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November 16, 2016

Microsoft releases app for colour blinds on iPhone

New app Color Binoculars makes it possible for people who are colour blind to see the world likes others do. The app uses the camera on the iPhone to adapt colours, which helps colour blind people to distinguish them. The app works with three different filters and works for three different types of colour blindness. Tom Overton and Tingting Zhu developer the app with Microsoft Garage, Microsoft’s outlet for experimental projects.

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For Microsoft, Color Binoculars is a way to reach out to people who are colour blind. In the Netherlands 1 to every 12 men and 1 to every 200 women is colour blind. This creates a large potential market. The app makes the user choose between three filters: Green/Red, Red/Green and Blue/Yellow. These are the most common forms of colour blindness.

Different filters for different colours

The app uses the fact that every colour has its own wavelength. This helps the iPhone-camera ‘see’ different colours, which it adapts after the user has chosen a filter. After choosing the right filter, the user points the camera to an object. The iPhone-screen then shows the adapted result. Where one filters brightens red colours and darkens greens, another filter changes red to pink. These different filters make it easier to distinguish colours, no matter which form of colour blindness is in play.

Microsoft Garage

Tom Overton, one of the makers, is colour blind, which made him a good tester. During Microsoft’s Hackathon in 2015 Overton and Tingting Zhu came up with an idea to tackle this problem. They completed the application with Microsoft Garage, a Microsoft program that gives employees time to work on experimental apps. The apps eventually get released to the large public. Overton and Zhu took their idea to the Garage pitch day. They used the feedback to change a prototype into a full-feature app.

For now the application is only available through the American App Store. By creating a free American iTunes-account, it is possible to access the app in other countries. The app isn’t the only new kid on the block when it comes to being colour blind: iOS 10 offers special colour filters for its colour blind users.  

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