Odin Mobile: A New Cell Phone Carrier Specifically for People Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision
Odin Mobile, a nationwide provider of cellular service, has become the first cell phone company dedicated to serving people who are visually impaired. Odin sells phones and provides cellular service. Odin uses the T-Mobile network but they are a separate carrier. Anywhere T-Mobile has its network, Odin will have coverage. Odin does not provide service in areas where T-Mobile provides roaming coverage.
Robert Felgar, Odin General Manager, explained, "There really are two aspects to the service. One is the phones themselves and the other is the service that goes along with it." He added, "Right now we're launching with three phones, but we're looking to expand to five."
The company started taking orders on July 29, 2013, and planned to start shipping phones 4 to 6 weeks later.
The Odin Phones
The three phones that Odin is starting with are the Emporia Essence ($49), the Emporia Click ($73), and the Huawei Vision ($299; with RAY software installed).
The Emporia Essence
The Essence is manufactured by Emporia, an Austrian company that Felgar indicated was relatively new to the US. He said, "This is a great phone that is inexpensive and has been customized for blind users who just want to make calls. It is also great for low-vision users who want to send and receive text messages and access other functions because it has a high contrast screen and large font size and emphasizes simplicity and ease of use." Odin worked with the manufacturer so that the phone is useable right out of the box. The screen is set to the highest contrast and the font size is set to large.
- Speaks the numbers when they are pressed
- Speaks "delete" when a number is deleted
- Speaks "calling" when a number is being called
- Speaks the battery level at the press of a button
- If the key lock feature is used, the phone will speak "key lock on" and "key lock off"
- Speaks "home" when the user is at the Home screen
- Speaks "menu" when the user has accessed a menu
- Speaks "call ended" at the end of each call
- Gives audio feedback when Bluetooth is activated and deactivated
- Allows for five speed-dial numbers
- Phone comes with desktop stand for charging
- Does not speak text messages
The Emporia Click
The Click is a clamshell phone designed for low vision users and users who have difficulty hearing. This phone does not have text-to-speech capability and therefore is not appropriate for someone who uses a screen reader.
- Large keys
- High-contrast color display with adjustable font size
- Extra powerful speakers
- Ring tones can be adjusted to very high volumes
- High power vibrations when a call comes in
- Three speed-dial buttons
- Desktop stand charger
- Call for Care button (when pushed, five separately stored numbers are called in sequence until one answers; emergency SMS messages are also sent to emergency numbers)
The Huawei Vision
The Vision, manufactured by China-based company Huawei, is an Android phone that uses the Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 operating system. RAY software makes this phone readily accessible and gives users with vision loss access to many important smart phone features. It was developed by Project RAY, an Israeli company. Although this software has previously been used in other countries, it's now making its debut in the US.
When explaining Ray software, Robert Felgar stated, "The RAY has a unique user interface designed from the ground up for eyes-free operation and every feature is accessible. It emphasizes simplicity and is an ideal phone for a user with vision loss who wants basic, and certain advanced, capabilities but does not need or want all of the functionality (or expense) of an iPhone."
Felgar explained the software's features: "The RAY will include capabilities such as calling, text messaging, alarms, calendar, and managing contacts. The device has speech recognition to make calling and text messaging easier. It also offers more advanced capabilities, such as an easier-to-use GPS, voice recorder, money recognition and color recognition. Perhaps most importantly, it is a great device for accessing audio books, newspapers, and magazines. The Audible application is pre-loaded onto the RAY to give the user access to more than 100,000 audio books. In addition, we have plans to integrate the RAY with the NFB Newsline, the National Library Service and the Connecticut Radio Information System and we hope to integrate with additional organizations that can make available audio materials on the RAY. The objective is to make the RAY the best source for audio materials for visually impaired users in the market. Moreover, to make things easier, the user interface will be the same regardless of the source of the audio material so that the user has to learn only one system for accessing the materials. Also, the user or his or her family or friends will be able to go to a website to enter contacts for easy calling, or enter events on a calendar, and these will be automatically transferred to the RAY. The RAY facilitates remote access and screen sharing. What this means is that if the user needs help with his or her phone she can call customer support and Odin Mobile can see what is on the users screen and even take control of the screen and help the user through the problem."
