Phone options for the blind previously been pricey hardware based solutions -- or feature-light (physically-heavy) handsets. While the functional abilities of smartphones have expanded out wildly from the mobile devices we used to use, accessibility options have remained firmly in the past. Enter Georgie, an Android app that offers up a blind-friendly interface to open up the likes of maps, Twitter and email. It also includes an OCR function that can both re-display text in larger fonts and offer an audio version for listening. You can even store these photos for listening to later. Navigation through the app is steered by holding your finger to the screen, hearing the menu described and giving haptic feedback to confirm your choice. Keep reading to see how the app developed and our impressions on how it all works. You can also check out our hands-on video, which includes a glimpse at the app's OCR read-out feature and a quick demonstration from its co-creator Roger.
The app was initiated by Roger and his wife Margaret, both from the North of England, who got in touch with an app maker to carefully develop the idea over the last 18 months, passing through several months of testing with other blind users. It's being launched alongside retailer Sight and Sound Technology, which specializes in tech for the visually-impaired. It will offer Android phones preinstalled with the app, but one of the most important features is that it can be loaded onto any Android phone running version 2.2 or later. This means you're free to buy any Google-powered device to run the UI, which runs as an app overlay, with support and setup help from Sight and Sound Technology. The retailer offers several smartphones, from the Samsung XCover to the Galaxy S III, focusing on large-screened devices with physical buttons for ease of use. We found the app a little temperamental during our hands-on time, often crashing back out to the standard Android Gingerbread homescreen. The makers told us that these were the developmental models, and admittedly, our second test device was far more stable. The talk back menus worked very well, once you get the hang of holding your finger over your selection and it makes a lot of sense to offer a software solution on existing hardware, rather than go the more difficult route of making dedicated (but niche) devices. It utilizes a phone's digital compass, and read out the direction the user is facing, something that is apparently very important when navigating through public transport, while the audio component opens up Google Map features in a non-visual way.
Prices start at £300 (around $465), including a smartphone, while the standalone app can also be bought for £149 ($230) -- which might sound pricey until you compare it to existing OCR-centric apps or hardware. Georgie is available to download now on Google Play, but you'll still need to give the (UK-based) phone number a call to provision and pay for the service.