iphone app for the blind helps identify products

In 2007, I went to Japan and discovered the cool technology of using one’s cell phone to scan a barcode and then having all the information about a particular product pop up on the screen. We tested it out on the barcode on the back of the cardboard container of some McDonald’s fries. I thought it was so advanced and upon returning to the U.S., I told my husband (who was a new boyfriend at the time) about it.

“I already knew about this,” John said.

“Oh,” I said.

I should’ve known better. He is, after all, a total tech geek. In addition to being into computers, he is also entrepreneurial; he’s always coming up with new ideas, especially those that have anything to do with technology. And because he was an Apple fan before it was trendy to be one, and because his wife is blind, it was no surprise that he came up with the idea to apply all of the above into an iPhone app to help the blind.

Several months ago, he told me about this idea he had to utilize the iPhone’s camera to take pictures of the open source barcode and have the information contained within the code be read aloud on the iPhone (I’ll blog about this iPhone technology later). The blind person could create dozens of these barcodes–it’s free because it’s open source–and print them on labels and stick on whatever they need help identifying. For example, I would type “Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, purchased on August 2″ into the open source program, and then a barcode would be generated with this information encoded in it. I’d then print the barcode onto a label and stick it onto the cream of mushroom can. I would do this for all the canned goods in my food pantry, and when I come back later in search of the cream of mushroom, I use my iPhone to take pictures of the different barcodes until I hear “Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup…”

You could make pages and pages of stickers and place them wherever to help with organization: items in the food pantry, the refrigerator, closet (“pink capris from Zara”), or medicine cabinet (“ibuprofen – expires June 2011″). This helps you find things quicker without having to ask someone or straining your eyes with a magnifier, thus promoting independent living.

I told John this was a great idea and that I would probably use it for the food pantry and medicine cabinet for starters, not to mention DVDs and books. He told his boss about the app since his company has been brainstorming iPhone app ideas. John was excited about developing this app, that is, until today.

This morning, he emails me this link. Apparently, this very app for the blind has just been released. You snooze, you lose, I guess. For $29.95, you get the digitized audio labeler and scanner. I just skimmed the article and cannot believe how closely it resembles John’s idea. I don’t know whether to feel happy that technological advances are happening for the blind, or sad because my husband’s invention idea is taken from him again.