THERE’S nothing artificial about this intelligence: Siri is a big hit with blind techies.
Apple’s voice-activated assistant hasn’t yet won over most mainstream iPhone users, with a still-glitchy algorithm that mostly demands motivated niche followers, such as car-driving commuters or gadget-obsessed geeks.
But for blind users, Siri’s smart and sometimes smart-alecky responses are a key feature of the iPhone which, along with Macs and iPads, increasingly is proving itself a breakthrough versus competing Android-based smartphones and Windows-based PCs.
Ironically, it was late founder Steve Jobs’ insistence on radically closed ecosystems of software and hardware that makes Apple products work especially well, according to aficionados.
“I’m a very techie person, and I love everything about an open system,” says Douglas Walker, an instructor at the Hadley School for the Blind in Winnetka, Illinois.
Nevertheless, most Android-based smartphones and Windows PCs are a “disaster” for blind users, Walker says, as third-party hardware makers often corrupt or jettison accessibility features built into the software.
On top of Siri’s ever-widening vocabulary, blind users say the new iPhone 6s’ “3D-Touch” feature can dramatically speed the hassle of navigating through apps in Apple’s new iOS 9 mobile operating system.
“For the blind market, iOS absolutely dominates — there’s no comparison,” says Winston Chen, founder and chief executive officer of Voice Dream Reader, a popular mobile app available in both iOS and Android versions that reads written text aloud.
That’s a shame, Chen adds, as it’s mainly lower-priced Android phones that are available in the developing world.
Back in New York City, robot scientist Marco Bitetto says Apple products have been “definitely life-changing,” allowing him, for example, to read complex math equations with high-resolution zooming tools. (Bitetto, like most blind users, still retains a portion of his sight.)
A sleek suite of Macs, iPads and iPhones have not only replaced more than $12,000 worth of unwieldy equipment for Bitetto, they’ve also made it practical for him to build copyrighted designs for neuromorphic technology that mimics the brain.
That said, Siri “still has trouble understanding my Brooklyn accent,” Bitetto says.