Novartis launches navigation app for visually disabled on Apple Watch

ViaOpta navigation app on the Apple Watch--Screenshot courtesy of Novartis

Novartis ($NVS) launched its ViaOpta navigation app for the visually impaired on the Apple Watch, making it the first app of its kind to run on a smartwatch. It's also available on Android Wear.

The app provides voice guidance and vibrations to inform users of landmarks and intersections. In addition, the Big Pharma company says the app can tell users their location, and caretakers can access it too.

Available via smartphone since 2014, the medical app marks a step outside the comfort zone for the Big Pharma, which is better known for its medications. "Novartis is committed to providing innovative solutions which go beyond medicine, like these apps for the visually impaired which benefit their daily quality of life," said David Epstein, who heads the company's pharma division, in a statement. "We are proud to contribute and play a role in making these simple and convenient tools like the ViaOpta Daily and ViaOpta Nav apps available around the world."

New features include extended coverage to include the whole world (though the app is less likely to run in rural areas), the ability to identify objects that appear on the device's camera and use of the camera to help users navigate around what's in front them in real time.

The company says its smartphone app was downloaded more than 6,700 times in the two months following its debut.

ViaOpta is also a Novartis initiative to provide training and services to eyecare professionals around the world. The company's Alcon eyecare unit had sales of $10.8 billion in FY 2014 on the back of contact and intraocular lenses, as well as pharmaceuticals.

- read the release