Sunday, 21 June 2009

iPhone 3GS Accessibility thoughts.

I got my shiney new iphone 3gs yesterday. After some messing about with o2, being on hold for hours, issues with my credit card (that were not of my making fortunately), I finally managed to order a 16gb black version. It turned up yesterday morning at quarter to nine in the morning. I imagine the dogs' few barks at the courier will have pissed my neighbors off no end, but there you go.

Playing with it, I have a few observations about the in and outs of VoiceOver on the 3GS, which I will rabbit on about - starting with the issues I have with it first.
The rotor control does not work exactly as described by Apple, well, for me at least. The way I read the instructions seems to imply that one puts two fingers on the screen and rotates them together as if turning a dial to switch between the various options that the rotor controls. 
I couldn't get this to work no matter what - but what does work for me is to put one finger on the screen and keep it touching the screen, and then put another finger next to it and rotate that finger, keeping the first finger still on the screen. You will then hear a twisting dial sound, and the characters, words or whatever options (which change depending on what app you're in) will be read out. Just stop turning when you get to the one you want.
As for selecting items, I favour the split tap method - passing one finger over the screen, touching it lightly, and when the item you want to use or select is read out, I then tap anywhere on the screen with another finger to open or activate it. It is important to keep the first navigation finger, as I call it, touching the screen and on the item you want whilst tapping with the other, or activation finger, as I have christened it. If you move your selection finger before tapping with the activation finger even slightly you may find the item you wanted isn't selected anymore, as items can be very close together.
There is a bug in the Notes program that intermittently does not activate the on-screen keyboard when editing the text, so the audio prompt will say "Double tap to edit", and you will double tap, then the keyboard will not appear and you'll be left wondering what is going on. Exiting the Notes app and then reentering it seems to sort it out ninety nine percent of the time.

I had the original iPhone 2G when it came out, but had to stop using it as my remaining vision become too poor to use it (I went onto a Nokia E90 with Mobile Squeak, what a nightmare). Before I gave it up I imagine people got some very odd and garbled text messages from me however. But I have retained a vague idea of the layout of the iPhone keyboard, apps, and so on, which is helping me now. Having a vague idea where things are helps I think.
My bf, who whilst being lovely has the patience of a gnat (and no sight at all), finds the iPhone likeable but frustrating as he finds it hard to visualise the layout of things. Whatever I do to try and explain it isn't helping. It seems hard for him to not accidentally touch the screen and put his navigation out, if that makes sense, which means he often activates items he didn't mean to and sometimes moves the insertion point of text without meaning to. And he has bigger fingers than my little fairy-like fingers. Heh heh.
This is why I'm using the navigation finger plus activation finger method - it works better for me as the selection finger is always safely on the screen. Perhaps, being a pianist is also helping here - I'm used to the left and right hands doing different things in tandem.
Inputting text is easier in landscape mode I find, and here I can rest the phone in my curled fingers as if I were holding a game controller. I use the left hand thumb to navigate and select the left keyboard keys, and the right thumb for activation - and the right thumb to navigate and select the keys on the right side of the keyboard, with the left thumb to activate. It takes abit of getting used to but I am fairly flying along now.
I have yet to figure out how to copy and paste (although I have done it accidentally, lol) - VoiceOver changes all the standard gestures, and how to do this whilst using VO doesn't seem to be documented yet. 
Disappointingly, Maps doesn't read the names of roads as you pass your finger over the screen. I thought it wouldn't, but I had hoped. But it will read your current locale, and directions can be gotten in a list which makes them easy to flick through. I have yet to go outside and see how the program actually works on the street, and how much voice feedback one will get.
Everything else built in I've tried so far works without a hitch.

Some of the third party apps I had on my old iPhone don't work with VO on the 3GS - Ocarina for one. I imagine this is because the iPhone doesn't do multitasking and VO uses the audio driver, meaning it isn't available for such things as Ocarina, Zephyr, and Stylophone. Skype is accessible, and one can receive chats and reply to them, but not initiate them. Fring and Skype seem not to be happy about voip calls - possibly because of the audio driver issue. So far they've all crashed on me when attempting to receive a call.
Twitterrific works great - it all seems to be accessible, though I have only just downloaded it so I am still finding my way around it.

As often is the case with Apple, the VO documentation for the iPhone is abit sparse and not totally complete right now - better than for the original VoiceOver on Tiger though. That really was flying blind back then. I'm sure as time goes on, more and more people using the 3GS with VO will appear and we will share tips and tricks. Meantime I'm playing and learning, and waiting for a review to cover the bits I am having trouble with from - I gather Josh is going to write one soon.

I'm very pleased with the iPhone 3GS so far. It is very responsive and sleek. And the voice - a version of OSX's Vicky I imagine - is quite passable, rather than the robotesque Nokia voices I am used to, though not quite up to Alex on Leopard. It is very encouraging to see a mobile phone that is accessible out of the box - more importantly, one that doesn't look like a brick or is designed for a special need that is accessible out of the box. This is a mainstream phone, accessible to us blind buggers, without having to pay out a hundred and fifty notes on separate software on top of the price of the phone and contract. Perhaps other phone manufacturers will follow suit, though I am not going to hold my breath on it.

All in all, the iPhone 3GS is - in my humble opinion - well worth the money and the eighteen month contract I have just signed up for. It has surpassed my expectations already. Result.

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