Blog Date: 
Monday, March 5, 2012
Clara Van Gerven

As I write this, we're in the San Diego airport and getting ready to head back to Baltimore after a very busy (as usual) CSUN in San Diego. The team presented to packed rooms on iOS vs Android, as well as on Google App accessibility, on Thursday. Today, Friday, we presented on 3D tactile graphics and on running Windows on a Mac to excellent reactions. It's always a pleasure to be at CSUN, but it is gratifying, I admit, to get such good responses.

There were, of course, a number of shiny new things as well. HIMS was showing the Braille Edge Braille display and the U2 notetaker, the follow up to the Braille Sense Plus. The U2 sports some new USB ports and the option of Verizon 3G connectivity. This will be the first time we've seen 3G on a notetaker. IMAP email will also be available on the U2; the only feature that was dropped was the compact flash card slot. The Braille Edge is a really (relatively) affordable smart Braille display. With forty cells and basic notetaking capability at under $3000, it is a very competitive device that works smoothly with iOS devices.

Freedom Scientific, for their part, was showing a working model of their new forty cell Focus Blue and a mock-up of the fourteen cell version. These displays no longer have the whiz wheels that the current line has, and instead have up/down buttons. We look forward to seeing the final versions of these displays in the second quarter of 2012. No pricing information is available yet.

Still on Braille displays, Perkins was showing their Mini display. The display has sixteen cells and for $1549, has basic notetaking, a calculator, and reads brf, brl and txt files. It works with iOS and rather handily comes with a mini SD card, mini SD card reader, and a bluetooth dongle for a computer.

In other news, LookTel was showing, in addition to their tried and true money reading app, the LookTel Recognize app, which lets the user take a picture of an object, create a short voice tag for it, and recognize it again later. Plans for a central database of recognized objects are in the works but have not yet been implemented.

The team also got an early peek at Windows 8, the first Windows operating system to attempt to implement accessible touchscreen functionality. Much work remains to be done ahead of the final release, though much better speech has been put in place instead of Narrator. Currently there is a plan to have an accessibility rating system in the Windows app store, unlike what is available in other systems. The gesture set available to access various part of the OS (such as the start menu and the app store) is intuitive, though a gesture practice feature would be useful. If Microsoft can make the touchscreen accessibility compatible with the Office Suite, that would be a real leap forward. It will be exciting to see what happens as Microsoft goes through this first wave of feedback.

Those are some of our overall impressions - expect to hear more from the team next week!