Determination to develop a mobile phone interface suitable for people with intellectual disabilities has won an Australian invention, the “Doo Phone”, international recognition.
Mr Rhys Cooper, managing director of Queensland startup Orange Dot, won the freelance category in the 2009 MEX Mobile User Experience Awards.
Mr Cooper travelled from his hometown in Brisbane to Sydney every week for 11 weeks last year to develop his idea for a simplified mobile interface at the national Mobile Enterprise Growth Alliance (MEGA) entrepreneurship workshop series. He called it the Doo Phone and pitched it as a business proposal to the MEGA NSW judging panel, taking out the award for best pitch last August.
Mr Cooper thought of the Doo Phone concept when he was working as a disability support worker on programs to integrate adults with intellectual disabilities into society at a non-profit company in Brisbane.
“The people who often get lost in the physical world also have a tendency to get lost in mobile phone menu systems,” he explains.
“People who need access to mobile technology, in particular those who have an intellectual disability and have limited ability to process cognitive thought or may be illiterate, are those who also have the most difficulty in accessing mobile technology.”
Following on the MEGA accolade, Mr Cooper brought in Justin Brow, Shane Williamson and Nick McIntosh as directors in his new company, Orange Dot Pty Ltd, raising seed capital through private angel investors.
“We stretched our small budget to build a software prototype of our touch screen interface which we've been testing on HTC Touch HD devices,” Mr Cooper explains. “We chose to prototype on the Touch HD because of the size and clarity of the screen and the fact that it runs on a Windows Mobile platform.”
Encouraged by his MEGA win, he entered the design for the Doo Phone into the MEX Mobile User Experience Awards 2009, an international competition. The awards were presented at the annual MEX Conference, held in London on May 19-20.
“When I found out that the application had been shortlisted for the finals, I bought a ticket to London five days before the conference was due to start, then due to airline delays in Bangkok I didn't get into London until about 10 hours before the conference started.
“The conference was amazing with delegates from 15 countries coming together to discuss the future of the mobile user experience. I couldn't believe it when I was announced winner in the freelance category.”
MEX founder Marek Pawlowski said that the MEX Awards challenge contestants to show “…how we can make things better for mobile customers by thinking differently. The Doo Phone impressed with its strong user-centred design approach and the innovation it delivers through simplicity."
The phone features a large-format dialling pad, easy scrolling, and no complex menus. Nine large pictures display the most frequently called people in the user's directory, and a voice tool announces to provide extra feedback for the sight impaired. The interface is locked, meaning that the user can’t accidentally delete contacts.
MEGA National Manager Peta Pash said the award was “fantastic recognition” of the work Rhys Cooper and Orange Dot have been doing to create a solution for people with disabilities to live more normal lives in the community.
“I could never have come this far without all the support I've had from MEGA and my team in particular Nick McIntosh, Shane Williamson and Justin Brow,” Mr Cooper said.
“My goal and ambition is to create change in the lives of people with disabilities and I look forward to being able to deliver this as a commercial product later this year.
“We've just started doing some user testing on our prototypes and it’s already proving to be a hit with the type of people who are going to benefit from this technology the most.”
Note: Applications for the next MEGA round close on 24 July.
Orange Dot Pty Ltd
rhys.cooper at orangedot.com.au
Ph: 0412 460 901
the Mobile Enterprise Growth Alliance (MEGA)
The Mobile Enterprise Growth Alliance (MEGA) is a not-for-profit entrepreneurship and mentoring program, provided by a consortium of industry, education and government, for people with ideas for new mobile phone content and applications. The next round will take place in New South Wales and Victoria at the end of July. Applications close on 24 July.
P: 0401 719 975