[bct] Re: Hey Larry and Rob, what about developing a recorder?

  • From: "Neal Ewers" <neal.ewers@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <blindcooltech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 9 Mar 2006 08:28:32 -0600

Debee, thanks for a wonderful post.  I have to agree with you about
complexity.  At Trace, we are testing the new NLS player for the library
Congress.  It was amazing to all of us how many people couldn't really
easily use the old cassette players.  We are working with persons who
are blind and people with physical disabilities.  It is amazing how many
people with physical disabilities could not easily use the cassette
machines.  Largely, this was because the buttons were too hard to press
for them, but there are other reasons as well.  Obviously, some market
research would have to be done and the company that developed this
recorder would, in the final analysis, have to decide to restrict the
scope of their audience.  You just can't make a recorder, or anything
else for that matter, that everyone will like and be able to use.  It's
hard, but it's a reasonable assumption that some people will be left out
of whatever design is offered.  The trick is, to make it as accessible
as possible for everyone.  This is where I think APH might have a
problem.  They work mainly for people who are blind.  Would the movers
and shakers at APH develop a recorder with features that would be useful
by other disabilities.  Low vision, perhaps, but I don't have much hope
that they would devote a lot of effort toward the physically disabled or
the learning disabled.  I would like very much to be wrong about this.


-----Original Message-----
From: blindcooltech-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:blindcooltech-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Debee Norling
Sent: Wednesday, March 08, 2006 10:37 PM
To: blindcooltech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [bct] Re: Hey Larry and Rob, what about developing a recorder?

I work with learning disabled students. The question I am asked most is
about digital recorders. These are people who can see fine, but they
have difficulty often with sequencing. Intelligence isn't a problem,
many people with LD have above-average intelligence, but following a
series of steps is a problem.

Anyway, they think that because I'm blind and open about my disability
that I have all the answers and they want to know which digital recorder
is the best. My answer is None. I tell them to run to the nearest flea
market with some cassettes and a supply of batteries and buy a few old
cassette recorders for $5. If you have recent vision loss, ADHD,
short-term memory loss or any similarly befuddling disability, most
digital recorders won't work out for you.

Deaf people also use recorders to be sure they don't miss out, even when
a session is interpreted. Typically, they need reliability over
simplicity because they can't check that it's really recording.

So if APH, or someone else were to design a high-quality digital
recorder, it would appeal to  a wide range of disabled provided it was
reliable and above all, easy.

For every vision-impaired student I serve, there are ten with learning
disabilities. People under-estimate the numbers in this under-served

But most geeks, in their ivory towers can't market to them either. For
example, the Book Courier was supposed to be for the LD market but it's
not easy for technophobes to master.

The problem with these devices is that you can tap a button, hold a
button for a second, hold it down for a long time, hold it in
conjunction with another button, and accomplish different things doing
these machinations. Or you get tons of menus, and on those tiny screens
their messages are cryptic. My MD recorder has "Rset", "Tset", "Rmode"
and similarly terse possibilities.

When I worked at TeleSensory, they tried to design a portable reading
machine that was very easy to compete with Vera. But they kept adding
features because they were way too concerned about the competition. But
they were too cheap to add extra buttons to match the extra features so
they instead added extra modes. It never got past the prototyping stage;
it wasn't reliable and it was complicated. Focus groups thought it was
difficult to use.

And while I'm ranting, what happened to the OFF button anyway. The
Braille 'N Speak had a genuine Off switch. Now everything goes in to
"standby" mode after you issue some complex keystroke. Why can't those
darned engineers put a big Off switch on things anymoore!

Anyone thinking of designing a recorder for real people, rather than
just for geeks, needs to read Alan Cooper's excellent "The Inmates are
running the Asylum" about user interface design. And I will be happy to
provide you an OCR'D copy.

I agree with Neil in the recorders for the blind thread, that it needs a
display, but we must be careful about complexity and feature creep. My
husband says his new digital camera has more icons than Windows and he's
busy memorizing what they all symbolize. This camera is marketed for
geeks just like him, but there is no way my Mom, in her seventies, could
use this camera. She used to be an accountant, she has normal vision,
but she doesn't know electronics the way she used to know tax law. She's
on her fourth digital camera now, desperately trying to find one that is
just point and shoot.

To appeal to the broadest range of consumers, blind, low-vision, brain
injured, LD, deaf, ADHD, seniors, etc. the GigaCorder needs to be
simple. And it needs to be heavily marketed as truly easy to use.

Companies, even APH, seem to feel that features make a product. If the
answering machine has ten modes and the competitor gets a roommate mode,
then suddenly all machines get a roomate mode. But eleven modes makes
even the lowly answering machine overly complicated.

So, a device that differentiated itself as being simple would appeal to
those vast numbers of consumers who feel most electronic devices are too

So this thing should be as simple as the old cassette recorder, with
record, erase, stop, play, rewind and forward. No excessive buttons, no
modes, no menus. Each button does one single thing only. Don't give it a
calendar, a stopwatch, a calculator, a thermometer  and a roommate mode!

Instead, give it A USB port and a settings file in built-in flash. This
would let the sophisticated user tailor it for his needs without
burdening the beginner with menus and choices. Instead of menus to set
the time, it should automatically set the time when connected to the
computer via USB. A user shouldn't have to put it in to charge mode; it
should start charging when connected to USB or AC power, and it should
be smart enough to stop charging when the batteries are full. Don't make
the user hold button A while pressing button B to erase, instead, just
give it an erase button. Advanced users can configure it to do
intelligent things, like erase anything older than a month, or erase the
entire memory when it's held down. Instead of files and folders as on
the modern memo recorder, let the user create folders only if he's
connected to a computer so the folder-impaired won't get lost. Instead
of modes to configure things like stereo/mono, prompt verbosity, record
level, display brightness and the audio quality, let a simple
ASCII-based .ini file handle all configurations.  An intermediate user
can run a program on his PC to configure the settings; an advanced user
can edit the .ini file directly and the beginner doesn't need to worry
about settings in the first place.

If you start out with a user-centered design and you don't drift towards
a marketing-based design, if you avoid trying to put in more features
than your competitors, and you chant the mantra "less is more" I'm
positive you'll actually increase sales with a truly must-have product!


P.S. Any programmers out there want to tackle this as an open-source
project? My husband designed an MP3 player with an open-source
schematic. and I ported the firmware to an open-source compiler. One of
those honey-do projects that is finally over. You can examine/modify our
code which is downloadable from

Perhaps a group of us could turn this into the GigaCorder!

Other related posts: