DynaVox was recently purchased by Tobii for 18 million dollars. Naturally Tobii trumpets this as an excellent partnership for the future. Those of us who have witnessed and participated in the revolutionary impact of mobile technology on the disability community wonder if there is more to this story. Did the disruptive effect of iOS and Android devices lead to the bankruptcy and sale of DynaVox?
The truth is difficult to know since this purchase is not on the radar of mainstream business analysts, but that fact alone is revealing. If the mainstream investment community ignores the sale of DynaVox, what does this tell us about the industry, especially when their new competitors are household names?
Mobile technology and the in-the-garage development of apps for those with disabilities has brought Apple, Google, and Samsung into competition with DynaVox and Tobii. Individuals with disabilities limited to a few companies willing to meet their needs suddenly have significant choice. For the first time, those with disabilities are purchasing the same cutting edge technologies coveted by the general public. They are benefiting from the purchasing power of the majority, which creates ever decreasing prices combined with constantly improving features.
Additionally, a slow but steady population of software developers for mobile devices are creating software designed for those with disabilities. These tools are being used by parents, siblings, and caretakers of all types. In many cases, these amateurs are being coached by professional therapist, allowing families to deliver at home care in support of therapeutic sessions, increasing progress and the possibility of significant breakthroughs.
This is what disruption looks and feels like, which is why not only DynaVox but Tobii and all similar business models are at risk. How likely are we to see Tobii and other assistive technology companies disrupted? This is unlikely in the near term since Tobii in particular has a diverse portfolio of products and is technologically savvy. Even more significant is the state of the insurance industry, which at this point is more likely to reimburse for purchases of legacy products from DynaVox than an iPad from Apple. Despite these facts my long term bet is on a complete disruption of this industry.
There are five questions whose answers will determine the veracity of my prediction. I believe each one will be answered in favor of complete disruption of the status quo.
- Can parents and caretakers use their purchasing power to convince educators, therapists, and companies to serve them rather than sell products?
- Will increasing numbers of therapist partner with engineers to create their own versions of assistive technologies?
- Will the public school system embrace BYOD for special education encouraging insurance companies to reimburse for iPad’s etc.?
- Might Apple, Google, or Samsung develop product features rendering legacy assistive technologies obsolete (eye-tracking etc.)?
- Could a new generation of teachers and therapist more comfortable with iPads than DynaVox make 1-4 happen quickly?