This iPhone is “Touchier” Than Most

As wonderful as the iPhone is, it leaves out anyone visually impaired. This Silicon Touch iPhone case works in tandem with an app to allow special accessibility functions like text to speech and moon type tactile feedback. The case is engraved with modified bas-relief buttons each corresponding to a modified home screen on the iPhone. None of the phone’s functions are compromised. Multi-touch and finger flick scrolling are all intact. BRILLIANT!

Designer: Bruno Fosi

153 Comments

  • Eric says:

    Don’t get me wrong cause I have an iPhone, but I feel like people want the iPhone to do everything.
    Apple did an extremely good job of creating this phone around the idea that it was to spoil us visually through what we can see on it and therefore interact with through touch. This makes something designed for people who take advantage of sight, work somewhat for the blind also. I think the visually impaired would benefit more from a device designed to spoil the tactile lover, not the visual… I also love the fact though that Apple made a product versatile enough to accommodate unforeseen uses; should there be a demand for this.

    • Mark says:

      Exactly. First thought that came to my mind: “What’s the use of an iPhone to a visually impaired person. It’s only about the looks anyway.”

      • Eric says:

        Also why does the screen light it up? I would rather the screen stay almost black so I could have a longer battery life! 😉 Just a thought…

        • Mike says:

          Just go to “settings” on your iphone and adjust the brightness to whatever level you are comfortable with.

      • Abbozzo says:

        I think a lot of people underestimate the ‘fashion’ aspects of devices for the visually impaired (VI). VI users still upgrade their phone every year, its about having the most up to date technology just like everyone else. And it is understood that although a VI user might not get to appreciate the looks of such a device, other members of society will, and society also judges people based on items like mobile phones. People enjoy having nice things, and VI users enjoy (as much as anyone else) the idea that they have an iphone or whatever it happens to be. I’m sure VI users don’t want something that looks horrible. The reason you see VI users struggling with “talks” software on a modern mobile phone is because the offerings from organisations such as the RNIB are horrible pieces of design, which have the same usability issues as any other phone but also look childish and restrict the functionality. This has a huge market and I hope it takes off.

        • Abbozzo says:

          Ohh and the screen lights up because creating high contrast between control interfaces is very important for visually impaired users. They will use whatever sight they have left, even to their detriment. So making them light is actually part of what makes this so clever.

        • Eric says:

          I wasn’t talking about how the phone looks, and people should stop judging people based on their phone. The iPhone’s UI was designed specifically for those with sight (ever played a game requiring the accelerometers?) Why pack all of these “sight” features in a VI phone? I’m saying instead of trying to make the iPhone accommodate ALL, make a cool phone designed for the VI. The designer must agree with you about RNIB, but why can’t we tailor the VI needs in a phone to be more useful to them so they can get the most out of their phone, instead of just %50? This is a great interim hold-over till then at least, agreed.

          • SuzyMac says:

            Not everyone uses the iPhone just because it “looks” cool. There is greater 3G functionality than most other phones out there. Easier access to all your “stuff” – yes VI people have “stuff” just like you. A person with Visual Impairments is just as likely to want good access to the net on their phone as anyone else, maybe more. This phone interfaces seamlessly with a Mac which now has a great screen reader, thus allowing people with VI to use the best computer out there. I suggest you try leaving your prejudice aside or at least learn more about the VI population before deciding “they” don’t need or want the same kind of technology as everyone else. People may have visual impairments but they are just like everyone else. I am a Braillist and I strive DAILY to create accessible information. The fact that someone considers this population when creating this interface is FANTASTIC.
            Every see a blind person play a video game? I have. Put your narrow preconceptions aside Eric. Open your mind. There is a cool phone for everyone and now the VI population can use it.

          • Eric says:

            So please tell me how people are to use the internet with this silicone sleeve covering everything? This is not good enough. Why would you assume I don’t want VI users to have the same features? I want them to have ALL the same accessibility to everything, just like everyone else. But we can’t design EVERYTHING to accommodate all. Is that not obvious from the fact that there has to be an “add on silicone sleeve” for the iPhone? If it was so great it wouldn’t need it. So because this is Apples prejudice call THEM out on it. Not me for bringing that to your attention. Pretty ridiculous if you think I want visually impaired people to stay in their house and do nothing. Wow what an assumption from knowing nothing about me.

