jay's old blog

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Accessibility, Multi Language Support and Natural Interfaces

[Ongoing series of blog posts to inform potential developers, users and (hopefully investors) about this new app ecosystem I am architecting, designing, developing and deploying. More details at this page]

For some reason, lately, I have become obsessed with the concept of making sure that folks (like my mother) who are unable to enjoy the fruits of what modern technology has to offer should at least enjoy what my ecosystem has to offer. I will admit, my interactions with my mother is the motivation for all this, and as a consequence, I have blogged my thoughts on that here, and here.

I understand that there is already a lot of work done in this domain. Accessibility features have always been included in every operating system. However, I am beginning to feel that they are mostly designed for western audiences and don’t really apply to someone like my mother. The idea here is to find out what is already being done in terms of accessibility, and figure out how I can improve upon them (if it is possible at all) and ensure that my mother user the cloud services and the apps that are going to part of this ecosystem.

One area where I am particularly interested in are natural interaction systems. This word has many meanings I am sure. To clarify, here is a simple example. Every morning, my mother takes over her empire which is her kitchen. While she is working, she likes to listen to music. She has already turned down my offer to get her a modern device such as the iPad for music listening and continues to insist that she wants to use the old knob based, button based radio that has been wedged in her kitchen for years.

These knobs and buttons (physical stuff) is what I define as natural interfaces or natural interaction systems. I have been observing the way she interacts with this radio and have been drawing some conclusions. I understand that she prefers the feedback it provides and also simplicity of it. Despite all these years of using touch screen devices, I still find it easier to type on my physical keyboard. If someone like me prefers the convenience of manual feedback, I can imagine how it must be for someone like her.

That means, I must design and probably build an interaction system that incorporates some kind of a physical feedback thing. At this point, all I have is an idea, or more like a target, an end game. Of all the things in my app ecosystem, the UI is the one thing that excites me the most. If I can make this happen, and I can figure out a way for my mother (and by extension mothers everywhere) utilize the benefits of modern cloud services, that would be my greatest achievement.

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The UI Challenge and Tackling It – Mom Mode

Technology is about making life better. Better is a relative term. Technology in itself is a vague term. For instance, fire was the first invention. Wheel is another one of those things that we take for granted. However, fire and wheel changed the very manner of living of our ancestors. Fire made food better. Wheel made transportation faster. Fire and Wheel make things better. In essence, technology should make life better.

These days though, it’s all about app this and app that. I was exposed to technology at a very young age. I was fascinated with computers, the first time I played that ‘break the bricks’ MSDOS game when I was in my 6th standard. For years now, I have gone completely digital and can get things done in minutes, which would have taken hours otherwise. Take grocery shopping for instance. Except when I have company, I don’t like grocery shopping. To and from the store is like an hour. Actual shopping about 30 minutes. Then, at the counter and other unexpected things, another 30 minutes. We are looking at 120 minutes for a simple activity of getting supplies.

With online, I could get this done in 10 minutes. 5 minutes, if I am fast, which I usually am.

That is why, as a tech guy, it hurts me when my own mother cannot make the most of these facilities. Two weeks ago, I had a discussion with my mom. I told her that, as a gift, I could get her a nice Samsung Tablet or an iPad. I told her that she could get a lot of everyday things that she does – like take an Uber or Ola to the doctors or meeting friends, shop for groceries, listen to the radio and watch television. As of now, she uses me as a proxy for all the above online stuff. I wanted to make her independent of me, in case I am not around.

At first, she was all up for that idea, but then, she gradually withdrew. Eventually, she said that there is no possible way she could figure out how to use all these facilities. I know my mom, and she is not the ‘I don’t want to change with the times’ person. She taught everything I knew and I know she is the one person who supported me during my engineering, MBA and then when I decided to go all independent consultant on my career. The issue was not her, but the gadget itself. I realized that the apps, be it Uber or Ola or Skype or Big Basket are all designed for the ‘internet enabled’. They are not designed with folks like my mom in mind.

There could be many reasons for this. However, reasons are not how technology works. Or innovation. People don’t innovate because there is a reason to do it. At least for me, technology is about making life better. My mother’s life is already better because her children are internet equipped and are providing her with most modern amenities. However, she still has to rely on me. It’s like she is watching a movie, but instead of the reading the subtitles, she needs me to read it for her, and only then she can enjoy. This is the current system, and it’s good. It can be better though.

That is where I decided that at least my apps, starting with Project TD, will have, what I would like to call, ‘the mom mode’. I don’t know how it will work or how it will look. What I do know is this much. I will do everything I can, to make sure that my apps can be used by my mom, and moms who are in similar scenarios.

I will update this post, a few months from now, if I actually do this.

You can get more details about Project TD, right here.

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