The Apps That Help Blind People Shop

For consumers who are blind or have low vision, a shopping trip can be rife with challenges. More than 8 million Americans reportedly have a vision impairment, but they can’t count on store staff to offer assistance or stores to have clutter-free aisles or easy-to-navigate layouts. Just entering or exiting some businesses can be difficult.

Now some tech companies are developing products to make shopping less of an ordeal for customers with blindness or low vision. A San Diego startup called Aira (Artificial Intelligence and Remote Assistance) has launched an app that allows people with vision impairment to connect with trained professionals who remotely provide visual assistance, and is partnering with retail stores and other businesses to integrate the technology.

Suman Kanuganti got the idea for Aira in 2015, after speaking to a blind communications professional about how Google Glass technology could be used to help the blind become more mobile. Aira has described the app as “OnStar for the blind.”

How it works: When users download the Aira app, they’re linked to an operator who accesses their smartphone camera to view their surroundings. (Users pay a monthly subscription fee and can also subscribe to a plan that comes with smart glasses and a camera accessible to Aira operators.)

At the grocery store chain Wegmans, for instance, which recently began offering Aira services at all its stores, blind and low-vision shoppers can activate the Aira app to connect them with professionals who help them move around the store, find what they want, and direct them to the shortest checkout lines. By speaking with these customers on the phone, the agents essentially act as a second pair of eyes for them.

Aira is available in some restaurants, college campuses, and airports, and is branching out to other places like AT&T stores. During a time when discussions about inclusion in retail have often focused on size, gender, or race, the emergence of technology like Aira underscores the importance of challenging ableism by making shopping more accessible for people with physical impairments.

Ray Myers

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Limiting Use of Apps – Dark Side of Technology?

Is there a dark side to technology? I am sure we can all agree that technology can be addictive and can diminish the development of our interpersonal and social skills if it takes the place of real time exchanges with family and friends. But what is the best way to monitor or change behavior that may be harming us? At a recent conference Apple announced an iPhone tool that can limit the use of certain apps, if that is what the user really wants?

“We aim to put the customer at the center of everything we do,” Timothy D.Cook, Apple’s Chief Executive, said several times on Monday. That seemed like a promise as well as a backhanded defense. Apple will give you the world. What you do with it is your problem.

Fair enough, but didn’t we use to talk about corporate responsibility? Or is that an outdated term in our technology-driven world?

Ray Myers

Not Me! I’m Not Afraid of A.I.

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) that is. A recent Gallup survey revealed that the vast majority of Americans expect A.I. to lead to joblessness in the coming decade, but few see it as coming to their own position. “Whether they know it or not, A.I. has moved into a big percent of Americans’ lives in one way or another already (Newport, Northeastern University, 2018).”

“Personal assistants” like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa, as well as navigational apps, such as Google Maps, Waze and Apple Maps are used most widely among younger and more educated Americans. More than 90 percent of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree or between the ages of 18 and 35 used navigation apps, for example. Gallup’s report reflects only some of the findings of a large survey of nearly 3,300 Americans conducted in September an October of last year. The other findings, released in January, show that more than three in four Americans believe that A.I. will fundamentally change how the public lives and works in the coming decade.

About the same share expect A.I. to destroy more jobs than it creates, though only about one in four were worried about losing their own job?

Ray Myers

Please Pack Me, I’m Busy

No more tiresome packing chores.  All you need is a friendly app on your favorite device, and off you go.  Let’s just call it an online concierge service and, oh yes, you will need to pay.  This payment will cover the costs of having your traveling wardrobe stored somewhere where you can just send a short text to let your packers know that you are ready to travel.  Costs will vary across different service providers, but one example are the rates charged by one company, DUFL.  It costs $99 per round trip, plus $9.95 a month for storage.

Instead of packing your own suitcase, travelers can rely on companies such as DUFL which started in 2015 and now has warehouses in three cities and 30 employees who clean, press and pack their customers’ clothes and toiletries for them.  When a trip is approaching, customers use DUFL’s website or app to select items from their personal closet in DUFL’s cavernous warehouse. (Photographs of every piece of clothing are uploaded.).   DUFL then launders or dry cleans the clothes and packs them in a  way that reminds customers of a shopping spree.  And not to worry, FedEx will deliver the bags to your home.

What a convenience and time saver for the busy business traveler!   All it takes is the right wardrobe and a little expendable income.

Ray Myers


What’s App?  Nothing, in China and Russia!

