It has been an incredible couple of weeks for Amazon customers, with new products coming out in time for the holidays and lots of new features being added to Alexa.
However, for us humble blind people, there have been some truly significant announcements which, when you look at them from our perspective, show you how much the company really values and promotes diversity in all its work.
Show And Tell
Let’s start with possibly the biggest announcement that is relevant to the blind community from Amazon and it comes as part of the Echo Show family. If you’re unaware of it, the Echo Show is an Echo device with Alexa built-in with either a 5-inch, 10-inch or soon to be released 8-inch screen so you can visually see Alexa’s responses (weather, song lyrics etc) and hear them audibly as you would with an Echo Dot or other Echo device. The Echo’s with screens have also had built-in accessibility for people with low or no vision for some time in the form of VoiceView (a screenreader similar to Apple’s VoiceOver or Google’s TalkBack). There are also large text and Zoom options as well. These devices house a camera which allows video calls to be made which has been very popular within the deaf community. However, it is those cameras that have allowed Amazon to develop this latest feature, Show and Tell. Watch this short video to get an idea of how it works:
This video highlights one of the many ways that this technology can assist blind people and do so by using mainstream technology that costs much less than equivalent specialist tech. Obviously it is all down to personal choice as to what is right for you but at the very least this gives you options.
It should be said however Show And Tell will only be available to US customers at the moment, but that will hopefully change soon.
Amazon Products, And More Products
If you aren’t a total geek like us you might not have sat through live blogs and twitter feeds analysing every single new product that Amazon announced on 25th September. In total the company showed off 15 new products, including some new Day 1 Editions hardware – technology that was just being put out there to see if it caught people’s attention.
It should be said at this point that we are not going to list every single item Amazon announced – there are plenty of other good people writing those articles. We are going to talk about the ones we think have the greatest impact on us as blind people.
Of course, everything really was of interest because it will be accessible in one way or another out of the box. New Echo speakers including the new Studio speaker for £199 with 3D Audio and Dolby Atmos built in sounds great for enjoying new and older music tracks, as well as podcasts and radio. Us blind people do love good audio!
Then there was the Amazon Smart Oven, following on from the Microwave announced last year. Again you can control the Smart Oven with your Amazon Echo device so you could ask Alexa to “cook jacket potato” and she will make sure it tastes just the right amount of great for you. But then consider this feature, the ability to scan food packaging and have the oven cook it appropriately for you. Mix this in with the Show and Tell feature (or even Be My Eyes or Aira on your phone) and you are set for the best independently made meal ever! Another triumph for us surely!
And lets not forget the announcement of the Amazon Echo Frames, a direct competition to Bose AR Frames, minus the augmented reality though. Another product which could benefit those of us with low or no vision. Especially as the Echo Frames can have a prescription added to them and aren’t sold as sunglasses (as Bose AR Frames are sold).
All in all it was an exciting event with lots of new toys us Double Tappers want to get our hands on and review. We look forward to test-driving some of these products for you and talking more about them on Double Tap on AMI-TV and AMI-Audio.
One More Thing…. Ssshhhh!
I do love a “one more thing”, so here’s mine. Amazon have just launched the Whisper Mode feature on Echo devices in the UK. So the next time you wake up in the middle of the night and wonder what time it is, you can whisper to your device “Alexa, what time is it?” And she will whisper the response. Word of warning though, set it up during the day otherwise she will yell out that will whisper to you from now on! Here’s Robin Christopherson from the Dot to Dot podcast explaining how it works. (This link takes you to the PodBean website in a new tab)
Overall Amazon are showing that diversity is part of their DNA, and while here in the UK we’ve had issues with the Alexa app being buggy with VoiceOver and TalkBack on smartphones and the amount of audio described TV and films on Prime Video is at a horrific low, never mind being able to actually find it in their menu systems, they are trying and that’s good. However let’s keep it up Amazon because there are plenty of blind folk out there like us who will spend money. Don’t let us be tempted to spend it all on that other big smart speaker revolution over there called Google!
I am an absolute geek who loves technology. I also happen to be severely sight impaired and that has meant my journey with new technology has been challenging. What I've learnt is what I want to share with others and I do that on air in the UK on RNIB Connect Radio's weekly Tech Talk radio show and podcast, and on AMI-Audio's Double Tap Canada radio show and podcast. I'm also a very lucky husband and the owner of the world's coolest dog!