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An open letter to those implementing mobile device accessibility:

I know that hands-free mobile device control is difficult, and I am grateful for the amount of voice control which has been implemented so far. The ability to dial a number, send a text, send an e-mail, or leave a memo are all useful. Now here's what I would like to see next:

  • A microphone which stays on until turned off, rather than tap-to-speak. I understand this could have implications for users who don't know how to use it, but then, the same goes for having a telephone in the first place.

  • A 36-item vocabulary, probably native to the phone, of the letters in the alpha-bravo alphabet and the digits 0-9.

  • The ability to start an app installed on the phone by saying "start [app name]". E.g. "start Angry Birds". (No, I have no idea how to control Angry Birds by voice. I just don't know the name of a lot of mobile applications, as I don't have one, because I still can't use one. Hence this post.)

  • A seven-item vocabulary, probably native to the phone, that can be used in webpages: page up; page down; back; forward; show numbers; go to address; press enter. "Show numbers" would put a number next to every clickable or selectable element (much like the Firefox extension mouseless browsing), allowing those items to be selected by dictating from the digit vocabulary.

  • The command "microphone off".

  • The command "dictate here", allowing the user to open up a remote-processed standard dictation window in any field or application.


Now, I will admit that I have never done any mobile programming, and I have no idea what the limitations are for vocabulary recognition. Am I mistaken in my belief that adding another 46 items to the local-to-the-device vocabulary (on top of the ones that already exist such as "send a memo to") is something a contemporary mobile device should be able to handle?

As a bonus, I see in the Android accessibility best practices that all applications should be designed to pay attention to the directional controller as well as just the touchscreen. Great, that opens up the possibility for four more voice commands: up, down, left, and right. That brings us up to 50 desirable items in the native vocabulary.

Can your phone handle that? And if not, can the next generation of your phone handle that? And if not, why not?



(Geeze, I'm starting to feel like I should add HV1569.5 to my default icon.)
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