Unfortunately, the censorship of apps on the Internet is a much easier tool for repressive governments to apply.   In countries such as China and Russia, it is like a return to the “good old days” when books were banned by totalitarian governments or local authorities and other self-appointed censors.  It seems like censoring apps can be done in a very effective and efficient way if any government so chooses.  Banning an app from an App Store is like shutting down the printing press before the book is ever published.  If the app isn’t in a country’s App Store, it effectively doesn’t exist.  The censorship is nearly total and inescapable.

In the last few weeks, the Chinese government compelled Apple to remove the New York Times apps from the Chinese version of the App Store.  Then the Russian government had Apple and Google pull the app for LinkedIn, the professional social network, after the networks declined to relocate its data on Russian citizens to servers in that country.  Finally, two weeks ago, a Chinese regulator asked App Stores operating in the country to register with the government, an apparent precursor to wider restrictions on app marketplaces.

Decentralized communications was once a central promise of the Internet.  Not any more.  Big brother may be watching, and blocking.

Ray Myers




Live-streaming apps – More Than You Really Need or Want

Now for those of you who like to watch real-time video of rapes, suicides and murders, this blog is very much written to cramp your “style.”  I suggest you find some other healthy pastimes to fill your idle hours, and if you cannot, go get some real mental health help.  Unfortunately, if you truly do have such an obsession, I am sure you have already found where you can get your fill of such content on some of our most popular “social media” sites.  And to make your quest even easier, they are literally at your finger tips as live-stream apps downloaded to whatever handy device you may choose.  

As I mentioned in a blog last week, there are some “human” efforts to monitor social media in the advertisement and sale of guns on the Internet.  Unfortunately to date it is a very labor-intensive effort requiring constant surveillance by concerned citizens who volunteer their time and energy to “watchdog” this market.  In the case of scanning video for for inappropriate content, artificial intelligence (AI) may be the answer to identifying and removing such content in a more efficient way.  Software has already been developed that can easily be used to weed out pornography or violence. And the speed of AI’s recognition give it a huge leg up on human monitors.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in monitoring inappropriate content is that it’s all in the “eye of the beholder” as suggested by one privacy expert.  But let’s not fall for that old bromide.  Rape, suicide, murder?

Ray Myers



All the News, All the Time, in the Palm of Your Hand!

The media is the message.”  Thank you again Marshall McLuhan, but I am not sure that you ever thought it would come to this.  I know I am only commenting on the news media in this case, but HOW we get our news may be as important to our understanding of WHAT is really happening in the world.  Why bother reading a newspaper when you can get it all the news on Facebook Live or Twitter Periscope.  Or why bother watching the news on TV when it’s all there on your smartphone.  Now I must confess that I am one of those “dinosaurs”  who still reads the newspaper(s) and watches TV (a lot of time for the news!).  So in many ways I am acting my age for better or worse?

“People who regularly watch cable news are old.  According to statistics compiled at the end of last year,  CNN’s prime time audience was the youngest in cable news – with a median age of 59.  The median age of Fox News’s prime-time audience is 68.  (TV news isn’t alone here.  The median age of a subscriber to The New York Times’s digital edition is 54; for print subscribers, it’s 60.  But of course, we all know that with age comes sophistication.)”.  This is a quote from the NY Times, 7/14/16.  Maybe the reality is that the younger you are, the more digital your world is.  A world that is faster and spontaneous, more live video without the benefit of any objective analysis?

The former president of CNN, Jonathan Klein, offers this: “Maybe all these years, the importance of scintillating video has been overblown, and the mission for news outlets could be to help the viewers understand what all the video really means.”

Ray Myers

I will taking a short break and will be back, next Friday, 7/22/16.  Hope you are enjoying your summer.



App Happy – Solving All the Wrong Problems?

“There’s an app for that.”  If you haven’t heard that phrase recently, you have probably spent most of your life in the twentieth century, like me.  But don’t worry too much.  You still may possess some characteristics that might help you to innovate in the twenty-first century.  What are they?  Surprisingly, some very old-fashioned notions that require more than just “undoing” the work of others into smaller bits, or apps.  Consider these characteristics: empathy, humility, compassion and conscience.  Some argue that they are the key ingredients missing in the exclusive pursuit of innovation.

