Open Innovation and Collaboration

The Whole New World for the Blind- The Interview with Mr. Ilkka Pirttimaa

    On 25th of June, we were honored to interview Mr. Ilkka Pirttimaa, who has developed application programs of cell phones in Apple for three and half years, one of the most popular brands in the world nowadays. 

    I must say that Mr. Ilkka Pirttimaa was such a passionate and patient interviewer through the whole 70-minute interview with us. We talked the application he has been working on for the blind. He shared his profession, answered our questions, and discussed with us. Interestingly, a person who does not have much knowledge of technology like me could be immersed into the exciting technology world by Mr. Pirttimaa’s explanation. In my opinion, that is what experts should be good at- trying to break down possible barriers to communicate with outsiders. Then everyone can easily be on the same page.
    On the website of WHO (World Health Organization), it points out the key fact that so far 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are blind and 246 have low vision. It is a huge group that Apple pays attention to and they are working on the advanced app for them. Speaking of the application for the blind, Mr. Pirttimaa said that he has started it from scratch even sometimes without knowing how to do. He groped about all the information he needed, such as how the blind really uses cell phones, what places they may search the most, what kind of service they need, how to make the technology easier for the blind and so on. Hence, he turned to the blind, professors, other experts in Finland and associations even in Australia and the U.S.A. for different advice. Through his network of career, the blind’s whole new world shall be quickly opened.
    Currently, over 20 million people uses service called foursquare that can be used with any smartphone. With it, you can share your experiences, discover what’s nearby and find what you’re craving. There is a website of Foursquare Labs where you can download it (https://foursquare.com/about/new).
    The app for the blind people, blindsquare, is specially designed, that works as simple as possible. Since the current smart phones are not suitable for them (they cannot use the phones by touching the screens), the blind can use the app just through voice. Mr. Pirttimaa demonstrated how it works to us on Skype. By selecting a keyword, let's say "restaurant," the phone started to give the direction of restaurants and the instruction how to get there in details like the addresses, the current locations, the transportation you can get. Without the ability to see, the blind can basically get wherever they want, of course, a guide dog or person is required due to the safety.
    On the other hand, Mr. Pirttimaa encounters the language barriers and culture barriers. For languages, there are Spanish, Italian, English, Dutch, Norwegian version. At moment, because of the giant market in Asia, he needs the ability for Japanese and Chinese languages to develop 200 basic sentences. Mr. Ilkka Pirttimaa was especially concerned about the market in China because in China, where they do not use the Foursquare app. That is, they should figure out a way to connect the alternative service. For culture barriers, the questions would be like how to deal with the payment in foreign countries? Or how to avoid to touch the local people’s taboo? There are so many unsolved questions to answer and problems to solve. Mr. Pirttimaa has been aware of it and made a list to take action step by step. We later got a to-do-list from him and saw how well-organized he is toward this app project.
“These features are brought into product in last 3 weeks, working few hours/day:
NEW FEATURE: Cross street tracking on bus
NEW FEATURE: Auto-blanking of screen can be disabled
NEW FEATURE: Italian language added
NEW FEATURE: Bouncing table starts WhereAmI query (for non-VoiceOver users)
NEW FEATURE: Rating added
NEW FEATURE: "Look around" reports also nearest crossing in each direction
NEW FEATURE: When editing My places, you can reset location
NEW FEATURE: You can start/stop tracking a place from Own places
NEW FEATURE: In settings you can control how shake gesture is used
CHANGE: Compass renamed as "Look around"
CHANGE: Settings-button renamed as "Other"
FIX: Poor GPS or network connectivity announcements doesn't cut out speaking but wait for it's turn
FIX: Changing radius with VoiceOver has smaller resolution
NEW FEATURE: 30 recent places mentioned can be found from Tools/Recent Places, latest first
NEW FEATURE: FourSquare checkin stops tracking
NEW FEATURE: Faster way to stop tracking (Tools / Stop Tracking)
NEW FEATURE: New page for FourSquare check in + starting/stopping tracking. Includes address, twitter, link to menu, distance, direction and phone number
NEW FEATURE: If place published phone number in 4sq, you can make a phone call
NEW FEATURE: If place published twitter account in 4sq, you can open their feed
NEW FEATURE: If place published menu in 4sq, you can take a look at it
NEW FEATURE: Shouting is enabled when doing foursquare check in
NEW FEATURE: Distance Unit can be changed (default is read from iOS settings)
NEW FEATURE: Possibility to set more exact location to FourSquare venues. Corrected locations are saved to iCloud, so they affect to all your devices.
CHANGE: When doing check in with shake gesture, places with corrected location are prioritized
FIX: Rounding error fixed with imperial distances
FIX: Street number is announced when reporting your address
FIX: italian translation typos fixed”

    Besides the barriers, Mr. Pirttimaa was asked the price of the app. The price for the app is not high- US 15 dollars (12 euros). Hopefully, Mr. Ilkka Pirttimaa would like to keep the price higher (like US 30 dollars = 24 euros) to maintain the quality. But first of all, the app should be tested by the customers in real markets, he suggested.
    Helge later introduced the Chinese professor whom we just interviewed last week- Tao, Minling (陶密霖), who is working on the project to help the people who have mental issues or elderly for the independent home care service. Helge acclaimed that since both Mr. Pirttimaa and Professor Tao are helping the people with special needs, it would be a good idea if they can interact with each other. I saw that by doing the interview, we could build our network with all different kind of experts, and also help them connect each other. It is exactly the advantage of the social media.
    Last, it occurred to Helge that the app could also be applied to foreign tourists. Since as a foreign tourist, everyone is not that different from the people who cannot see- we could be the same lost. In that case, I surely will buy it for my own travel purpose. After all, a great technology shall benefit everyone in the world. We gratefully thank Mr. Pirttimaa for the interview and wish him all the best for the app.

 Note: for the audio file of the interview, please go to the link:

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Comment by KK-Net on June 27, 2012 at 12:26pm

Chloe, could you change interviewer to interviewee in this context... was such a passionate and patient interviewer... ;)

Comment by Helge V. Keitel on June 26, 2012 at 6:05pm

Learned today: "The healthcare industry needs to get smarter. There's no way around it. With new regulations bearing down, and a generation of Baby Boomers retiring, the healthcare industry is going to have to get serious, and do it fast. Fortunately, IBM is here to help. Check out this free white paper to learn how tools from IBM can help the healthcare industry get smarter."

Ilkka Pirttimaa is doing  the right thing: Smart and Mobile with Blind Square!

Comment by KK-Net on June 26, 2012 at 5:19pm

Chloe, thanks for the posting. I see a great global potential with this application. Mr Ilkka Pirttimaa does have a clear road-map of how to conquer  the world. He has an excellent distribution organization helping him to reach to every corner of the globe and also a pragmatic and easy to use technological (user interface) approach. A simple calculation: 10 mio x 15 euro = 150 Me is a conservative figure for the global but reachable potential. I also know that Ilkka is an innovator with the skills and vision to bring out new services. Great idea, global strategy and the skills to transform ideas to life improving applications. We've most likely spotted a star performer with the ability to create great mobile service applications... and a lucrative business as the end result ;) Thanks Ilkka for sharing!

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