Viable Releases VPAD+, Enhancements Driven by Customer Feedback

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Input from deaf and hard of hearing consumers leads to new version of next-generation videophone developed for the deaf and hard of hearing.

The VPAD+ takes our videophone product line to the next level and offers our deaf and hard of hearing customers scalable benefits that extend beyond video relay services. The VPAD+ truly represents the next generation of telecommunications possibilities

Viable, a deaf-owned provider of video relay services (VRS) for deaf and hard of hearing people, is pleased to announce the long-awaited release of the full-feature version of the VPAD, its videophone developed for deaf and hard of hearing people who use VRS. Named the VPAD+, the videophone offers hardware enhancements and a redesigned customer experience that are the direct result of customer feedback.

As with its predecessor, the VPAD+ is a lightweight, standalone videophone that features a 10.2" touchscreen monitor. The VPAD+, however, features these enhancements:

  • Bluetooth technology
  • Built-in WiFi capability
  • Dual USB ports
  • Improved touchscreen function

"The VPAD+ takes our videophone product line to the next level and offers our deaf and hard of hearing customers scalable benefits that extend beyond video relay services. The VPAD+ truly represents the next generation of telecommunications possibilities," said Jason T. Yeh, Vice President of Technology, who is deaf.

Also new to the VPAD+ are browser support for WiFi logins, a redesigned user interface, and acoustic echo cancellation for improved voice quality. The Bluetooth function and the increased number of USB ports will enable VPAD+ owners to use any combination of wireless peripherals when in call mode, such as a keyboard for text communication, a headset for voice carryover (VCO), and a mouse as an external navigation option.

"We improved the camera function and integrated the WiFi capability, which means you don't need a separate adapter anymore. We added a browser that allows you to log onto any hotspot and enable your connection to make calls and modified the screen resolution to produce a sharper image," said Claudio Villalobos, an engineer on the VPAD development team who is fluent in American Sign Language. "All of the enhancements to the VPAD+ are a step towards optimizing the user's experience."

Viable first launched the VPAD at the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January and immediately rolled out a tester program with more than a hundred participants that represented a cross-section of the deaf and hard of hearing community. In April 2008, Viable began distribution of an early release version at the promotional price of $99 -- a reduction from its retail price of $699 -- and expanded its customer support department so it could aggressively document feedback on the VPAD. The result was valuable input on every aspect of the next-generation videophone: the hardware, the firmware, product distribution, the usability of the instruction materials, and the customer experience with setup.

VPAD tester Robert Esposito, who is deaf and the owner of Abbondanza, a pizzeria in West Seattle, remarked that he has seen the VPAD progress in leaps and bounds. When he first received his VPAD, he left it at home for occasional use. He sent in periodic feedback and saw firmware upgrades come in, and in August 2008 he was confident enough to make his VPAD work for him. "I set up my VPAD in my restaurant and started informing deaf and hard of hearing people in the Seattle area that they could use their videophones to call in their orders." He expects the VPAD+ will allow him even more utility in his restaurant.

"The VPAD+ is truly a crowdsourced product, with hundreds of deaf and hard of hearing individuals in more than 40 states and 10 countries contributing input on the early release VPAD," said Anthony Mowl, Assistant VP of Business Development. "In what has been one of the largest testing initiatives in the history of the deaf and hard of hearing community, we received abundant input on the hardware, user interface, and distribution methods and took them into consideration as we designed a superior communications platform. We credit the deaf and hard of hearing community with much of the with progress we have made with the VPAD+."

Further enhancements are on the horizon and will be staggered across periodic firmware upgrades, continually adding value to the videophone. "The firmware upgrades will allow us to actively seek community input while rewarding our customers for their feedback with new downloadable features," said Mr. Mowl, who is deaf.

The VPAD+ is anticipated for rollout in Fall 2008 and will be available only through Viable Customer Support. To purchase a unit at the introductory price of $99, deaf and hard of hearing persons will need to register for a Viable Number, which is a ten-digit telephone number that will enable people to receive calls at their VPAD+ devices, and schedule home installation.

The VPAD+ is currently displayed at the National Association of State Relay Administrators Conference in Lowell, MA, which runs from September 16-19, and will also be displayed at the Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Program Association Conference from September 21-24, also held in Lowell, MA. The VPAD+ will be demonstrated at DeafNation expos beginning Saturday, September 20 when the tradeshow comes to Denver, CO, and at the stops along the 2008 DeafNation Road Trip, which kicked off at the Viable headquarters in Rockville, MD, on September 15 and continues cross-country through November 1.

About Viable, Inc.
Viable provides next-generation video relay services for deaf and hard of hearing persons that can be accessed wherever there is Internet or wireless connectivity, opening them to a world of communication possibilities. Founded in 2006, Viable is a private, deaf-owned company, and the majority of its employees are deaf and hard of hearing and are personally vested in the innovation and development of the company's products and services. Further information is available at http://www.viable.net .    

About Telecommunications Relay Services
Mandated by Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, telecommunications relay services (TRS) enables individuals with hearing or speech disabilities to achieve functional equivalence by accessing telephone systems to place or receive calls through an intermediary known as a relay operator or relay interpreter. Emergent IP technology has given rise to video-based solutions, which are known as video relay services (VRS). VRS options include using a webcam or a videophone to connect to a video relay interpreter, and allow deaf and hard of hearing callers for whom sign language is native to fully achieve the ideal of functional equivalence.

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Glenn Lockhart
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