  • Dabamash says:

    I don’t understand how it works, but I reckon that if it does, it’s a fantastic idea.

  • Git Em says:

    Why is there a camera?

    • tom says:

      so you can take photos! Even visually impaired people want to take and share photographs of things with their friends….could even be helpful if they need someone to verify something that they had seen shopping etc.

  • dumbledad says:

    Git Em, check out this blind guy’s flickr stream. He makes good use of a camera.

    http://www.flickr.com/people/oberazzi/

    And, given that the iPhone has a camera, why cover it up?

  • alex says:

    Genius idea. Very promising.
    Whoever says that the iPhone is only about eye candy is the real blind. The iPhone’s surfaces are covered with interaction sensors, but so far their exploitation has been mostly software-based and tied to the visual UI. Finally someone tries putting the display aside and re-thinks the physical interactions using those sensors, creating a new paradigm.
    The idea can be applied to any usage scenario requiring / benefiting from tactile signage over the touch sensor. Think sheaths with different keypad configurations focusing on different features or functionalities based on the user’s particular needs. This might just be the killer mobile platform for the visually impaired.

  • mangochutney says:

    I could actually see Apple supporting a product like this.

    I would be tricky to make, because you have to think of a way to give input feedback without too much distraction, but I like the idea.

  • electra says:

    Great idea!
    Another great idea…personalize your iPhone with a monogram or small decal. Never put yours down at a table with friends and walk off with the wrong one! Awesome stocking stuffer, completely customized, totally hip and under $10! Thanks for looking!

  • Ekove says:

    No offense, stupid. The iPhone is supposed to be visual. You can’t have everything in a product.

  • Ekove says:

    No offense, stupid. The iPhone is supposed to be visual. You can’t have everything in a product.

    But hey from experience, apple worshipers will buy anything.

  • Mohtashim says:

    This is a nice innovation.This could modify for some essential gadgets or other tools .. but for iPhone. Charm of iPhone is its GUI, its user experience. A simple and basic question arises “is there any use of iPhone to a visually impaired person?”

    A simple gadget supporting telephony and messaging can be handy instead of this.

    • I have been trying to ignore and insensitivity to the serious ignorance about and insensitivity to VI users displayed here.

      First, most VI users have some functional vision (like me), so can use to the iPhone to some extent right out of the box. But some features are out of reach, so a tactile and/or audio interface laid on top of the nice visual GUI would only complement what the iPhone already has to offer.

      Second, have you seen the crap that gears sold as VI-friendly stuff? Saying that VI users should be satisfied with dedicated devices is like saying blacks should have been satisfied with segregation. ‘Separate but equal’ went out with the sixties!

      Third, many accessibility changes and features would not involve any serious redesign or cause any impact to non-VI users. So what do you care? Stop whining! Get your pupils dilated and trying living that way for a week.

      I love my iPod Touch. I would love to upgrade to an iPhone. Yet many little things about the iPod frustrate me and they could be so easily fixed. Come on folks, put yourselves in someone’s else shoes for a change.

      • Sensible says:

        You cannot equate being blind to being black because being blind does in fact have physical limitations. It would be nice to think of you as capable of anything a person with sight can do, but it’s just not the case. It is not insensitive to take note of these differences when considering the functionality of a device.

        These changes you say would be “so easy” to make, may not in fact be. They may require a complete rewrite of the firmware and how it responds to touch input from the user. You can’t just say it would be easy because you want it to be. This stuff costs time and money to develop, and while it would be nice to think that companies are driven more by moralistic principles than profit, but the only difference between a successful business and an unsuccessful one is that one makes a profit while the other does not. If the cost involved in developing these additional features is not cost-effective, then it’s asinine to expect a company to bow to your whims and take a loss just because you think their product should cater to everyone under the sun. There are iPhone alternatives out there with all of the functionality of the phone and additionally tactile buttons and voice input.

        • @Sensible – Be sensible, please.

          First, I was not equating being disabled with being black. I was making a comparison, which is quite different and both appropriate and apropos, between the more widespread and serious de jure segregation by race and the less serious, but still consequential, de facto segregation by health status. I would like someone (society? the government) encourage designers to think about building accessibility into their from the start, when it is less costly, then when the factories are built, when it is too late.

