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Disruptions: Visually Impaired Turn to Smartphones to See Their World

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In recent years, many smartphone apps that are aimed at blind people have appeared.

Luis Perez loves taking photographs. He shoots mostly on an iPhone, snapping gorgeous pictures of sunsets, vintage cars, old buildings and cute puppies. But when he arrives at a photo shoot, people are often startled when he pulls out a long white cane.

In addition to being a professional photographer, Mr. Perez is almost blind.

“With the iPhone I am able to use the same technology as everyone else, and having a product that doesn’t have a stigma that other technologies do has been really important to me,” said Mr. Perez, who is also an advocate for blind people and speaks regularly at conferences about the benefits of technology for people who cannot see. “Now, even if you’re blind, you can still take a photo.”

Smartphones and tablets, with their flat glass touch screens and nary a texture anywhere, may not seem like the best technological innovation for people who cannot see. But advocates for the blind say the devices could be the biggest assistive aid to come along since Braille was invented in the 1820s.

Counterintuitive? You bet. People with vision problems can use a smartphone’s voice commands to read or write. They can determine denominations of money using a camera app, figure out where they are using GPS and compass applications, and, like Mr. Perez, take photos.

Google’s latest releases of its Android operating systems have increased its assistive technologies, specifically with updates to TalkBack, a Google-made application that adds spoken, audible and vibration feedback to a smartphone. Windows phones also offer some voice commands, but they are fewer than either Google’s or Apple’s.

Among Apple’s features are ones that help people with vision problems take pictures. In assistive mode, for example, the phone can say how many heads are in a picture and where they are in the frame, so someone who is blind knows if the family photo she is about to take includes everyone.

All this has come as a delightful shock to most people with vision problems.

“We were sort of conditioned to believe that you can’t use a touch screen because you can’t see it,” said Dorrie Rush, the marketing director of accessible technology at Lighthouse International, a nonprofit vision education and rehabilitation center. “The belief was the tools for the visually impaired must have a tactile screen, which, it turns out, is completely untrue.”

Ms. Rush, who has a retinal disorder, said that before the smartphone, people who were visually impaired could use a flip-phone to make calls, but they could not read on the tiny two-inch screens. While the first version of the iPhone allowed people who were losing their vision to enlarge text, it wasn’t until 2009, when the company introduced accessibility features, that the device became a benefit to blind people.

While some companies might have altruistic goals in building products and services for people who have lost their sight, the number of people who need these products is growing.

About 10 million people in the United States are blind or partly blind, according to statistics from the American Foundation for the Blind. And some estimates predict that over the next 30 years, as the vast baby boomer generation ages, the number of adults with vision impairments could double.

Apple’s assistive technologies also include VoiceOver, which the company says is the world’s first “gesture-based screen reader” and lets blind people interact with their devices using multitouch gestures on the screen. For example, if you slide a finger around the phone’s surface, the iPhone will read aloud the name of each application.

In a reading app, like one for a newspaper, swiping two fingers down the screen will prompt the phone to read the text aloud. Taking two fingers and holding them an inch apart, then turning them in a circle like opening a padlock calls a slew of menus, including ones with the ability to change VoiceOver’s rate of speech or language.

The iPhone also supports over 40 different Braille Bluetooth keyboards.

On all the mobile platforms, people with vision loss say, the real magic lies in the hundreds of apps that are designed specifically to help people who are blind.

There are apps that can help people see colors, so pointing their phones at an object will yield a detailed audio description of the color, like “pale yellow green” or “fresh apricot.” People who are blind say these apps open up an entirely new way of seeing the world. Light detection apps can emit a sound that intensifies when someone approaches a light source. This can be used to help people find a room’s exit, locate a window or turn off a light. There are apps that read aloud e-mails, the weather, stock prices as well as Twitter and Facebook feeds.

In the United States, one of the biggest challenges for blind people is figuring out a bill’s denomination. While coins are different sizes, there is no such differentiation between a $1 bill and a $100 bill. In the past, people with impairments had someone who could see help them fold notes differently to know which was which, or they carried an expensive third-party device, but now apps that use the camera can identify the denomination aloud.

