Before I begin the topic of this certainly provocative subject matter, let me say that I have absolutely no stake in any of the companies or products mentioned in this article. The success of the products like PAC Mate and others mentioned in this article would have never been made possible had it not been for pioneers both in the hardware and software industry. Hundreds of thousands of blind people’s lives have been forever and profoundly altered all around the world because of folks like Dean Blazie, Ted Henter, Glen Gordon from the development end of things and others like Eric Damery, Jerry Bowman and Dan Clark who made the business and less geeky side of things happen. To all of them and more, I am personally grateful. I am not exaggerating when I say, you changed my life.
It is however, my personal view that the adaptive technology industry has for the most part, lost its vision. This is an incongruous statement. An industry that has done so much for the blind has lost its vision -- its way in the market place.
Let me explain: I had the privilege and irreplaceable life experience of working up close and personal with the PAC Mate project team at Freedom Scientific from its bitsy board inception and revision 1 cycle running Pocket PC 2002, right through the end of its revision 2 development cycles which took it through its Pocket PC 2003 versions ending at 4.1. I have watched from afar with interest as the project has continued with the introduction of the PAC Mate Omni which runs Windows Mobile 6.
Unfortunately however, as with many products of this type, upgrades are not inexpensive and Enovation is inexcusably lacking. PAC Mate BX420 and QX420 (with 20-cell Braille display): at a whopping $3,795 from: http://www.freedomscientific.com/products/fs/pacmate-product-page.asp still only offers its users two antiquated compact flash slots, no on-board wi-fi or Bluetooth, no user replaceable battery, merely double its original memory specifications, a single USB client/host port and only one possible Braille device choice, causing any claims to it having any semblance of a “laptop replacement” or even being modular on any level not to be taken seriously by anyone doing an honest product comparison. (I will discuss the modular concept in greater detail later in this article.)
Think of the daily scenarios with which the hardware peripheral minded PAC Mate user is presented:
· I will have to make a choice between wi-fi and Bluetooth if I want to use a storage card.
· To use Secure Digital cards, I’ll need an adapter.
· If I need Bluetooth and wi-fi at the same time, I’ll need external USB solutions for extra memory storage.
It is my view that we have two choices. We can either reward this so-called Enovation by continuing to pay for it or we can find another solution! I say, IT IS TIME TO SEND THE PAC MATE (and other devices like it: Braille & Voice Note M-Power, http://www.humanware.com/ and Braille & Voice Sense, http://www.gwmicro.com/ ETC.) PACKING!
To that end, I would like to introduce you to a new product. This invention in conjunction with other hardware and software already in the main=stream consumer market, would, without a doubt, easily replace the current line of blind ghetto note-takers.
The product is a piece of hardware called “Redfly” and is quite simply described as a terminal complete with nearly full sized keyboard and ten inch screen for a Smart Phone or other Windows Mobile device. You can read more than you want to know about it at:
I am specifically recommending the revision 2 C8 model at a whopping… are you ready… $299.99 with its eight hour battery life, it even charges your phone or other Windows Mobile device while it is connected via USB! (Oh, and by the way, it also supports Bluetooth, though through-put is not quite as fast as USB.) Ok, let your imagination go wild! Add any CDMA or GSM Smart phone from your provider of choice for as little as $99.00 with a new or extended contract with some providers, a copy of Mobile Speak Smart Phone from:
For as little as $85.00 from at least one provider. Quite simply, the sky is the limit! You could then add one of any of the many supported Braille devices supported by Mobile Speak Smart Phone or Mobile Speak Pocket. Your GPS solutions become better and all Smart phones of which I am aware come already Internet enabled through all of the cell providers.
Unless my calculation is way off, I have spent quite a bit less than what I would spend even if I skipped Braille all together and just purchased the PAC Mate BX400 or QX400 for $2,395. I have all of the functionality and exponentially more modular expandability than I would have with a PAC mate Omni. By the way, in most cases, I also have a later version of Windows Mobile which is 6.1… not 6.0 as is claimed as the latest on the Freedom Scientific web site. The entire system is completely modular. Everything from the Smart Phone or Windows Mobile PC, to the Braille device can be replaced or left behind if not needed in a particular situation.
Example: While I may need Braille for this meeting, I won’t need it when I am at my daughter’s house listening to music. If something breaks or if you find something better, simply replace that piece and keep going. Here is another example: It is the way we think of component stereo equipment. Every component is separate: the satellite tuner, the cable box, PVR, plasma TV, DVD, IPod, the power amplifier, the equalizer… well… you get the idea. That’s the way it is if you start thinking of your mobile life in this model. Now, think about your PAC Mate or other blind ghetto note taker. Using these examples, are they modular?
In conclusion, I would like to get you thinking about the following questions:
· What “blindness” hardware products do I currently use to accomplish my daily tasks whether at work or at play?
· With what main-stream consumer hardware could I replace these products without degradation of usability at a lower cost?
· How can I be more proactive in communicating these solutions to other blind people?
Folks, it all goes back to the buggy whip principle. Buggy whips left the market place over time as the age of the automobile dawned. Blind ghetto products will leave the market place… or not… the same way. Ultimately you get to make the decision. Money talks: What will yours say?