Technology giant Alibaba along with Chinese Tsinghua University has made the word ‘independent’ mean more to visually impaired people after it introduced its ‘Smart Screen’ to the world.
Its R&D department spent over $15 billion and two years to develop this technology, which, surprisingly costs no more than 3.6 cents per piece to produce. This smart screen is aptly called ‘Smart Touch’ and is a thin silicone layer that can be directly applied on top of the phone screen, much like a protective screen guard.
With three little sensory buttons on both sides of the screen that take basic commands like ‘confirm’ and ‘go back’ in Braille, this screen makes it easier to use a phone for shopping, answering calls and even for listening without the need for earphones or speakers.
While keeping in mind how cautious visually impaired people are, the screen accepts a command only after any button is double-clicked. The buttons change their functions based on the needs of an ongoing app and its major commands and navigations.
With these screens, the beta testers have reported that they take only 50% of the time they take with regular phones to navigate through apps. This seems to be a boon to the blind people because otherwise, they have to listen to a lot of useless text and descriptions by the screen reader and have to fumble through the phone cautiously while trying at the same time to not miss-click anything. This takes up a lot of their time and efforts.
A successful interface with the first 100 beta testers so far, the company plans to make it freely and widely available, as stated by Chen Zhao, the research director at Alibaba. Once the testing is completed after the suggested feedback is considered and applied, the screen is set to be officially available in the first quarter of 2019.
This has so far been a challenge for the company since it is difficult to test a product that is specifically designed targeting a very small population. And perhaps this is why it seems like a challenging yet brave endeavour. For the time, this screen is only compatible with ‘Taobao’ and ‘Alipay’, both being Alibaba’s apps. It will soon be made compatible with a wide range of e-commerce apps.
It seems that after Iphone’s disability-friendly features, Alibaba is all set to not stay behind. In the meantime, one can only wait and watch how it turns out, whether as a lasting and user-friendly invention, or just a bold dream.