Hiptop2 Device Honed for Deaf Market

Mobile device and applications vendor Danger unveiled several improvements on its hiptop2 wireless communications device that will make it more useful for the deaf and hard of hearing communities.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Danger amped up the vibration motor that signals when a message has arrived and added the ability to set notifications to repeat until acknowledged by the user. Both improvements are designed to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing users won’t miss important messages.

“Deaf and hard of hearing consumers are an important and passionate segment of the hiptop community,” said Hank Nothhaft, Danger chairman and CEO. “I believe that the interface we’ve developed, that’s so simple to use and blends these disparate applications together, is why we’ve become so popular in the deaf community and with anyone in high messaging mode.”

In addition to deaf and hard of hearing customers, Nothhaft said the hiptop is popular with affluent, educated young professionals. The top applications are instant messaging and e-mail, with about 45 percent of the user base accessing them on any given day. The average IM user sends and receives 110 instant messages a day, while e-mail users receive an average of 20 a day and send around five.

Data-only plans for Danger devices offered by several wireless carriers have made the platform popular with deaf and hard of hearing consumers. Using the devices, they can communicate via instant messaging, e-mail or SMS. Now, Danger has introduced two new wireless Internet relay applications, which will be available to both current and new users.

MCI’s Wireless IP-RELAY.com and Sprint Relay Wireless, powered by GoAmerica, will be available for free download via an on-device catalog that also lets wireless carriers offer third-party applications to Danger users.

Internet relay is a free, government-mandated service that lets deaf and hard of hearing consumers connect to a live operator over the Internet. The operator places a call to a telephone and interprets between the caller and the call’s recipient. The hiptop2’s wireless version will free callers from having to use the computer to place IP calls.

“The wireless version of Internet relay allows a deaf person to communicate with a hearing person over the Web,” said GoAmerica vice president of marketing Joe Karp. He explained that with traditional TTY service for the deaf, the caller must pay long distance charges, while IP calls are free.

GoAmerica also provides WyndPower 2.0 for T-Mobile Sidekick devices. Integrated with the device interface and Sprint Relay Wireless, the 2.0 version was built especially for the Sidekick and includes full interactive TTY communication.

GoAmerica was founded in 1996 as a provider of wireless solutions for business. In 1997, it began to focus on providing communications products and services to consumers who are deaf or hard of hearing, through its Wynd Communications subsidiary.

“The deaf and hard of hearing community in the U.S. has around 28 million people,” Karp said. “That’s a sizable market. … As a business, we’re pursing it aggressively.”

He said that providing the Sprint Relay Wireless product to T-Mobile subscribers wasn’t a conflict. “It’s about accessibility,” he said. “For us, the popularity of the Sidekick within the deaf community is undisputed. Sprint is out there providing access to the deaf community.”

The hiptop2 devices will go on sale as the T-Mobile Sidekick II starting in late September 2004. The device is distributed by six other carriers around the world, which are expected to offer it, as well. Its up to the individual carriers to decide whether to offer access to the MCI and GoAmerica relay services, but Danger expects that they will.

Nothhaft said the modifications were based on customer feedback, garnered through forums on the hiptop consumer site, e-mails, VARs and appearances at trade shows and conferences.

Danger’s software catalog includes everything from the HipPaint painting program to Terminal, which lets the device remotely access a Unix host. According to Nothhaft, third-party developers using Danger’s J2ME-based toolkit created the vast majority of free and applications, both for sale and free.

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