iPhone 4S: Life-changing phone for blind

MORE THAN A TOY: Blind iPhone enthusiasts, Julia Mosen, left,  her husband, Jonathan  Mosen, and Anthony Horvath with their new purchases.
MORE THAN A TOY: Blind iPhone enthusiasts, Julia Mosen, left, her husband, Jonathan Mosen, and Anthony Horvath with their new purchases.

Forget game distractions like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja – for Wellington's "three blind mice", the new iPhone is a life-changer.

Wellington computer scientist Jonathan Mosen and his nephew Anthony Horvath were both born with a congenital eye condition, and have been blind since birth.

Mr Mosen's wife, Julia, suffered a rare complication as an infant that robbed her of her sight.

At home in Grenada North yesterday, the trio – who describe themselves as the three blind mice – were recovering from their sleepless night.

They zipped into town at 6pm on Thursday to take their position outside Telecom in Willis St, as 2nd, 3rd and 4th in line to snap up the newest iPhone 4S when it went on sale at midnight, and then stayed up chatting with the smartphone's voice-activated personal assistant Siri till 6am.

For many the iPhone is a handy toy, with hugely popular games such as Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja.

For the blind it is much more.

New technology Siri will respond to every voice command, whether it be sending a text message, answering an email, or making a phone call.

"For me as someone who travels a lot internationally and independently, the iPhone has just been a major game-changer, because of all the apps that are accessible to me using the voice-over screen reader that they've built in," Mr Mosen said.

"And now that we have Siri on these devices, it's just so much more efficient to dictate to it than to hunt and peck at the touch screen. So it's a really big deal, a big life-changer."

It also means expensive software does not have to be bought separately – Mr Horvath's last phone cost him $3500 to equip. Also, many of Siri's functions helped to empower blind people, such as the talking global positioning system, Mr Mosen said, especially in a taxi when neither the driver nor the passenger knew where they were.

"All of a sudden you have a GPS that's talking, and you're in control again."

New iPhone's personal assistant  not all yes Siri

So just how clever is Siri?

While the voice-activated personal assistant can be programmed to recognise different accents, New Zealand isn't one of them. So we threw a few Kiwi phrases its way to see how it coped, with the help of iPhone 4S owner Jonathan Mosen.

First up: "Siri, I want a good recipe for pavlova," asked Mr Mosen.

Within moments, Siri had googled pavlova and begun reciting the recipe. OK then – that's dessert, but maybe we'll need something savoury first.

"Siri, can you find me some fish and chips?"

"Sorry, Jonathan, I can only look for businesses in the United States," Siri said.

Bit of a disappointment – but it still understood our Kiwi lingo.

Unfortunately Siri wasn't able to cook us some eggs either, but it did understand what we meant. Tick.

Let's test its local knowledge, then. "What's the weather going to be like in Wellington tomorrow?"

"It will be 59 degrees ..."

Whoa! Hot day in the city. But wait, the phone works in the United States measure of fahrenheit – so 59 degrees is 15 degrees Celsius. Sounds more likely. Tick.

So, to the question on everyone's lips: "Siri, who is going to win the general election?" Mr Mosen inquired.

While we waited in anticipation, Siri made us sweat before admitting defeat.

"Sorry, I don't know that. Would you like me to search the web for it?" Fail.

Siri could tell us immediately what date JFK was born, but we wondered if it knew any Kiwi history. How about a working knowledge of former prime minister David Lange's famous anti-nuclear speech?

"Siri, can you smell the uranium on his breath?" Mr Mosen asked.

"I don't know what you mean," Siri said. Fail.

To illustrate another of Siri's features, Mr Mosen then asked it to send a text to his wife, Julia, whose number he has pre-programmed into the phone.

"Text my wife and tell her I'll be 30 minutes late," he said.

"Which wife?" responded Siri. Fail.

As Mr and Mrs Mosen burst into laughter, he attempted to explain. "I've obviously told it twice I've got a wife, and it thinks I've got two."

So, while Siri's performance was impressive overall, maybe it pays to watch that new technology. It's much more likely to get you into trouble than your old brick.

The Dominion Post