFID tags have also the potential to be used for indoor navigation. REID tags can be used to precisely identify specific locations such as building entrances, offices, restrooms, etc. Being low cost, REID tags also have the potential to be used to create graphs of interconnected waypoints similar to the outside road network used by outdoor GPS navigation systems.

Ubiquity of Orientation Aids
Orientation aids such as the Braille Note GPS and Trekker have been introduced on the market approximately 3 years ago. These products address for the first time a very important user need: orientation. Simply stated, orientation aids give freedom to the users, enabling them to circulate in a city without having to count their steps or to rely on a sighted pedestrian to know where they are.

We believe that one of the most valuable portable applications for the visually impaired users is Orientation! Wayfinding. As described previously, latest development in GPS Bluetooth receivers will stimulate the deployment of Orientation! Wayfinding applications running on Pocket PCs. Moreover increased availability of map data and GIS (Global Information System) information is continually enhancing the orientation/wayfinding user experience.

The vision of the future is simple: orientation aids should become ubiquitous and will leverage the deployment of highly portable computing platforms.

Pocket PCs versus Smartphones
The previous sections of the presentation have shown that the future of highly portable computing platforms is quite promising. But there is one question that still needs to be debated: Pockets PCs versus Smartphones, which platform will prevail in the future?

S Most main stream industry analysts predict that Smartphones will soon prevail over
Pocket PCs. Ultimately users will own a single device that will combine PC functions as
well as telephone functions, and this device is more likely to be a Smartphone than a
Pocket PC (although the frontier is blurring between WM5 Smartphones and WM5
Pocket PCs with Phone Edition).

But if we look at the needs of the visually impaired users, the picture is a little different. We also believe that accessible Smartphones will prevail, but this will take more time than in the mainstream market. The reason of this delay is mainly performance: Pocket PCs are still more powerful devices than Smartphones (2 to 3 times more CPU power in Pocket PCs than in Smartphones). Applications such as Orientation aids (with UPS, large maps and large database of points of interest), Daisy book playback (at variable speed) and eventually Pocket Reading (with OCR) still require a lot of performance and better execute on a highly clock rated Pocket PC.

For the next 12 to 18 months, we predict that Pocket PCs will continue to be the dominant platform for running accessible applications designed for visually impaired users. After that period, Smartphones will start becoming an important computing platform for the visually impaired community.

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