“Before a smartphone was accessible we had to carry six different things, and now all of those things are in one of those devices,” Ms. Rush said. “A $150 money reader is now a $1.99 app.”

She added: “These devices are a game-changer. They have created the era of inclusion.”

While some app makers have made great efforts to build products that help people with impairments, other developers overlook the importance of creating assistive components.

Mr. Perez said what he could do now with his smartphone was inconceivable just a few years ago. But even well-known apps like Instagram, which he uses to share some of his photos, do not mark all of their features.

“When some developers design their apps, they don’t label all of their buttons and controls, so the screen reader just says, ‘This is a button,’ but it doesn’t say what the button actually does,” Mr. Perez said. “That’s an area where we need a lot of improvement.”

 

source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/29/disruptions-guided-by-touch-screens-blind-turn-to-smartphones-for-sight/?_r=0

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IN KILLING INBOX, GOOGLE TAKES ANOTHER SWIPE AT ITS MOST PASSIONATE USERS

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For all its skill and dominance in artificial intelligence, Google can be surprisingly lacking in the natural kind.

In move after move, Google snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. And all because the company’s culture is blind to the value of passionate users.

I’m quite certain that Google watches user numbers and applies analytics to everything it can measure. A radically analytical approach is powerful, but it can blind you to the factors that cannot be measured. Factors such as user passion.

My favorite example is Google+. After an initial surge of usage in the first couple of years, the social network gradually fizzled — smothered by a reputation for low engagement.

That reputation was largely false. But over time it became a self-fulfilling prophecy as Google took repeated action to hide and suppress engagement.

It killed Circle sharing, the best way to discover high-quality active users. It added Communities, which reduced attention aimed at users. Its dumb algorithms flagged (and thereby hid from public view) high-quality comments, while simultaneously failing to flag obvious spam. (Eventually, Google’s algorithms got much better, but only after most users had already abandoned the platform.)

This is a great plan — if your objective is to minimize user engagement.

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Google+ was, and still is, the online playground for Google’s most loyal fans. Google could have brought a billion people into this playground, where Google fans could hold sway and persuade everybody else to share their enthusiasm for Android, Pixel phones, Pixelbooks, Google Search, Google Assistant, Google Home, Gmail, YouTube and all the rest.

Instead, it actively buried or suppressed user engagement until Google+ became a shell of its former self. It has robbed its own most passionate users of audience, demonstrating that it doesn’t understand the value of those users.

And now it’s doing something comparable with email.

Google giveth, and Google taketh away
Google this week announced the end of two email-related products.

The first is the experimental alternative to Gmail called Inbox. The other is a Chrome app for offline Gmail.

The Gmail Offline Chrome app, which Google introduced seven years ago and hasn’t updated for five years, will be removed from the Chrome Web Store on Dec. 3. It has been superseded in functionality by the web version of Gmail, which has supported superior offline capability for years. (You can turn on the offline feature by going into Gmail Settings, choosing the Offline tab and making sure the “enable offline mail” checkbox is checked.)

But nobody cares about the Gmail Offline Chrome app. Good riddance to it. Technically, it never even made it out of beta.

The termination of Google Inbox, on the other hand, is more problematic. Inbox will be killed in March, according to a Google blog post this week.

Inbox, which is officially and oddly branded Inbox by Gmail, was launched as an experimental app in 2014. And probably in a panic.

Back in 2013, Gmail was proudly text-based and largely devoid of significant interface design. The service was popular and growing, and it looked as if Google would rule the email roost indefinitely.

Then catastrophe struck.

In early 2013, a startup announced an app for iPhone called Mailbox. More than a million people signed up to try it before it even launched, based on the innovation and appeal of its user interface.

The key Mailbox innovation — common now but revelatory then — was the use of swiping left or right to move or snooze messages. Mailbox emphasized other interface elements as well, including the containment of elements into boxes or “cards.” The combination of Mailbox features facilitated the quick achievement of “zero inbox” — Mailbox made it easy to skim and process emails.

