June 3, 2009 Google engineers have shown an experimental “Eyes-Free” touch interface for Android powered mobile phones. Through tapping, sliding and releasing, the interface can be used to quickly enter a phone number without having to look at the screen, and it’s not only vision impaired users that are set to benefit from the technology.
At the company’s annual developer conference Google I/O last week, research scientist T.V. Raman detailed how the development of an adaptive, circular interface for phones that also provides audio and tactile feedback. Being visually impaired himself, Raman questioned how something should work when the user is not only not looking at the screen, but unable to see it.
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Traditional graphical user interfaces have buttons in fixed locations, a problem when they can not be seen. To counteract this, the phone dialer is based on relative positions, so as soon as a finger touches the screen and the interface appears, it is centered based on this initial touch.
So for example, when configured as a numeric keypad, the initial touch will represent the number “5”. Moving a finger across the keypad to the lower right for example will produce a “9”, just as moving upper left will create a “1”. To assist with making the right selection, the phone vibrates when the user’s finger passes over a number. When the user’s finger is then raised, and therefore a selection made, the number is spoken by a computerized voice. Through tapping, sliding and releasing the user can enter a whole phone number without having to look at the screen.
Alternatively the phone’s address book can be navigated by first touching the screen to produce a circular set of eight letters. Again, the user swipes their finger to the appropriate letter which in turn opens up a further selection of eight letters. This approach means the user can access any letter with three moves of their finger. Should a mistake be made, this can be erased by simply shaking the motion sensitive unit.
Although it is acknowledged that it is early days for this kind of “eyes-free” interface it offers many possibilities for increased accessibility for vision impaired consumers. It could also make it easier to navigate smaller screen cell phones, a technology that will no doubt appeal to those with a propensity to drive and dial.
Via MIT Technology Review / Google.
Check out this vid for a visual demonstration: