Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Blio Reader Continues to Disappoint Blind Users

Last week I downloaded the new Blio Reader for my iPhone. I was excited, since I knew that this app was partly created by the NFB, which in my mind meant it was going to be completely accessible and user friendly for the blind. I’m sad to report, though, that this isn’t the case. The Blio Reader has some nice features, but at this point I don’t see a compelling reason to use it instead of iBooks. I’ll start with my complaints about the app and then move on to what the app does have to offer.
My first major complaint is that there is no tutorial in the app to help VoiceOver users learn to use it. Many apps do not come with a tutorial, but since this app was supposed to have us in mind, a simple one should have been included.
My second complaint is that the Blio bookstore has no free titles. The app comes with two books, but it would be nice to be able to test out downloading one myself without shelling out money. They do offer a feature that allows a user to download a book from Google’s free books and then import them, but that requires more technical skill than I’m guessing most users have. The Blio bookstore sells books that are free in other apps, so I see no reason why I should spend money for them.
Finally, navigating while reading can only be done by character or by word, which means if I want to reread a part of a page, getting there will be quite tedious.
With some of the major drawbacks aside, here are the features that might attract users to choose this reader. First is the option to purchase other high quality TTS voices to read the books. If the book is TTS enabled, you can read the book without having to swipe every time you need to turn the page. The second major feature is that it is compatible with Braille displays, which increases the number of books available to Braille readers. Finally, there are multiple visual settings which will be helpful to people with low vision.
So, while this reader does have its advantages, and it’s always nice to see new products and services available to the blind community, there are several drawbacks which may immediately alienate some potential users that could have been easily fixed before its release.
Here is another review for Blio by Darrell Shandrow from Blind Access Journal http://blindaccessjournal.com/2011/07/new-blio-for-ios-app-a-brief-demo/
You can also find a demo and review at the end of this Serotalk podcast. http://serotalk.com/2011/07/19/serotalk-podcast-72-what-can-i-do-for-you-lately/

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