It’s possible that the interface of Mailbox, and the obvious appeal of it, shocked Google into rethinking its hyper-minimalist design and may have influenced the course of its design language, Material Design, which the company introduced in the summer of 2014.

Google announced Inbox — one of the first Material Design products — a few months later.

Google may have rushed Inbox to market to stave off the loss of users to swipe-centric, card-happy upstarts such as Mailbox and its subsequent imitators.

Alas, poor Mailbox never had a chance. Its fatal flaw was that it wasn’t an email service, but a front end to the email services owned by other companies.

The companies that did control email services, including Google, easily copied the most appealing user interface elements of Mailbox, making them ubiquitous and Mailbox, therefore, worthless.

Dropbox, having acquired Mailbox one month after its launch, killed it in December 2015.

Gmail itself gradually got a Material Design makeover, as well as many (but not all) of the features popular in Inbox, such as Smart Replies.

Gmail still lacks Inbox’s Reminders integration, mobile app inbox swiping to manage messages, message bundling, inbox pinning and what fans call a “cleaner” UI.

Importantly, the overall feel of Inbox and Gmail — and the muscle memory required to use each — are still very different.

Why killing Inbox is a mistake
Google probably has around 1.3 billion email users by now.

Most of them use only Gmail. A sizable minority uses only Inbox. And lots of people — including yours truly — switch back and forth between the two.

That switching is facilitated by a number of factors. One of these is that filters created in Gmail Settings function inside Inbox.

Many users prefer using Gmail in their desktop browser because they like the granular control over everything, but they prefer Inbox on mobile for the Mailbox-like ease of use.

Google’s thinking appears to be that:

One email system is better than two.
More people use Gmail than Inbox.
Gmail is close enough now to Inbox in interface and features,
And, therefore, it’s time to kill Inbox.

The problem with this thinking is that all users are being treated equally here. If Google were able to measure the passion of users, it would almost certainly realize that far more passionate users are using Inbox.

Which is not to say that passionate Google users don’t use Gmail. They do. Some power users love Gmail because it allows more user control.

Still, many users stick to Gmail because they really don’t care that much. They’re used to it and don’t feel like changing anything.

Inbox users are the users looking for the newest thing, the users who can more quickly adapt to a new way of doing things, the users who jump on all of Google’s newly launched innovations because they trust Google.

The most cynical summary of this history is that Google had Gmail and everybody was happy. Then Google created a more innovative alternative, and its best and most active and engaged users loved that alternative. Then it killed that alternative after its most loyal fans had dedicated countless precious hours mastering it.

This is a great plan — if your objective is to minimize confidence and loyalty among your most passionate users.

And that’s why killing Inbox is a mistake. It’s yet another slap in the face of the passionate minority.

What Google doesn’t understand is that not all users are the same. Passionate users are far more valuable to Google than indifferent users. They try new things. They buy stuff. They persuade the public in Google’s favor.

By mismanaging Google+, killing Reader and now killing Inbox, Google has been making passionate users less passionate.

If it keeps this up, its most passionate users are going to take their passion somewhere else.

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ONEPLUS IS GOING TO START MAKING TVS

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OnePlus is is getting into a new line of business: making TVs. Best known for its phones, China’s OnePlus also has a small catalog of really good accessories like wireless earphonesand surprisingly awesome backpacks, though nothing as complex or expensive as a television set. In announcing the news on the OnePlus online forums, company chief Pete Lau describes it as “the first step in building a connected human experience.”

Every hardware manufacturer is now looking intently at ways to monetize the smart home space. Samsung and Huawei recently announced smart speakers, Apple and Google already have the HomePod and Google Home, respectively, and Microsoft and Sony are old incumbents with their Xbox and PlayStation consoles. OnePlus has decided to make its entry point into this market the TV itself, which has always been at the center of home entertainment, though often with the help of other connected devices. Reading Lau’s teaser announcement, the OnePlus TV — which so far only has a project name, no timeline or specs have been revealed — will serve as the connectivity hub for OnePlus’ future vision of the smart home.

