World’s first braille phone launched in Australia!!
How were the obstacles in this project overcome? 3D printing, of course!
The stripped-down OwnFone handset — there’s no touchscreen, no text messaging and no voicemail — can be programmed with up to three personalised numbers, each dialled from 3D-printed buttons labelled in braille.
It’s the 3D-printing technology has enabled the British company that produces the handsets to bring costs down for vision-impaired consumers.
“In the past, the cost of developing a braille phone versus the market size has been a barrier to entry,” OwnFone’s UK-based inventor, Tom Sunderland, said.
“3D printing provides a fast and affordable way to overcome this barrier.”
Through a wholesale partnership with Vodafone, Australian customers can now purchase the handset from $89, with a range of pre- and post-paid price plans starting at $2.35 a week.
OwnFone has been selling its handsets in Britain for the last 2.5 years. Its Australian operations, headed by Brad Scoble, launched in April with the release of non-braille handsets designed for elderly and primary school-age children.
“The only difference is in the design of the phone,” Mr Scoble said.
“Kids and seniors have the option of words or images as buttons, whereas people who are blind have braille.”
At $69, OwnFone’s non-braille handsets are even cheaper, but Mr Scoble toldBusiness Spectator the cost of producing the braille version is higher.
“Braille is a very unique language and the alphabet’s very lengthy, so we had to make some modifications to the phone to make it user-friendly,” Scoble said.
Additionally, the manufacturing process requires each individual handset to be customised, with users providing up to three contact numbers (for example, of family, friends, carers or Triple Zero) which are then pre-programmed into the handset and printed on the front in braille.
OwnFone consulted extensively the vision-impaired community in Britain in developing the product to best meet users’ requirements.
Mr Scoble said the handset had been “very well received” in Britain because it was “very simple to operate”.
“There’s one-button dialling and any-key call-answering, so there are a few features about the handset that make it quite different,” he said.
Local vision-impaired advocates are also welcoming the product.
Australian Communications Consumer Action Network disability policy adviser Wayne Hawkins said the affordability of the OwnFone handset was a “positive addition” to the choices for the 35,000 or so consumers in Australia who are blind.
Mr Scoble told Business Spectator OwnFone is currently working on a new handset and will “potentially” look at moving into the popular wearables space as it continues servicing its target seniors market.
“We’re looking at how best to meet the needs of the community, through for instance how to tie the handset in with hearing aids and improving the way the handset will provide voice feedback to customers as well,” Mr Scoble said.
“We’re certainly not in the business of trying to compete with smartphone people.”