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Improving the Usability and Accessibility of Mobile Technology

Everybody loves using a sleek new smartphone, particularly one with display and sound capabilities that are crisper than anything that’s come before. What many people don’t realize is that each new generation of smartphone includes major advances in the technology that’s inside it.

Qualcomm’s team of engineers is constantly working to improve the performance of smartphones and tablets that have become ubiquitous in today’s world. We work not only to improve the performance of the microprocessor and radio frequency (“RF”) system inside these devices but also to enhance the user experience of the devices wielding our technology.

As many of you know, we don’t manufacture smartphones or tablets for sale to consumers. Rather, our Snapdragon microprocessors are at the core of hundreds of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices made by our customers—companies like Amazon, HTC, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Sony. We also develop highly advanced RF chips that allow phones and tablets to achieve connectivity at faster and faster speeds. In other words, we develop the magic inside the device that allows people to connect, work, and learn in ways that few imagined only a decade ago.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors are helping our customers offer increasingly accessible and thus even more useful mobile devices, by taking advantage of the advanced graphics, sound, sensor, and camera-based capabilities supported by our processors.

On June 9, 2014, I will be speaking at the 2014 M-Enabling Summit, an annual gathering of tech companies, accessibility experts, and policy experts who are focused on leveraging the benefits of mobile technologies for seniors and users with all types of abilities. At my panel, the “M-Enabling 2014 Talk Show—The Accelerating Pace of Innovation: What’s in the Works?” I will highlight a couple of the technologies we are developing to improve accessibility and the overall user experience.

For example, Fluence is a technology Qualcomm developed to provide enhanced sound reception for people who are hard of hearing. It uses the multiple microphones on the device to separate and filter out all background noise sources from the speaker’s voice to greatly enhance recognition by individuals on the other end of the call. This advanced technology also is useful for callers in noisy environments and for listeners whose primary language is different from the spoken language, among others.

Our Snapdragon microprocessors also support Gesture Recognition technology, which enables users to control a mobile device without actually touching it. This three dimensional technology utilizes the device’s front-facing camera and microphones to let users answer a phone call in speakerphone mode by using a simple hand gesture. They can also run applications and turn the pages of an e-book—all without touching the phone. In the future, this technology will allow device interaction with simple arm, facial, and foot movements. As you can imagine, this technology opens up all sorts of possibilities beyond today’s well-established touch screen interaction.  At some point in the future, gesture recognition technology may be developed to allow a person to communicate via sign language, and wouldn’t that be great.

Qualcomm’s augmented reality technology, Vuforia, is enabling users of different abilities to interact with their world in new and useful ways. The term “augmented reality,” or AR, was first coined in the early 1990s and was used by TV broadcasters to draw a yellow first down marker for football game broadcasts. Today’s AR applications go well beyond a simple virtual drawing on a TV screen. Using the rear camera on a device as a kind of “magic looking glass,” AR allows users to interact with the real world to access all kinds of information—maps, historical information, product catalogs, or translate street signs in a foreign language. In the future, AR may help someone with limited cognitive skills put together a toy or a piece of furniture. The possibilities are limitless.

Qualcomm and its mobile industry partners understand the importance of making devices more accessible for all users. We look forward to working with our partners to invent new technologies that bring the benefits of mobile to people of all abilities.

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