The OnePlus smart TV will be developed by a new division within OnePlus, led by Pete Lau himself. Still at the earliest stages of development, OnePlus is currently seeking input from its fans, as it often does, about what their priorities with a future smart TV will be.

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LAGOS TO HOST BIANNUAL AFRICA FINTECH SUMMIT FOR THE FIRST TIME IN NOVEMBER

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The Summit, organized by Dedalus Global, gathers innovators, investors, policy makers and other key stakeholders in the Fintech sector to discuss technologies transforming finance on the continent, debate regulatory policies, compare best practices, and forge new ventures
LAGOS, Nigeria, September 17, 2018/ — Africa’s premier fintech event, the Africa Fintech Summit, (www.AfricaFintechSummit.com) will be held for the first time in Lagos, Nigeria, onNovember 8-9, 2018. This event comes on the heels of the earlier edition in Washington D.C. which featured leading policy makers, c-suite business executives, start-ups, and investors.

The Summit, organized by Dedalus Global, gathers innovators, investors, policy makers and other key stakeholders in the Fintech sector to discuss technologies transforming finance on the continent, debate regulatory policies, compare best practices, and forge new ventures.

Speaking on the decision to bring the Summit to Lagos, the Chairman of the Summit, Leland Rice, said, “Lagos is an ideal host city; it’s an epicenter of Africa’s fintech revolution and the driving force behind the continent’s entrepreneurial spirit. The successes of companies such as Paga, Flutterwave, Mines.io, and Paystack have strategically positioned Lagos as the destination of choice for investors.”

“The first edition of the Summit in D.C. was a launch pad for several milestone fintech deals struck among its delegates in the months after the event. We plan to build on these successes in Lagos, with a focus on bringing innovators and policy makers together to move the needle on fintech regulation and bringing founders and investors together to facilitate further capital raises,” added Leland.

The two-day event will feature investor missions from the US, UK, and UAE, an Alpha Expo featuring the most exciting startups and entrepreneurs in Nigeria, a half-day blockchain masterclass, and an awards ceremony.

Reacting to the decision to host the Summit in Lagos, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Technology, Lanre Osibona, stated, “This reflects the progress Nigeria is making in the areas of technology and financial services. The event is very important as it comes at the heels of the Vice President Osinbajo’s trip to Silicon Valley to promote Nigeria’s tech sector. We look forward to collaborating with the organizing committee and to a successful event in Lagos.”

In similar vein, Tayo Oviosu, the founder of Paga—a payment company that recently raised $10 million in Series B2 funding—said that “the Africa Fintech Summit in Washington D.C. provided valuable insights into the fintech space and connected me with key players in the industry. I look forward to the Lagos edition.”

Speakers lined up for the event include Chief Economist of PwC Nigeria, Dr. Andrew S. Nevin; Managing General Partner of EchoVC, Eghosa Omoigui; CEO of Diamond Bank, Uzoma Dozie; Founder of Flutterwave, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji; and CEO of PayStack, Shola Akinlade, whose company recently raised $8 million Series A funding

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Dedalus Global.

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For more information, please contact:
Ridwan Sorunke
Directory of Communications, AFTS
Ridwan@AfricaFintechSummit.com
+234 (0) 8037885760
+1 2023166726

About Dedalus Global

Dedalus Global (https://VC4A.com/dedalus-global/) is an investment and strategy advisory firm focusing on emerging markets and emerging technologies. With networks throughout Africa and the Middle East, we leverage granular market knowledge to drive innovation, accelerate capital deployment, and create value for our clients and the economies where they operate.

About Africa Fintech Summit (AFTS)

The Africa Fintech Summit (www.AfricaFintechSummit.com) is a biannual event that brings together leading disruptors, tech and finance professionals, regulators, and investors from around the globe to debate policies, compare best practices, and forge Africa-focused ventures. AFTS leverages the growth of the fintech sector in Africa to bring key stakeholders to discuss the technologies transforming finance on the continent.

To learn more about AFTS, please visit www.AfricaFintechSummit.com

View a recap from the AFTS Washington: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIdDS-u0rXE

SOURCE
Dedalus Global

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