          Second, I have a graduate degree in economics, so I am well aware of the functioning of the capitalist system. A proper understanding of economics leads to two further errors in your comment.

          First, the profit motive is not the only thing at play in the economy. When the market fails to deliver what society wishes, the government has often intervened to change the rules. Sometimes this happens for the good. The Clean Air Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the abolition of slavery are some obvious examples. History is jammed with examples of the reverse, no argument here. But there are ways for the government to step in and nudge the economy to do the right thing. I could write a book about the policy options the government could take to improve the lives of the disabled without over-burdening the economy.

          Second, this product design which prompted our discussion is an example of how capitalism fills holes in the market. There is an obvious market for more accessible products which Apple and others are not filling. (You try using only VI-friendly products for a week!) This design is part of the way the markets evolve to meet unmet consumer needs. The amount of VI people is beginning to explode with the graying of the baby boomers. Like the US automakers decades-late entry into the hybrid market (go capitalism here), tech designers are only now realizing that there is huge market that they have been ignoring. Now, they need to redesign, possibly from scratch, products that could have had accessibility built into them from the start at a much lower cost.

          • Sensible says:

            What you refer to as “segregration” I call “being naturally limited by your physical disability”. A blind person is not capable of doing all of the things a sighted person is. That’s a fact. It’s not insensitive, and it’s not discrimination to acknowledge that. If you are blind there are some things you will never be able to do. Period.

            All of the examples you listed are far-reaching and affected a large group of people. Let’s focus on the AWD Act. Before that just being a handicapped member of society was a much greater challenge, and that took steps to make everyday parts of life more available to Americans with disabilities. Not being able to use the latest popular gadget is not at all the same thing. New technology already has a limited market due to high cost, usually, and you’re expecting it to make special efforts to appeal to minority markets? That’s ridiculous.

            Obviously there is a market. That’s not the question. The question is is the market big enough to make the additional costs and time spent on research and development worthwhile? And now you’re including age-related sight loss in this market? The iPhone is clearly intended for the 20-30 crowd, tech junkies, and business professionals who are dissatisfied with their Blackberry or Palm. I really doubt Apple cares about appealing to elderly people, regardless of their level of sight. That just isn’t their market. To include them is to acknowledge the weakness of your argument. You claim this market is huge, but until I see some figures it means nothing. The Hybrid argument is entirely different as anyone can be environmentally conscious, and can become so. I suppose, hypothetically, anyone can be visually impaired or become visually impaired, but the market may not be worth the expense. And as this article shows, there are companies out there catering to the needs of these people, so why should Apple bother?

            I would love to hear the simple, cheap changes Apple could make to fix the iPhone for the visually impaired, also. If you’d like to share.

      • Eric says:

        Well I’m glad YOU would find this useful. And please tell me how this has anything to do with segregation? I could not even keep a straight face when I read that.
        More people assuming everything MUST accommodate everyone. The braille on drive through ATMs makes more sense to me than this product.
        As I’ve said before I love the iPhone for being able to accommodate a lot of things, but this is like someone buying a laptop for the calculator application. Again, I’m glad you would benefit from such a thing, but looking at the larger (non-selfish) picture, MORE people would benefit from a greatly re-designed VI phone. You know, kind of like Apple spending millions of dollars developing this phone for people with sight. You even admit there are “easy” things that can be done to make it better for you. So e-mail Apple about their ignorance and insensitivity, I don’t need to hear about it I have a blind grandmother. (I bet Apple would sell this though, looks like it’s easy money.)

        • @Eric – Are there things that your grandmother can not do or places she can not go due to her sight that you can with yours? That may not be legal, intentional segregation, but it is de facto, institutional segregation.

          I am not arguing that the disability experience is the same and the challenges currently and historically faced by the African-American community. But America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, equal opportunity (not necessarily outcome). When someone’s opportunities are limited through no action of theirs, is there no moral responsibility on the part of those more fortunate to lend a hand? Do you not help your grandmother? Should she not have a right to access the same things everyone else does? Why do think that your local town offers her transportation? Do you think that your grandmother ought to be confined to her house? Obviously not (I hope).

