Monday, January 28, 2008

Updated: New KNFB Reader promises another advance in portable OCR abilities

**See end of this post for an available audio interview.

In October, 2006, I finally got the chance to get my hands on a KNFB Reader and take it for a test drive. The KNFB Reader is the breakthrough in portable OCR scanning that unhooked that assistive technology task from a computer. It joined a PDA running Kurzweil OCR software with a digital camera to input the graphical image as the document being scanned. This concept was landmark in that it allowed blind and visually impaired people the ability to be anywhere and scan work documents, restaurant menus, and any other document with text in standard fonts.

At that time, while I marveled at the concept of having the ability to virtually scan any document at any location, I was also struck with both the unit’s somewhat slow speed and bulkiness. I felt that the processing speed should have been quicker and also, because it was a camera paired with a personal data assistant, it was a little bulky to make it what I felt was truly portable.

It seems like I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, at least about the size concern. The latest evolution of this product is here. The new
KNFB Reader
Is about to be released and it runs on a Nokia N82 mobile phone with a built-in digital camera.

Now, that really makes some sense. Today’s smart phones are virtually running a small computer already to execute all the semi-computing tasks anyhow, which the market demands, and this is what the latest incarnation of the tool is using to run the Kurzweil software. And, of course, the camera was already built-in, so there is no need to use two digital devices to do one job.

According to the press release linked above, which is basically just announcing today’s press conference of the KNFB Reader’s advanced enhancements, the camera is implied to also be faster than its predecessor. At least that’s what I take from the words of the President of the National Federation of the Blind (the NFB in KNFB).

And, According to the below paragraph (also from the press release,) which outlines the accessibility features of the software, I’m also going to take it that the program works as a screen reader for the phone.

“Blind users will have access to all of the functions featured in the most advanced cell phones on the market including video and music playback, GPS, wireless communications, photography, e-mail, text messaging, calendar and task functions, and more. The combination Reader and cell phone weighs 4.2 ounces and can store thousands of printed pages with easily obtainable extra memory. Users can transfer files to computers or Braille notetakers in seconds.”

This all sounds wonderful, but I want to know what this will cost and when it will be available. I’ve check both the press release and the official
KNFB Reader web site,
For more information. However, I have not found any specifics about when this dreamy piece of assistive technology will be available, nor what the price will be.

Hopefully, the unit’s price will not be stratospheric ($3,500) like its predecessor. This is especially applicable when the
Mobile Speaks screen reader
For smart phones, including two Nokia models, Is available commercially through AT&T for only $89. Yes, the AT&T offering doesn't include the OCR capabilities, but it gives everything else. Given that blind consumers have something to compare it to, that makes the price tag for the OCR software stand out and may make some wonder how much that is truly worth. If the access to the phone's features can be had for only $89, that makes it imperative for the KNFB Reader to be priced somewhat competetively.

I feel certain more will be revealed in coming days. Check back here soon for updates.

Update 01-28-08 7:15 pm

Okay, here is the updated information on pricing and shipping.

Celia Black, Director Marketing Communications for the KNFB Reader, read my post and sent me the following information for the new KNFB Reader.

“The retail price of the knfbReader Mobile software is $1595 US. The NOKIA N82 sold separately, ranges between $530 and $600.”

She provided the following web sources to check for pricing the phones:

She also informs me that the new KNFB Reader will begin shipping on Feb. 15, 2008. There is
authorized dealer information
on the KNFB web site.

Additionally, according to
The Ranger Station
one vendor is selling an all set up, ready to use mobile phone with the KNFB software and either the TALKS or Mobile Speaks screen reader, which will run a cool $2,495.

Update 02/01/08

The Blind Bargains web site
has an audio interview available, with James Gashel, Vice President of marketing for KNFB Reading Technologies. Mr. Gashel discusses the changes that have been made, as well as what may lie ahead for future versions of the technology.


Exchange1 said...

Thank you for your article about the KNFB Reader Mobile software. I am trying to help a friend of mine find a cell phone for her legally blind son. The software price of $1600 puts this phone out of their reach. The ATT Mobile Speaks screen reader seems like it might work as well. My friend is a Sprint customer. Is there something similiar to the ATT product in a Sprint phone? Please let us know,
Thank you,
Larry Kortkamp
Murphy, TX

Ron Graham said...

There are models sold by most carriers that will work with either the Nuance TALKS or Code Factory’s Mobile Speaks screen reader. Each of these screen readers, including screen magnification, can be purchased for approximately $300.

If you want to look over a good resource on accessible phones, including a list of accessible phones sold by each carrier which will run a screen reader, check out

If establishing a new line of service, the cost of many of the phones that will run a screen reader can be brought down a good bit.

If interested, you can purchase TALKS at:

Likewise, you can purchase Mobile Speak at:

Hope that helps.