[Mm-friends] thoughts on this week's episode

Sabahattin Gucukoglu mail at sabahattin-gucukoglu.com
Tue Aug 16 20:51:22 GMT 2011

I feel a bit spoiled.

I got to use and love a Braille Lite M40, with its serial-line terminal program.  I used a Keynote Companion, with its built-in DOS prompt.  Then I moved on to the Windows CE 2.12-based BrailleNote.  It was all smoke and mirrors.  The only glory it shared with its predecessors was that, being text-based, it was optimal for blind users, and especially braille users.  It remains the strongest selling point of all notetakers today, in my not-so-very-humble opinion.

They aren't "Ghetto" technologies; that's just an excuse made by people who refuse to acknowledge practicality in the face of overly-expensive niche-market products.  However, as owner of both BrailleNote Apex QT (soon BT, and if you've been following the BrailleNote list you know why [1]) and PacMate Omni QX440, I can attest to their various strengths and weaknesses.  I can also, as owner of Mac and iPhone, attest to their inadequacy in aggregate, simply because they cannot keep up with mainstream requirements.  I've never been certain about the purchase of a stand-alone braille display, partly because I could never find a decent one that would meet my needs, but mostly because I doubt very much whether, with all the durability and surprising ability of a bluetooth keyboard and display with an iOS device, they could match the kind of one-touch, instant-access, simple and completely braille-literate tools we enjoy with note-takers and especially the BrailleNote, by far the most retro-fitted device of them all, with at least as much typical functionality as all the others and superb braille output [2].  The Apex is my note-taker of choice.

Now, a bit about the notetakers themselves.  I'm not an unsophisticated user, and have requirements beyond the simple.  I am sorry for the use of Windows CE and Windows Mobile, which are not good platforms to develop fundamental technologies on because they are so focussed on graphical interfaces.  This is also a good part of the reason why many third-party apps simply do not run on the products.  HIMS has at least partly addressed the issue for developers of their community with an SDK.  Freedom Scientific, while it at least provides a platform which supports many more mainstream applications like IMAP and PowerPoint, is stuck with the same problems plaguing the cell phone screen readers, namely that various hacks and kludges are needed to make apps reasonably self-voicing.  And HumanWare, of course, hasn't done anything at all, leaving everyone with a very nice, but horribly closed, platform.  Only Levelstar have picked up on this particular bit of clue.  Users are left choosing products between extremes of philosophy and never quite being satisfied; a sad state of affairs for such expensive devices. *Sigh*

Oh, well.  Maybe, one day, a dock will be invented for iOS devices that turn them into super-notetakers.  Maybe Apple will touch up VoiceOver and turn it into some sort of menu-driven (or menu-accessible) application launcher.  I doubt it though.  I think we'll all need some sort of notetaker and some sort of mainstream device, until the wind changes direction.  If nothing else, we can only hope the price of braille displays comes down.


[1] HumanWare finally came out and told us that the Apex QT model had been hobbled by an update to the protocol, rendering it useless as a braille terminal for any screen reader besides JAWS.  A fix is promised.
[2] Especially the "Indent 2 cells" option in KeySoft.  That impresses me favourably when reading.

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