He also indicated that over time the phone will have new features and capabilities. The user will not need to purchase another device because the phone will be updated automatically. The user will be able to exit the RAY mode and use standard Android functions on the phone. In addition, by the end of the year the RAY software will be added to another device which will run on the Jelly Bean operating system.
Phones in the Pipeline
Felgar was enthusiastic about some of the new phones that Odin will be adding in the future. He described two of them:
Alto II Manufactured by GoldGMT
"This phone is unique in the world in that it is a feature phone that is 100 percent accessible. It is designed to be a talking phone and allows the blind user to easily enter and use contacts, access a call log, create and listen to text messages, set alarms, and interact with the settings. Moreover, the buttons are extremely tactile and some have different shapes and colors to further enhance the experience. The phone will also speak the date and time, speak the battery strength, as well as the signal strength. It will retail for approximately $150. It is currently being sold in the UK by the Royal National Institute of Blind People and has been very well received. Odin hopes to be selling this phone no later than the end of November," Felgar explained.
NEXUS 4 Manufactured by LG
"Odin Mobile will sell the NEXUS 4 to provide blind users with the latest in Android accessibility on a high-end device. It operates on Android 4.3. While plans are not finalized, the device is likely to contain two customized features specifically tailored for the blind. First, it will support remote access and screen sharing to facilitate superior customer support. Second, it will include a widget on the home page that will allow users to easily download select applications, tailored to blind users, without going to the Google Play store."
Felgar said that Odin's rate plans were designed with lower income users in mind. The rate plans range anywhere from $10 to $45. The $10 plan allows for 150 minutes a month while for $45 you get 4000 minutes and 4000 texts. There are additional plans between those rates so the customer can select a more customized plan.
Data plans are also offered in various amounts. For example, The $5 plan allows up to 100MB usage and the $30 plan allows up to 2 GB. At the present time, only the Huawei Vision with RAY software supports data, but the additional smart phones Odin plans to offer in the future will also support data.
When a customer receives a newly purchased phone, all accessibility features are on by default. Regarding the Odincustomer service department, Felgar said, "We expect our customer service department to be busier than a normal customer service department. We are expecting many questions regarding Odin devices and how to use particular phone functions." He added that all customer service personnel have been trained on the accessibility features of the phones.
Additional Support for the Vision Phone
All users who purchase the Vision phone with the RAY software get an introductory training session with the phone at no extra charge. The session usually takes approximately one hour, but whatever length of time is needed is freely given. The training session will be conducted by a customer service representative who is blind. Primary tech support will also be provided by a representative who is blind. There are sighted representatives available who can provide remote assistance by seeing the customer's screen and, if necessary, take control of it. Similar support will be given for the Nexus 4 when it is released.
Odin Mobile will donate 2 percent of their talk and text revenue to organizations that assist the blind community.
Odin is also applying to the Federal Communications Commission to be part of its Lifeline Program. Felgar explained, "Lifeline is a government benefit program that provides discounts on monthly telephone service for eligible lower-income customers. To qualify, the customer must have an income less than 135 percent of the federal poverty guideline or participate in a federal program, such as Medicaid, SSI or Food Stamps. Once approved to participate in the program, Odin Mobile will offer qualifying customers a $10 monthly discount."
Odin Mobile is creating an advisory board consisting of at least three people from the blind community. The purpose of the advisory board is to keep Odin Mobile connected to the needs of its customers. Specifically, the members will provide Odin Mobile with feedback regarding its existing services, as well as ideas on how better to meet customer needs in the future.
To learn more about Odin Mobile and the services it provides, visit the Odin Mobile website or call 800-826-0337.
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