“In this humility-poor environment, the idea of disruption appeals as a kind of subversive provocation.  Too many designers think they are innovating when they are merely breaking and entering.”  Here are a few apps that might illustrate this lack of humility or subversive provocation: analyzing the quality of your French kissing; a “smart” button and zipper that alerts you if your fly is down, and an app to locate rentable yachts.  Now I really don’t think  I will be using any of these apps in the near future, or probably ever, but I am intrigued about renting that yacht!  Just kidding, I have been known to get seasick, a very humbling experience.

So now we might have to think of innovation in a different light.  Maybe we can be the most innovative when we incorporate more humanity in this pursuit; have empathy, humility, compassion, and conscience.

Ray Myers




It is All About Me!  Thank you, Apps.

I guess I was just born too early to take advantage of the wonders of self-promotion at a young age.  Back then, growing up in the post World War II generation, I was just hoping to find a few good friends to hang out with, meaning throwing or kicking a ball with other young aspiring male athletes (or at least we thought we were).  This trusted group  could include younger brothers or male relatives, only if they demonstrated some athletic prowess at an early age.  Girls?  Sorry, but before I became an emancipated male (took quite a while), I thought they genuinely enjoyed staying at home and cleaning and cooking for the hard-working, hard-playing male progeny. 

But then, with the dawning of the twenty-first century, and the growth of personalized technologies, the “playing field” became more level?  Just don’t take my word for it, look at all the new “stars” dominating the world of social media and you can thank the creation of “apps” as the primary medium for the promotion of this new cadre of young celebrities.  And they are young, energetic, and no longer just a boys club.  Recent data show that 74 percent of these app users are between the ages of 13 and 24, with estimates ranging from 90 to 200 million for different apps.  Now, with technology’s help, you too can be a star in the new century.

So many ways to promote oneself, and so little time.  I think I’ll just stick with doing this blog for now.  Thank you for reading, however young/old you are!

Ray Myers




Doing It All Virtually

Now we all know that Siri is a very smart piece of artificial intelligence (AI), but have you heard about Viv?  She (I think that’s the voice gender, or maybe you can choose) is even smarter.  Her creators like to call her a virtual assistant more than simple piece of AI.  For the past four years the same people who brought you Siri have been working on creating Viv.  She who will do more than just give you requested information.  Using simple voice commands, she will actually do things for you, like ordering a pizza delivered to your doorstep.  Please don’t ask me why ordering a pizza is the most critical task in assessing the performance of a virtual assistant.  I guess you just get hungry putting all those pieces of code together?

In all fairness, Viv has moved on from ordering pizza.  She can order a car, flowers, turn lights off and on in your home, and is talking with other potential partners to unite many businesses into a single, unbroken conversation: television companies, car companies, media companies, and makers of smart refrigerators, etc.  Forget all those apps, unless you really like living in an earlier technological era.

It’s the latest and easily the biggest time-saver in our busy and more connected world.  So what are you going to do with all that free time?  Looks like you will have more time to do things in the real world.

Ray Myers

Shopping Online With Your Chatbot

Need someone to go shopping with?  Well maybe that’s not done so much any more, and you probably don’t need someone after all if you have Chatbot.  And you really don’t need a salesperson to help you since you will be online, and Chatbot will be there programmed to answer all of your anticipated questions.  At this rate there may not be any brick and mortar stores (malls?) to stroll through in the near future.  What’s going to happen to all of those gigantic shopping malls and parking garages?  As more shopping goes online, maybe they will morph into “distribution centers” where your purchases are shipped to your home, saving you from the inconvenience of having to go to a store to shop.

This is the future that many social media entrepreneurs are banking on.  “Facebook said it was opening up Messenger, it’s own messaging app, so that any outside company – from Applebee’s to Zara – could create a bot capable of interacting with people through the chat program.”  And Facebook may be the logical and most profitable place to begin.  It already has 900 million regular monthly users of Messenger with more than 15 million businesses having an official brand page on Facebook.

So this is shopping in the virtual world.  But don’t forget that you still need a home with a real address to have everything shipped to.  Or maybe you can just get a really big post office box?  After you buy all that stuff online, you may have to invest in a bigger home that will truly become your castle!

Ray Myers


Apps’ Voices and Stereotypes

Call me Julie, Amanda, Sarah, Emily, etc., but don’t call me Ray.  I guess a male voice could be an option for apps to use, but it seems that app developers have done their homework and the female voice sounds like the winner.  I am not sure that all of this analysis is scientifically-based, but there appears to be good body of anecdotal information to support it.  If you have been keeping up with your media studies, most of this may already be very apparent.