          As for being selfish, wanting this product for myself and believing that more thought about building accessibility into everyday products should be required are entirely different things. If it were just for me, then I would not care so much. But there is a huge community of underserved VI folks out there who deserve more respect. That goes for more than just the VI and more than just the disabled.

          • Eric says:

            Which is why there needs to be a VI phone designed for people with limited means of vision if any at all, which a person with vision could also use. Not the other way around. Everything you said about my grandmother doesn’t make sense- the whole reason I’ve been saying there needs to be a dedicated VI phone is because I feel very strongly about everybody’s moral responsibility to do their part for everyone. So again, if you feel Apple is unfair for only tending to those with sight- do your part and take your complaints up with them. Especially since this will do so well in the huge community of VI iPhone/iPod touch users (or those who would be users if this product existed.) And I will look into shape shifting materials for the new viPhone!

          • The comments here have prompted me to do some writing on my own blog about these issues. The other day I posted about something I call intermediate accessibility – http://www.timobrienphotos.com/2008/12/burgeoning-market-for-intermediate-accessibility/ – which is accessibility for those with some functional site. Instead of focusing on tactile and auditory interfaces, the focus would be on what the NY Times calls ease of use. Specifically, from my perspective, this means adjustable font sizes, customizable color schemes and basic audiio cues.

            I am drafting a blog post, probable due out on Monday, about how this translates practically for the iPhone. The zoom feature and the pivot feature are two key technologies that Apple has already implemented to made the iPod accessible visually. But these features are not universally implemented in apps. Very few actually take advantage of theme.

            So Apple could request that its own developers and all outside app developers, take into consideration implementing four things when publishing apps; universal multitouch zoom, universal landscape/portrait swivel, alternate high contrast color schemes and adjustable font sizes when zoom is impractical. Obviously, these features are not relevant for many apps, especially games. However, making developers aware that including these features is desirable would go a long way to making the iPhone more accessible.

            Apple could also implement some basic audio cues. My current phone, the Razr, (I have the Touch, not the iPhone) reads out loud every number I dial. Apple could have the iPhone do the same (as an option), but also with each keystroke on the keyboard. I listen to tons of audiobooks on the Touch. Audio cues for chapter and time code would make my life much easier. T

            The little tweaks are too numerous to list here. All I am asking here is that Apple, and all tech designers and developers, put a little bit of thought into accessibility during their development process. My bet is that many of these little tweaks would have been easier to implement during development than added retro-actively.

            I am not arguing here that we should have the world of Vonnegut’s story, Harrison Bergeron (http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/hb.html), where everyone and everything is limited to the lowest common denominator. But, when the burden is light, designers ought to take into account users of various ability level, not just design for the ‘typical’ (whatever that means) user.

            If designers do not do this, we are stuck. We need a decent “VI phone designed for people with limited means of vision”, but who is going to design and build it? The government does not get involved and I don’t see one being developed by charities or volunteers. Most of the VI tech, as been said before, is not up to market standards and tends to be exorbitantly expensive. It would be nice for VI folks to head off to Walmart for their $99 iPhone-quality accessible phone.

          • I have come up with some guidelines for making iPhone apps accessible: http://www.timobrienphotos.com/2008/12/accessing-iphone-apps/

  • ffresh says:

    yeah, this is alright, but just wait until you see my headphones for the deaf

    • SuzyMac says:

      Wow. I am shocked at the level of narrow minded, inconsideration of people to those who have sensory impairment. What is it about this that makes people like you so negative about creating accessibility? Are you afraid?
      People with visual impairments can do anything except drive a vehicle and there are folks out there working on tools to help them do that too. Why would you want to keep ANYONE from being able to use the same tools as you can. As for headphones for the deaf, forget it. My deaf friends love to turn up the Bass and Dance, Dance, Dance. Leave your archaic, negative, needless limitations behind. Embrace a world that can give “sight” to the blind, “sound” to the deaf. Maybe someone will create something to give an open mind to those with a closed one. Thanks Tim O’Brien for trying to educate some of these folks. Whenever I wonder about why we need more advocacy, I will remember this post stream.

