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Last Updated: Friday, 1 October, 2004, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Mobiles get magnifier software
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News Online disability affairs reporter

A screen magnifier for mobile phones has been developed by a Spanish company to enable visually impaired people to better use mobile phones.

Photo of Mobile Magnifier screen showing calendar and icons
Mobile Magnifier enlarges text by up to six times
Called Mobile Magnifier, the software is designed to be used on Series 60 handsets running the Symbian operating system.

The developer, Code Factory, says it hopes the first commercially available copies will be on the market in about three weeks' time.

"We've been making accessibility products for mobiles for a year and a half now," Code Factory CEO, Eduard Sanchez Palazón, told BBC News Online.

"We already have applications for people who are totally blind and now we have one for people with low vision."

Split screen

Mobile Magnifier was user tested by volunteers from the Spanish blind people's organisation, ONCE.

As a result of their feedback the software now has a 'reverse' mode so that white text can be displayed on a black background.

In addition, users can select from six different colour schemes and can magnify text by up to six times.

Compatible handsets
Nokia 3620
Nokia 3650
Nokia 3660
Nokia 6600
Nokia 6620
Nokia 7610
Nokia 7650
N-Gage QD
Siemens SX1
The application can either be used as a stand-alone tool or as a plug-in alongside Code Factory's screen-reader, Mobile Speak.

The software splits the mobile's screen horizontally in two so that half displays enlarged text or graphics and the other half is normal size.

"Some of our testers said the device's screen was too small, but they soon got used to it," said Mr Sanchez Palazón.

Although the RNIB has yet to evaluate the product, its technology specialist, Steve Tyler, doubts whether split-screen magnification is what visually impaired users actually want.

"I think that what most people have in mind when they ask us for magnification is to have the whole screen enlarged," he said.

"I'm just not sure how much room there is on a mobile screen to do what they've done."

Accessible technology

Mr Tyler says that the best solution in the long term is for manufacturers to make their products accessible to everyone without having to add extra software.

Photo of enlarged text message
RNIB says mobile telecoms can be a barrier for people with low vision
But having the necessary standards agreed and then implemented can take as long as six years.

"In the meantime, people are telling us they want to have something they can use today," he said.

"We fought battles in the past to make PCs accessible. I think mobile communications will be the next one."

Code Factory is still in the final stages of negotiating agreements with distributors and is unable to say how much Mobile Magnifier will cost.

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