@JonathanMosen Jonathan Mosen
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A thank you to Torsten Brand. Less than a decade ago, the only way a blind person could send a text message was through a website, or by connecting some models of phone to a computer. Less than a decade ago, the only way a blind person could navigate the menus and change settings on their phone was to memorise the sequences of key presses required, or carry around a Braille cheat sheet. And then, two brilliant people began collaborating. Marcus Groeber and Torsten Brand formed Brand and Groeber communications, and they got our phones talking.
The original Talx, yes it was spelled with an X in those days, worked on the Nokia communicator, a PDA device with a qwerty keyboard. Later however, Talks was released for S60 phones. In 2003, I purchased a Nokia 6600, and I'll never forget the phone starting up after I'd installed Talks. It was almost unreal. After 13 years of not being able to use all the features of my phone and really set it up the way I wanted, my phone was truly accessible. He made this dream a reality for blind people all over the world, in numerous languages.
Those very early versions of Talks were somewhat sluggish, and had numerous issues. But we stuck with it because we knew it was ground breaking technology. Over the years, Marcus and tenacious Torsten kept at it, to the point that Talks is now a very robust, reliable, speedy solution.
Talks became so successful that eventually it was acquired by Nuance Communications, who thankfully kept Torsten and Marcus on to manage and develop the product.
In looking back at the email correspondence I've had with Torsten over the years, and the times we've met up to chat or have dinner, a few words come to mind. Thoughtful, intelligent, committed, good fun, and great company with that distinctive German accent of his, when we'd catch up at CSUN or some other conference.
As a blind guy himself, Torsten used the product he managed every day. I have always believed this makes a big difference. It is reflected in the power, and elegant user interface of Talks. Talks gets an awful lot done, very simply, with in many cases only a number pad and a few other keys to work with. He took user interface and efficiency extremely seriously, sometimes considering esoteric issues like how many syllables a prompt contained, because as a speech user himself, he knew all of that stuff mattered. Most recently, he and Marcus worked together on a very elegant implementation of an accessible interface for the S60 Fifth Edition touch phones.
Torsten was in his prime, with many more great ideas on which he and Marcus would have collaborated. His passing is a tragedy for the blind community.
Let's not also forget, Torsten was a husband, and a dad. There are two things I send to Torsten's family. Firstly my sincere condolences. But secondly, I send my deep appreciation. The work Torsten did changed lives for the better. If you can leave this world a better place than you found it, in whatever endeavour you pursue, your life has been worthwhile. Torsten led a most worthwhile, and worthy life. He has earned his place in the history of assistive technology.
Ever since I heard the news of Torsten's death, every time I pick up my Nokia handset, so much more powerful than the first one Torsten helped to make accessible, I pause, and say a little thank you to him.
You will be missed Torsten.
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