IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) is working with educational institutions in India and a Japan to develop better cellular phones for the physically and educationally challenged. It's a huge potential market -- the elderly, illiterate, blind, deaf, etc. -- which hasn't escaped the notice of other companies developing products for these users.
IBM is working on a two-year project with the National Institute of Design in India and Tokyo University's Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology to develop open-source software and other products that would be available to governments and businesses.
I'm sure it's not coincidental that India and Japan are involved. India has the world's largest illiterate adult population, and Japan has the most rapidly aging population.
IBM hasn't said much about the details. Chieko Asakawa, an IBM Fellow and chief technology officer of IBM's accessibility research, who is blind, says, "We will uncover real information accessibility requirements and issues..."
Today, a variety of phones are available for the elderly, such as Samsung's Jitterbug, but such phones typically feature large buttons and screens and bare-bones data capabilities. However, I'm very confident technology will offer tremendous help to the groups IBM is researching.
For example, Ray Kurzweill's fascinating knfb Reading Technology enables specific Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK)
camera phones to recognize and speak the text in documents, signs, menus, and, even currency.
Nokia, which sells huge numbers of phones in emerging markets, including India, has conducted research for years about illiterate populations. The company's considering offering phones specifically for the illiterate.
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