The Chronicle of a Symbian Screen Reader: My Interview with Nuance TALKS&ZOOMS Product Manager
What you’ll read below is my interview with Nuance TALKS&ZOOMS product manager, Torsten Brand. The release of TALKS&ZOOMS 3.52 was the rationale behind this post; however, the interview goes beyond this specific TALKS&ZOOMS release and provides readers with information regarding the development of the product. One quick note: to get this new TALKS&ZOOMS release, either contact your Nuance reseller or visit the TALKS&ZOOMS page as the release will appear there.
Q: First off, why did Marcus Groeber and you decide to found Brand & Groeber Communications in 2002?
A: Marcus and I knew one another from a long time ago as we used to work on other projects, and we came to the idea that it should be possible to build a screen reader for mobile phones. We started with a product for the old Nokia 9110 Communicator, moved on to the Series 80 Communicator devices and in 2002 turned what was more or less a hobby into a serious business venture.
Q: Did visual impairment play a role in the decision you made?
A: I’m blind and Marcus is fully sighted. I knew what an impact a screen reader for handsets could have on the lives of people with visual impairments.
Q: You’ve come a long way and now have a full-fledged screen reader and magnifier for the S60 platform called TALKS&ZOOMS. However, in 2004 Nuance Communications which was at the time called Scansoft purchased Brand and Groeber. Having the experience of working with both companies, which one do you think provides you with more development facilities and freedom of policy-making for future directions?
A: Working with a small or a big company has its own positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, being under the auspices of Nuance offers a good degree of flexibility in terms of accessing new technologies, development versatility and feature integration. For instance, we have access to the latest TTS technology and can now offer TTS engines as soon as they are available. Also, Nuance develops other applications which might possibly be used to expand the functionality of TALKS&ZOOMS in the future. What’s more, the Nuance marketing and sales capabilities are at our disposal now. As such, the highly-developed Nuance infrastructure is a huge asset. On the other hand, at Nuance we have to follow well-defined processes which add some overhead and delay as we prepare new releases.
Q: As you’re located in Germany, is it necessary for you to get Nuance officials who are located in the U.S.A. involved in the decision-making process when you want to release a TALKS&ZOOMS update?
A: Since I’m the Nuance product manager for TALKS&ZOOMS, it’s basically my duty to define the releases we are going to have. I also take into account the opinions of TALKS&ZOOMS resellers. Working with the responsible development team, we then define a plan, estimate the potential revenues versus the costs for the resulting product releases, and present it all to our management to get a final decision. This leads to a well defined schedule of releases, with very high stability and overall product quality assurance. Other processes exist when urgent issues have to be solved quickly.
Q: Apart from Marcus and you, how many people are actively involved in the development of TALKS&ZOOMS?
A: Marcus is the main active TALKS&ZOOMS developer, and we work with a partner company to outsource a great part of the TALKS&ZOOMS development. Other Nuance engineers are involved in the development of TTS engines we offer.
Q: As someone who holds the title of “product manager”, are you also involved in development cycles?
A: My TALKS&ZOOMS development activity primarily involves enhancing the serial number generator which resellers use to deliver demo or full licenses for customers; the serial number generator is also used for the recently announced SMS News subscription. Apart from that, I’m the link between the development and the marketing and sales departments, and am involved in new business development and support of our resellers.
Q: Please talk about the features and bug fixes customers can find in the newly released TALKS&ZOOMS V3.52.6. What does it offer?
A: The major fixes this release offers are related to application stability and audio responsiveness. In the past we had issues specially when audio and magnification were used at the same time, and those have been resolved with this new release. We have also worked on better TALKS&ZOOMS responsiveness when either Bluetooth or wired headsets are used and this release provides a high degree of compatibility with stereo Bluetooth headsets. We have also resolved compatibility issues with certain phones like the E51, the 6120 Classic and the N81 on which TALKS was a bit sluggish or clunky. With this release users should install a new release of Eloquence, V6.1.117, to take advantage of these improvements. Besides, the problem which prevented users from entering text in the S60 web browser on some handsets has been fixed, and TALKS now provides web-specific keyboard help in the S60 browser via the Training Mode. The screen saver timeout no longer kicks in when TALKS is reading a long block of text. And with the cursor mode set to original, users can now access all hyperlinks, phone numbers, or mail addresses in text messages, when the auto-find feature is turned on. TALKS can also now start automatically on the N95 8GB.
Q: Is this release available for S60 3rd Edition handsets only?
A: Yes, because we didn’t have these issues with 2nd Edition handsets. I should add that some of the features we’ve made available for 3rd Edition handsets are also suitable for 2nd Edition devices, and we’ll try to offer them for that platform in the future if customer demand justifies it. In the past, we have made such a release available for 2nd Edition handset owners to help them create application-specific settings and access the newly-added Automation tab sheet.
Q: Would TALKS 3.52.6 be a free upgrade?
A: Yes, those who are using TALKS 3.51 can upgrade to TALKS 3.52 free of charge.
Q: Currently different methods of providing TALKS&ZOOMS demonstration licenses to customers are at work. Please clarify them.
A: The idea is that whenever an end-user uses an automated service to get a demo license – such as SMS or a web site – the trial period is restricted to 10 days which usually appears to be enough to evaluate the product. End-users can however still get the 30-day demo license by going through a dealer.
Q: You introduced the Vocalizer TTS engine with the release of TALKS 3.51. Are you going to replace RealSpeak voices with Vocalizer ones, or will both of them be co-developed?
A: Vocalizer Mobile uses a new technology which makes the engine more intelligible and responsive, while requiring significantly less memory compared to RealSpeak Mobile. Although both engines are now available to users, our plan is to gradually move towards a single engine (Vocalizer Mobile), because of the advantages outlined above. Currently Vocalizer Mobile offers high-quality female voices and in the future you’ll see good male voices too.
Q: Do you have a plan to provide a TALKS release for the Persian language?
A: Currently, We don’t have a plan for a Persian TTS to be used with a product like TALKS. And I am not aware of another Persian TTS running under the Symbian OS. This would be a requirement for the Persian localization of TALKS.
Q: At the end, anything you want to share with my blog readers?
A: It’s great to see the number of TALKS users increasing so rapidly, and we’re always interested in user feedback via the TALKS mailing list, or in trade shows. We are reading quite a bit of user comments, suggestions, and bug reports, though we really do not have enough time to answer much of them. We have a lot of new features in mind — based upon your feedback — to be implemented in future TALKS&ZOOMS releases, and we’re sure our users will be satisfied when they receive the resulting product updates.