Is Artic Running Hot or Cold?
Since 1984, Artic Technologies International has been one of the major players on the assistive technology playing field. The company's early screen reader for DOS was once one of the most widely used products by blind and visually impaired computer users. Its innovative internal SynPhonix speech synthesizer and WinVision, a screen reader for the Windows environment, were significant competitors for the more pricey DECtalk and JAWS for Windows. But visibility and discernible progress for the Troy, Michigan, company have dwindled significantly in recent years, and rumor and innuendo are raising doubts about whether this erstwhile pioneer is still viable.
In the summer of 1999, Artic Technologies was glaringly absent from the exhibit halls of the American Council of the Blind and National Federation of the Blind conventions, both major venues for all vendors in the field to maintain contact with consumers and display new developments. Artic parts are not available for some products, and upgrades have not been made to WinVision. Similarly, the Artic Web site (address is: <www.artictech.com>) shows signs of neglect—it has not been updated since 1998. Perhaps most alarmingly, Dale McDaniel, one of the founding partners and Vice President of Marketing for Artic, has severed his association.
The reality, however, is that tough circumstances can affect the reputation of the best of companies, and AccessWorld staff concluded that the time was right to ferret out as much of the truth as possible regarding the present and future status of Artic's well-being. Kathy Gargagliano, Artic's Vice President of Operations, was glad we did.
The rumors, Gargagliano said, are completely exaggerated. "Artic is not dead," was her first emphatic comment. "We're going through some changes and are trying to figure out where our most advantageous direction in the industry will be, but the company is alive and well."
In the spring of 1999, Artic Technologies moved its manufacturing facility from one Troy, Michigan, location to another. It was due to that move, Gargagliano said, that exhibiting at the summer trade shows was not feasible. Since that time, the company has displayed its wares at Closing the Gap in October 1999, the CSUN (California State University, Northridge) conference in March 2000, and the American Council of the Blind convention in July 2000.
With the merger of three major companies in the blindness field—Blazie Engineering, Henter-Joyce, and Arkenstone—under the Freedom Scientific umbrella, Artic has chosen to sit back and study the situation before making the next move. "We know we will still be in the game," Gargagliano explained, "but we're waiting to see what the new conglomerate is going to do before we decide where our best options lie."
Meanwhile, Artic is pursuing two basic lines of business. First, maintaining old customers—many of them institutions of education and rehabilitation—consumes a fair amount of time for the Artic staff, which has shrunk from eight to six employees. Secondly, the company has committed the last year to finding a niche in the novice computer market with its "turnkey" i-Talk system.
With a target audience of senior citizens and school-age children, this system is promoted as "talking out of the box," with no installation required. It is a simple system, enabling new users to experiment immediately with word processing and Internet access. Artic reports that at $999, requiring only the addition of a monitor, the i-Talk has been selling well since its introduction a year ago.
Artic is also still selling speech synthesizers and notetakers, but no current effort is underway to update any existing products. Gargagliano reported that development is underway to make WinVision compatible with Windows ME, but not with Windows 2000.
What Artic Technologies will look like a year from now is anybody's guess. The company has already reserved space at Closing the Gap in October and at the CSUN conference in 2001. Certainly, those actions suggest that they intend to find a new niche and thrive. We'll all be watching with interest.
Artic Technologies International can be contacted at 1000 John R. Road, Suite #108, Troy, MI 48083; phone: 248-588-7370; fax: 248-588-2650; E-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org; <www.artictech.com>.
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