Books written by Ray Sullivan

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Blinding Logic

There's been a lot of disparate reports coming out this week gone by, reflecting both innovation and bloody mindedness.

Regular readers of the blog will know where I stand on the ping pong law-suits being played between Apple and Samsung; an unholy war being fought by two innovative companies who have clearly felt no moral issue with borrowing technological concepts off each other, or indeed other firms, in the past but have reached a point of frustration that is being played out in the courts.

Mostly the legal arguments seem to have the effect of keeping sharp suited lawyers in the top earnings league as the court cases just seem to see-saw.  On paper Apple are winning the numbers game with their $1billion award by a Californian judge, but it's far from certain Samsung will ever have to pay it.  It will take quite a few more court hearings over the next few years to determine the final outcome.

In the latest twist, Samsung have chosen the German courts to challenge Apple over a technology it claims to have developed that allows the blind and visually impaired to  use smart phones by running their fingers over the icons and having a voice describe the function they are over.  It seems that Apple have utilised a similar technology in their iPhones and Samsung have been asking the German judges to rule against Apple's continued use, much to the dismay of organisations that support the blind.  As one spokesperson put it, anything that reduces access to information  is the biggest barrier to inclusion in society.

The German judge ruled against Samsung, and patent lawyers have offered the opinion that if Samsung had gone for Apple's pocket, which is overflowing with cash anyway, they might have won.  But then again, Samsung probably don't worry about financial penalties in a world where it takes years and several appeals before anything is paid, whereas a ruling that compromises a product's usability is effective immediately.  Hopefully Samsung will drop this action completely now and limit their legal actions to those that don't impact on the blind, deaf or anyone else with a sensory restriction.

On the other hand, there have been a couple of announcements that are very interesting but on the surface not to those with visual impairment.  But perhaps there is some scope to mull over later in this article.

The use of clear materials  as displays has been in the news a fair bit.  First there was the see-through smart phone shown off this week.  To be fair, it looked like a lump of clear plastic with a sim card and Li-ion battery embedded in it and, given that the firm agreed that it was actually inert it would seem my description isn't too unfair.  However the designers claim they are confident that by the end of this year they will have a working model that will show up the necessary images when the phone is in use, and then return to clear when idle.  Apart from the obvious issues around finding the phone - let's face it, we all lose them most weeks when they're not transparent - I'm not sure the world is crying out for a see through phone.

But Google have been banging the see-through drum this week as well.  As has been revealed in a number of reports in recent weeks, including this blog, they have been working on glasses that allow the wearer to control computers and other devices through the use of an eye level mounted sensor.  Again I'm struggling to see what Google are ultimately aiming at, and to be fair they are inviting developers to pitch ideas so perhaps they are having a struggle too, but here's my ideas.

First, take the transparent phone, scale it up to tablet size.  Now mount it in your car in front of the driver and bring up Google maps - suppress all but the essential data so the driver can still see where he or she is going and when they have reached their destination they can un-dock it and read their eBooks while keeping an eye on the kids.  To make this work then cash rich Google might have to buy the company touting the inoperative smart phone - I suspect they won't be too gutted to be made millionaires before their product actually works.  It might not dispense with the ubiquitous white stick, but it sounds like a step forward towards greater independxence.

Now take the Google glasses themselves and integrate them the kind of technology that Samsung want to prevent Apple using, except instead of running a finger over an icon, point a sensor at a screen or even a real life image.  In the case of screen, the glasses can help the wearer to identify icons or data on a screen, read it out if that's what is wanted or allow manipulation by eye movement.  In the case of reacting to real life stimuli, then the software can assist those with visual impairment by identifying items it recognises.

Both applications are do-able but require effort and funding.  Money that would be better spent than engaging in legal squabbles.  Google have been noticeably absent from the courtrooms so here's hoping they can use their considerable technological might and wealth to do something positive for the visually impaired.

And perhaps Apple and Samsung could take notice and invest in sharing technology for the greater good.

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