Technologies speak with recorded feminine voices because “women weren’t normally there to be heard.”  A woman’s voice stands out.  For example, an automated recording of a woman’s voice used in cockpit navigation becomes a beacon,  a voice in stark contrast with that of very one else, when all the pilots on board are men.  There’s a maternal edge to all of it.  It is personal guidance rather than definite directions?

After all is said and done, as an individual app user you can probably still pick the gender of the voice you would like to hear.  I am not even going to discuss which one I personally prefer.  I guess you will have to ask my wife or daughter.  Merry Christmas everyone!  Enjoy this time with family and friends.

I’ll be back next Monday, the 28th.

Ray Myers


Weather apps?  The new weather forecasters!

I think windows work pretty well.  Or even better, opening the door and going outside to get the morning paper does too.   And when you open the paper (or look at the forecast in the corner of the front page in some cities), you can read what is being predicted for that day and several days ahead.  So many other resources are also available that you can easily access in the privacy of your own home: TV, radio, telephone, etc., to name a few.

As I try to better understand the excitement around the creation of the weather app, I now realize that I have not understood the obviois commercial value of combining advertising around access to a fast and convenient app telling you about the weather.  The Weather Channel app contains a list of advertisers that include L.L. Bean, Starbucks, and State Farm Insurance, and other “weather-oriented” sponsors.  What better place to advertise than where people will check for how they can better prepare for the weather that day.

Perhaps you have heard the old adage: Every body talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it!”  Well, in the case of weather app advertising, I don’t think you can say that anymore?

Ray Myers

Apps versus Web and Online Publishing

I still enjoy reading the newspapers and magazines the old-fashioned way – paper in hand, coffee or other beverage sometimes, by my side.  Now there are so many other ways to keep informed about whatever is of interest, and finding out whatever else may be of interest, that your choices have become virtually unlimited.  And the media you choose in order to stay informed may truly be the “message.”  

Are you an “apps” or web person?  Digital publishers are now engrossed in making marketing decisions that will increase their readerships and revenues.  The mobile website seems to be prevailing in terms of focusing their publication efforts on being the most effective investment of time and resources.  As some experts note, it’s become increasingly difficult for anybody trying to do something independently on their own.  Unfortunately, the quest for getting people addicted to their business model (i.e., Google, Apple), may outweigh their support for the endeavors of creative working people.  

So I don’t think this is the way things were supposed to be.  Truly, what a tangled web we have weaved.  We still may think that we are the masters of our “Internet destinies,” but you still may have more control when you go to the library (I mean the one with books, magazines, and newspapers in a building).

Ray Myers


Tech to Trap Terrorists Taps Beauty Market

I hope you like the alliteration in this title, but I couldn’t resist.  Originally created to read the lips of suspected terrorists, this technology has now found a home in the cosmetic industry.   “Modiface” was launched in 2007 and has since flourished into an online phenomenon used by fifty-two beauty brands world-wide.  Most cosmetic companies are now using Modiface technology in their apps that customers can easily access on their mobile devices. 

From geeky professor to beauty expert is how Modiface’s founder, Parham Aarabi, describes his experience.  Perhaps this is just another example of some of the unintended consequences that technology can create.  Modiface was hit-or-miss at reading lips, but it is a hit with customers who want to virtually “try on” makeup.

Now I will not personally be using this app to improve my appearance, and please do not consider this posting a personal endorsement of this product.   But I do think that it illustrates how technology’s potential and how we apply it to our daily lives should never be underestimated.

Ray Myers


Not What’s App – Let’s Talk

Unitasking is becoming a lost art, and the art of conversation may also be dying with it.  We have become so accustomed to multitasking enabled by omnipresent technology that we may have lost the ability to reflect silently on what is happening to us and around us as we lead our daily lives.  Please don’t interpret this as a call to join a monastery or withdraw from our inter-connected world.  I think that the loss of some of these inter-personal skills might reflect some unintended consequences of ubiquitous technology.

The “app generation” may be less patient than its predecessors, expecting that the world will act like algorithms: certain actions will lead to predictable results.  And these results should be imminent and not require some possible discussion of differences with people, online and off.  Extended face-to-face conversations with friends, family may also be disappearing from our everyday existence.  But perhaps the greatest loss of not engaging in these conversations on an ongoing basis (telephones can still help with this) is our own diminished ability to empathize with others.

Some research has shown that we can still recover from our technology dependencies.  We can always make time for corrections and remember who we are – “creatures of history, of deep psychology, of complex relationships, of conversations, artless, risky and face to face.”

Ray Myers