Microsoft is out today with a new app for those with vision impairments. Soundscape for iOS has been in development for about four years and is now available for free. Read on for how this technology works.

Apple is well-known for providing a robust range of accessibility features for its products and even its buildings. However, we’ve seen Microsoft also adding some recent notable contributions to the accessibility space. Just last week we saw an update for the Be My Eyes iOS app that allows users to receive support from over 850,000 volunteers to get help from Microsoft’s Disability Answer Desk.

This week’s Soundscape app release is another way Microsoft is enabling safer and easier mobility for those with vision impairments — and the company even recommends using Apple’s AirPods.

Here’s how Microsoft describes what the app does and how it works:

Microsoft Soundscape uses 3D audio technology to enhance your awareness of what is around you, and thereby help you get around and explore your surroundings. Soundscape will place audio cues and labels in 3D space such that they sound like they are coming from the direction of the points of interest, parks, roads and other features in your surroundings. You will need a pair of stereo headsets that you feel comfortable wearing outdoors. For example, bone conduction headsets, Apple AirPods and in-ear open headphones have proven to work well. Soundscape is designed to live in the background and provide you with effortless ambient awareness. Therefore, feel free to use it in conjunction with other apps such as podcasts, audio books, email and even GPS navigation.

Key features:

  • As you walk, Soundscape will automatically call out the key points of interest, roads and intersections that you pass. These can be adjusted and turned on and off.
  • An audio beacon can be placed on a point of interest, and you will hear it as you move around. You can place an audio beacon on a point of interest that you would like to track such as your destination, a point to return to or a landmark you are familiar with.
  • “My location” describes your current location and the direction you are facing
  • “Around me” describes nearby points of interest in each of the four cardinal directions, helping with orientation. Try this out when getting off a bus or leaving a train station.
  • “Ahead of me” describes points of interest in front of you, for example when walking down the street.

This sounds like a fantastic resource, and even though the app is brand new, it already has an average of 4.8/5 stars on the App Store.

As TNW notes, Microsoft released Path Guide last year for indoor navigation support, but that app isn’t as robust as it doesn’t use GPS or Wi-Fi for guidance.

Just like Apple’s dedicated accessibility support, Microsoft recommends reaching out to the free Disability Answer Desk at 1-800-936-5900 with any questions.

Check out the inspiring video below about how it’s changing lives and read more about Soundscape at its dedicated webpage here. Soundscape is a free download from the App Store.

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