      • I do not understand the hostility either. There is more than the stereotypical juvenile nonsense here. Several people have put valuable time, effort and, surprisingly, thought into opposing improving access to the disabled. Why not put that energy into something useful? Why the anger?

        If you have any thoughts on this, let me know. I am drafting some thoughts of my own for my blog. http://www.timobrienphotos.com

  • Eric says:

    When are you people going to get the fact that it’s Apple who isn’t accommodating the VI. Heaven forbid I’m the one to point that out. TAKE YOU GRIPES UP WITH THEM! I’m all for accessibility. THIS product does NOT allow you to have full accessibility to the iPhone product. All you guys keep saying is that ‘they’ want to use the same features as everyone ‘else,’ then please explain to me how this makes all the iphone features accessible. Nobody on here has told me still, you all just attack thinking I don’t think. Get over yourselves and realize the VI want ALL the same features not some of them. How is THAT close minded Suzie Q? Wow, you are ridiculous. My point is that they aren’t taking it far enough, WE NEED MORE FROM IT! Still think I’m close minded? From you I guess so.

    • @Eric, I have taken up my gripes with Apple. Not only have I been campaigning thoughtfully about this on my blog (http://www.timobrienphotos.com/tag/iphone/), but I have emailed Apple (acceesibility@apple.com) with my concerns. I regularly contact companies who could be in a position to help the visually impaired with my thoughts and ideas. It is more than a hobby for me.

      If you are so for accessibility, why are we having this argument rather than a constructive one about how to improve accessibility? Have you emailed Apple to share your thoughts?

      We may want full access, but would settle for some basic improvements for now and a roadmap for the future. However, accessibility is almost always an afterthought. You can tell from the iPhone’s accessibility page (http://www.apple.com/accessibility/iphone/vision.html) that the marketing team was brought in after the product was rolled out to find some way to make the iPhone look good.

      I have recently learned the the latest iteration of the Nano (http://www.apple.com/accessibility/itunes/vision.html) has some excellent accessibility features. The new Nano has spoken menus and a larger font. The new iTunes is more screen-reader friendly. These are great improvements. I imagine that they are working on porting them to the iPhone platform (hopefully).

      There is no need to get cranky with SuzyMac (not Suzie Q). Live in her shoes for a day (or in mine). You might learn to be more tolerant, more thoughtful and less cranky.

      • Eric says:

        I know how to read her name, it was sort of making fun of the fact that neither of you can read what I say. I said waaaaay up top that this is a good interim hold over until there is something better. BUT a silicone sleeve for an iPhone won’t solve the problems that are present with the iPhone VI usability. That we can agree on. This product is a $ maker and that’s how Apple will look at it- profitability. (yes as sad as that is.) It doesn’t actually make an iPhone usable to the fullest extent, and that’s the problem we ALL have with this situation. So to clarify any information not received- I totally agree that this product helps those who need it, I totally agree Apple does NOT develop their products with this in consideration DURING its design phase, and therefore causes 3rd parties to develop the products to fill in the holes. It is still a phone designed by Apple with the explicit intent to be for those with sight (why wouldn’t they have a font size option from the beginning if that wasn’t true.) The product I see missing from this equation is a phone DESIGNED for VI users (that ‘looks’ as pretty as an iPhone for example) but also allows those with sight to use it. I would love to own a phone I didn’t have to always look at to accomplish things…. Agree?

  • Eric says:

    Didn’t take long for someone else to understand what I’ve been going for here:
    https://www.yankodesign.com/2009/02/03/as-simple-or-complex-as-you-want-it-to-be/
    Maybe people on here can get a clue and realize time helps all. Certain things can’t be done yet to accommodate everyone.

  • GearModa says:

    I agree with people on here that its meant as a visual device, although this is a great idea, perhaps there are other devices that would be better suited to the needs of a visual impaired person.

  • me says:

    pretty great look, but I second the idea about iPhone being good looking thing and it presumes seeing this phone. don’t think it would be a bestseller.

  • Wendy says:

    Hello,

    We are the manufacturer of silicon case for iphone,if you interest,please contact us .

    Wendy

    • virginia angel says:

      i would very much like to get one of these cases for my blind friend. She would love it. We have nothing like this in england or I’ve never ever seen one. this would make her life so much simplier.

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