The Deaf Community Shaping Mobile Technology

Shaping mobile technology, two women with a phone on a sofa

What if I told you that the beginning of handheld computing didn't start with Google or Apple? Would you believe me?

What if I told you that devices like today's Blackberry, iPhone, or Samsung Galaxy were shaped by the Deaf community nearly 15 years ago?

Would you believe me then?


Well, you should.

It All Started In April Of 2000

In 2000 the internet was booming. Huge search engines like Yahoo and AOL were attempting to change the way media was viewed.

Instead of newspapers and televisions, they wanted to focus all of your attention to the web. Unfortunately at this point there were no mobile devices (at least not any affordable mainstream ones) that interfaced with the web to share all this information.

One small company hoped to change that in April of 2000.

The company's name was Danger Research, Inc. and it was founded by three (3) Apple alumni.

After spending two (2) years struggling to implement a small handheld device that utilized FM transmission to send/receive updates to the web, they finally hit a home run with Hiptop (thought some people may remember it more commonly as Sidekick once T-Mobile began to sell them).

Hiptop became the world's first internet connected smart phone.

The Deaf Community Loved It

The Hiptop was full of features that no one was even attempting, save Blackberry.  There was mobile instant messaging, web browser viewing, cloud storage, and more.  But two (2) of the biggest features were:

  1.  Telecoil compatibility
  2. TTY/TTD applications included for free

This was a huge deal.  Firstly, the Hiptop integrated with most hearing aids because it shared cellular radio chipset technology that was compatible with most t-coils.

Secondly, the Hiptop was able to function as a telecommunication device for the deaf (TTD).  So, instead of having to to connect your home phone to a special modem in order to communicate with people, you could simply use a Hiptop.  This was revolutionary.

But the world was slow to follow a technology the Deaf community came to love dearly.  Mainly because change is tough.  Also, because it was such new technology that exploded at once.

The continued use by people with hearing loss helped push this technology and create competition to develop the mobile devices we use today.

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