SimplEye: Now smartphones are accessible to visually challenged too

With the buzz that surrounds the launch of every new smartphone, like the upcoming iPhone 6, it's easy to forget that there is a fairly large demographic that cannot use these products - the visually impaired.

According to the World Health Organization, 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide. Sankara Nethralaya, a not-for-profit institution for ophthalmic care in Chennai, pegs the number of visually impaired Indians at about 15 million.

Kriyate Design Solutions, a Delhi-based start-up founded in 2012, has developed an app, SimplEye, to help bridge this gap between smartphones and the visually impaired, using sound, vibration and tactile accessories.

Kriyate's founder, Sumit Dagar has been working with the likes of the IIM-A Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) and Persistent Software to get the app ready for the market.

"Persistent Systems was one of the key partners for Inclusive Innovations 2013-an initiative undertaken for identifying innovations in the areas of healthcare, clean energy, water and technology," said Dr. Anand Deshpande, founder and CMD, Persistent Systems. "When we were scouting for innovations, we identified Simpleye from Kriyate as one of the truly innovative solutions in the accessibility space," he said.

Edited excerpts from an interview with Kriyate and Simpleye Founder, Sumit Dagar.

FB: How did you move from the IIM-A incubator to Persistent Systems? What did you gain from each experience?
We were part of cohort at CIIE (Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship). It allowed us to learn general business practices and to network with some impact space start-ups in India.

We connected with Persistent Systems when they were reaching out in context of i4C (a non-profit organisation that is a product of public-private-people-media partnership model.) We instantly pitched them about our possible collaboration which they took up proactively. Since then, it has been a structured development effort. We have gained a lot in terms of product stability, thanks to their high quality work.

FB: How does the app work? And how did you go about developing it? What points did you keep in mind while working on it?
'Simpleye' is a smartphone application that provides a custom designed interface of the phone for the visually impaired. This app is a simple, easy-to-use and comprehensive solution for any complicated or simple task related to a typical smartphone. It enables the user to do all the tasks that a user with sight can do with his smartphone.

The app uses touch gestures on the phone screen as the input method and gives voice output of content on the screen as output. We have redesigned the interface of the phone and have removed all the complexities (visual and interaction) usually associated with a screen. A few examples are the location specific items such as icons, buttons, text fields et al. The user is free to make gestures anywhere on the screen, independent of location, which gives him complete confidence of using the interface.

Features such as Braille typing, news, maps, dictionary are provided for. This is the first time (worldwide) it is done so with a seamless experience. The application provides all the features such as time (alarm, stopwatch, timer), calendar (with appointments and to-do lists), logs (with call, messages and reminders), messaging, contacts, notes, music, weather and lock screen with notifications. It acts as a launcher, whereby the user can also access other apps installed on his phone through the Simpleye app.

We use gestures on touch screen to take input in Braille. We have mapped 6 pins of Braille to areas on touchscreen. All that a user has to do is touch the respective areas to type the (required) character in Braille. For example, to type "a", the user touches box 1. To type "b", user touches box 1 and 2 and so on. Each box has a respective tone, so a user gets feedback of the box he is touching. Once the character is typed, it is spoken out.

However, the user does not get tactile feedback in this experience.

FB: Is the app compatible with all smartphone OS?
It is presently available only on Android.

FB: What has the response been like so far from your tests? What are some of the changes made following these responses?
The response has been very positive. Users have specially liked the simplicity of the app. Braille literate users have become fond of the Braille typing functionality. One of the changes we incorporated after receiving feedback was to adapt the app into a launcher. This has helped the users to use the app by default.

FB: How is the app priced and when will it be available to the public?
The App is free in India and will be available in the upcomingweeks. After that, it will scale.

FB: Are you working on similar products for other differently abled people?
Yes, we are working on products for other disabilities as well. Our mission is to provide usable and complete products for the specially abled.

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Updated Date: Dec 21, 2014 14:04:46 IST