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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 7, 2000. All rights reserved.

Productivity Works to isSound

Five years after opening a software company, Ray Ingram

and Mark Hakkinen have hit the bigtime. They have licensed some of

their technology to Microsoft, have gotten venture capital funding,

have moved the company out of Ingram’s Trenton home, and have changed

the name of the company. Formerly known as Productivity Works, it

is now called isSound (E-mail: info@issound.com).

"Our company and technology strengths simply outgrew our old name,"

says Ingram, executive vice president of isSound. The firm is in temporary

space at 830 Bear Tavern Road and will move soon to 4,500 square feet

on the third floor. "The recent investment in the company by a

venture capital group has given us the impetus we needed to focus

on the burgeoning new Web markets for our software."

When Ingram and Hakkinen started out to develop technology for those

with visual impairments, they worked with Recording for the Blind

and Dyslexic (RFBD) on Roszel Road (U.S. 1, July 22, 1998). Mainstreaming

a niche technology developed for the disabled is a time-honored way

of bringing products to the marketplace: Ingram uses the example of

telephone typewriters developed for people with disabilities and mainstreamed

later on. "We always had mainstreaming in mind," he says,

"but first, the quality of speech synthesizers had to be improved."

"Microsoft Reader’s support of text and audio synchronization

will greatly benefit students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

This is a welcome and necessary step toward ensuring that the world

of E-books is fully inclusive and accessible to all readers,"

says John Churchill, RFBD senior vice president of operations.

"Taking a name that ties directly to our strengths as a company

makes it obvious to people what we are doing," says Ingram. isSound

focuses on auditory enabling of Web devices and software to provide

users access to information as they move through their day — starting

the day, commuting to and from work, getting ready for a business

meeting, and even preparing dinner, he says.

isSound is partnering with a Swedish firm, Labyrinten Data, a subsidiary

of the United Kingdom-based Dolphin Computer Access Ltd., a leader

in adaptive computer equipment for people who are nonsighted or partially

sighted.

Just three years ago Productivity Works had less than

$200,000 in revenue. "We needed money to get products to market

and into the crossover mainstream market," says Ingram. A 1972

graduate of Hatfield Polytechnic in England, Ingram lives with his

wife, Kelly, a professional decorative painter, in the Cadwalader

section of Trenton. "We closed on the first round of venture capital

financing for a couple of million dollars."

"As part of the process of reimaging the company we are looking

at our plans in the area of PR and enhancing our marketing," says

Hakkinen, chief technical officer. A graduate of Washington University

in St. Louis, Class of 1980, he did graduate work at Virginia Tech.

He and his wife, Helen Sullivan, a psychologist and web designer at

Ariadne Design, have three children.

isSound’s deal with Microsoft for digital audio is nonexclusive, says

Hakkinen. "We announced it June 1 at the annual convention of

the Association of Audio Publishers, but we like to look at it as

the thin edge of the wedge, the first of many partnerships."

"What makes Microsoft love our technology is that it offers new

reading experiences for users," says Hakkinen. Microsoft is incorporating

isSound’s technology into the Microsoft Reader, an electronic bookreading

software. This will enable text-to-audio synchronization of E-books

created for the Microsoft Reader format.

"Sometimes, the only thing better than reading a good book is

to have someone read it to you out loud," said Dick Brass, vice

president of technology development at Microsoft. "With this innovative

technology, Microsoft Reader will offer the book lover yet another

way to enjoy a great title, with lots of flexibility and control.

For the vision and print-impaired, it can also open up whole worlds

of reading that were not readily available before."

Publishers can equip E-books so that consumers can alternate between

the audio and text versions, perhaps reading by one chapter and listening

to the next one. They will get the benefits of on-screen reading plus

the freedom and accessibility of audio books.

"With technology like ours you can seamlessly go from visual reading

to audio reading and back," says Hakkinen. "If you are really

into that suspense novel but have to drive a car you can go on with

it. I put these occasions into the category of `situational disabilities.’

For instance, I downloaded the new Michael Crichton novel, `Timeline,’

into my pocket PC to read it on planes and in the airport, but there

were times when I was running through the airport and wished I could

have closed the screen but kept listening to it."

"Someone on the go can have a library of 50 books in an E-book,"

says Hakkinen. "You will be able to go to a dot-com bookstore

and order the latest Grisham thriller in hardcover or open E-book

format. The other aspect that should not go ignored is the educational

impact. In addition to potentially being able to lighten the backpack

loads, the E-book offers a lot of potential in improving access for

kids with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Texas has mandated

that all textbooks must be available in an accessible electronic format

by 2002."

Microsoft Reader currently ships with the Pocket PC and is scheduled

to be available for other platforms later this summer. Text-to-audio

synchronization in Microsoft Reader will not be included in the initial

release but is planned for incorporation in a later version. Likewise,

the tools for publishers to implement the new technology into E-book

titles are scheduled to be available after the first version of Microsoft

Reader is released.

Microsoft will donate a portion of licensing revenues to the DAISY

Consortium, an international nonprofit group dedicated to defining

a standard for digital talking books specifically for persons who

are blind or print-disabled.

isSound defines itself as a provider and developer of software products

for the auditory enabling of the Web and related applications and

software. It provides software to audio-enable both applications and

Web devices, and is particularly interested in open standards and

creating and maintaining equality of access to information and resources

for all people. Steve Cohen of Morgan Lewis & Bockius is the attorney,

and the accounting is done by Paul Gergle at Withum Smith & Brown.

"Having Microsoft embrace the ongoing efforts in digital talking

books by providing these capabilities directly in a mainstream product

like Microsoft Reader is a major step forward in the evolution of

electronic books," says Hakkinen. "Through the use of our

audio technologies, users can be liberated from the screen-based model

of the Web and easily access information for business, education,

and leisure purposes, when and where they want to."

— Barbara Fox

isSound Corporation (Productivity Works), 830 Bear

Tavern Road, Suite 301, Ewing 08628. Ray Ingram, executive vice president.

609-637-0099; fax, 609-984-8048. Home page: www.issound.com.


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