LI startup Charmtech gets FCC award, expands app

A screenshot of the text-to-speech iPhone application created

A screenshot of the text-to-speech iPhone application created by Stony Brook-based Charmtech.

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Stony Brook tech startup Charmtech Labs LLC, which last week received an award from the Federal Communications Commission for making the Internet more accessible to disabled people, announced Tuesday the first major expansion of its free text-to-speech iPhone and iPad application, Capti Narrator.

Capti allows users to listen to a variety of text documents across Web sources, including news sites, Google Drive and Dropbox. Tuesday's update expands the app's functionality from one language -- English -- to 26, and adds more than 125 voice options to its original roster of 25.

"We're trying to free people from their addiction to screens," said Yevgen Borodin, president and CEO of the company. "This is an indicator that we're moving in the right direction."

Founded in 2011, Charmtech originally set out to create technology for the vision-impaired, but it has since widened its scope to include all consumers.

The market for specialized hardware and software for the disabled is relatively small, which leads to higher prices and has prompted the company to shift gears and target larger audiences to keep the app free, said Borodin.

The private company has 12 employees, some of whom are vision-impaired, and doesn't use advertising as a source of income. It relies, instead, on sales of optional premium voices for the app, priced from $1.99 to $4.99 each.

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While its free-to-download model makes it part of a larger trend among Web developers, monetization remains a key challenge for the company, said Mark Lesko, executive director of Accelerate Long Island, a group that promotes high-tech company growth on Long Island. "The next step is to figure out how to monetize it," he said. "It's the same dilemma that any kind of Web developer faces."

Capti won the FCC Chairman's Award for Advancement in Accessibility in the category of mobile Web browsers because of its ability to make digital content accessible. Capti version 1.6 is available for download on Apple's App Store.

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