Trending on the internet in the last month or so has been a product that keeps getting sent to me by friends. The braille smartwatch, called Dot Watch, was produced by a South Korean based company called Dot Inc. There’s a good reason it is causing a lot of buzz. There are mainstream smart watches such as the Apple Watch, that do come with VoiceOver and all the other accessibility features that we all have come to expect from Apple products. However, these devices have not yet given a blind person access to the convenience the smartwatch offers the sighted user—a physical display to read notifications from.
In steps Dot Inc., the company that created the first viable braille smartwatch. Or… Have they? Do a quick Google search and you find article after article praising the product—but none of the authors of those articles are blind or otherwise have an invested interest in the product. Here’s what we know about the smartwatch.
The internal design of this device, really is worth praising. The team has completely redesigned the inside workings of the braille display to make it smaller, lighter—and ultimately cheaper. A problem which has dogged traditional braille displays on the market, which can be upwards of $1500.
Today’s braille displays rely on piezo-electric technology. There is a crystal sitting underneath each of the pins of the display. When electricity goes through the crystals, they expand and it causes the pin to rise. This process creates the braille patterns on the display. This makes displays bulky and expensive, and is largely why we have yet to see something like a full tablet of braille. We simply cannot make it with existing technological standards. It responds too slowly when on a mass scale, and would be outrageously large.
The mechanics inside this new smartwatch, however, are entirely different. It uses electromagnets to control the pins. This makes it 1/10th the price of displays currently on the market and about 1/20th the size.
The rest of Dot Watch’s design is, well, a smart-watch that is less advanced than its competitors. Lighthouse for the Blind did a review of the functionality of the product. The face of it has a four-cell display, with the controls placed along the right side of the watch. The watch does have a haptics feature, though the only mention of it is in regard to the built-in stopwatch. The display allows for the user to set-up the display to scroll automatically. It also includes several touch sensors to allow for ease of panning.
Is this product completely useless? No, it definitely has some niche uses. Costing at around $300 (price varies by country) it certainly is not inconceivable to get one. Having a braille device constantly connected to your phone would be hugely convenient. All the more-so for DeafBlind users, who without access to the audio from a screen reader, this device really could help in certain situations. However, for a hearing blind or visually impaired user I really don’t see a lot of benefit.
The problem with this device is it has too many “almost” features. It has haptics, but for a built-in stop watch. You do gain the ability to glance at who is sending you a message, but with a display that is only 4 cells long, you won’t get much more than that. It allows you to answer the phone using the watch, but you do need to be able to grab your phone in such a situation. I presume that if you have a Bluetooth headset on then it will automatically route as always.
What a visually impaired user gains with this watch is being able to check notifications at meetings. That’s it. Unlike a regular smartwatch, there is no input panel so you can’t send a message through it alone. There’s no Apple Pay, GPS, or health functions so far I can tell. This device lets you read your messages secretly. So, I guess it’s something to do if a date goes south, but you can’t even text a friend to say, “Help me!”. Honestly, you’d be better off pulling out a mobile braille display like the 14 cell Hims Smart Beetle Braille Display and hiding it under the table. It worked for me with the braille note mPower in High School when I wanted to play text based games during history class. Really what this has going for it is the cost of it. It’s a very cheap mobile braille display that sits on your wrist. So instead of shelling out $1500 for the Smart Beetle I mentioned, you can the approximate $300 for this thing to sit on your wrist—but again, it only has four cells.
The product, the way it is, to me is a little silly. On a whole, it has limited uses. What it lacks in functionality, however, it gains in a lot of potential. The patented technology inside of this thing does have the power to revolutionize braille technology. It could well be the first step toward what we all desperately need—a braille display that is more than one row long. That’s right, we could be looking at the zygote of a cost-effective braille tablet device.
Something that can finally bring pictures to our fingertips, the way our sighted peers get pictures on their kindle screens. Finally, a math textbook in braille that doesn’t take up an entire storage closet. Imagine learning about astronomy and being able to look at tactile image of the night sky. Or have access to a tactile atlas. Imagine having the same access to information that our sighted peers do—that’s what the technology inside of this watch offers.
This little watch takes us four cells closer to that dream. They are already discussing the next version of the watch having GPS capabilities. Now, a braille smartwatch with haptics feedback, with a GPS that gives directions via haptic feedback, and can track my health? That I might buy, because that’s not a braille display on your wrist, that’s a true braille smartwatch.
Like this article? Subscribe to receive our bi-monthly newsletter and keep up with our 100% accessible geek content!