Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Windows of the Soul, aka Why I love my iPhone.

Here I am, lazing about in bed, with Jalen the German Shepherd Dog lying beside me - well, in reality the leggy bugger is taking up three quarters of the bed and I'm left with a strip about a foot wide right on the edge. And he's shedding like a thistle down too. But he is an affectionate, if a tad slobbery with his dog snogs, companion for a weekday lazy morning. And he doesn't complain if I tip tap away on my iPhone 3GS like a blue tit with a milk bottle.
I've got the most advanced acessible little computer literally in the palm of hand. It's playing me "Lost In Your Eyes" by the late, great and extremely lamented (in this house anyway) Jeff Healey, and allowing me to have the wierd and wonderful of the web available at any time for my immediate perusal. It is a shiney, smooth, beautiful little thing. It feels like an expensive polished stone. Yet it is warm to the touch and oddly enough, smells - close up as i am - a bit like a car my dad used to have when it had been used for the supper run down to the local chippy and then stood in the evening sun for a while. Why this should be I have no idea.  It's strange but true. That or the fibro is giving me phantom smells again. And it speaks to me. Not just aesthetically but literally.

I gesture to it and like a good little computer it does as it is bid, telling me all I need to know of its actions and processes in a polite and business-like voice.
Sometimes it may sit there and wonder what it is I want from it, but that is because, like a small but eager to please animal, it needs gentle and consistent handling. And although I am gentle, I am too brain addled thanks to fibromyalgia to always remember how many fingers to use to do what. But it's a game beast and usually forgiving.

My Nokia E90, on the other hand, was not such a willing beast. I had it in the six months before I got my 3GS. It needed the Frankenstein modifications that are Talks or Mobile Speak to be of use to me, add on screen readers which hit me in the pocket to the tune of what I paid for the actual hardware of the iPhone 3GS. I also had an O2 Mini SDA or whatever it was, which ran on WIndows Mobile. Oh, the horror. It was a coupla years ago but I still remember the utter refusal for the damn thing to be consistently accessible to me however hard I tried and whatever Code Factory spells I cast on it.
The E90 itself, whilst having a full qwerty keyboard hidden inside, can only be described as a brick. It is neither shiny nor beautiful.  The expression "candy bar" when applied to such mobile phones surely must be the kindest way to describe them - "brick" is what they really are. Mobile Speak made my E90 pretty accessible, but I never did get the hang of web browsing with it. Everything just took sooooo looooong. Except actual typing on it of course. The minature keyboard fairly flew to the tune of my frenzied clatterings.

I think that is my only real hurdle with the iPhone - typing. With VoiceOver on the phone one has to double tap each letter as you select it - or split tap, selecting the letter with one finger, then tapping with another whilst holding down the first. This was my first method of typing, as when gotten right it seemed quicker. But as I have long(ish) fingernails, I was tending towards rolling the pad of my selection finger as I tapped with the other finger, which was causing me to actually type the letter either side of the one I wanted. I have now figured that if I'm going to have nails, I have to type differently. I now choose the letter with one finger, wait for it to be announced, then lift that finger and double tap somewhere entirely different with the other finger to enter the character. This seems better for me, although possibly slower - but I'm making less mistakes, which surely must make the whole text inputting thing quicker overall. This will become a moot point when I go ten pin bowling next however, as all the fingernails on my right hand are bound to be ripped off during the first frame, and thus the left ones will have to come off for the sake of symmetry also.

Other than that small pebble in the road to a happy relationship between me and my iPhone, there has been nothing else to marr the honeymoon period. The bloom is very much still on the rose for me and it - well, I'm not sure what it thinks of me, but I know I am very pleased with it. I am about to take delivery of a dock cum speaker arrangement for it, to put on my bedside cabinet, which surely must be the most definite sign of acceptance - only the very loved things go there: 
My Harmony 525 remote - still going strong despite being cracked and injured after being turfed unceremoniously off the sofa by my fiance when he wasn't paying attention to its whereabouts. 
A picture of my beloved GSD, Bindi, who I lost last year to cancer.  
A little card from my mum telling me how glad she was that I was back in town. I can't read it but that's not the point.
And that's the end of the list.
You get the idea - this is where Important Things live when I am asleep. 

Although I obviously use the 3GS at all times of the day, I especially like using it when I wake in the mornings and the day is hardly begun - when I should really be trying to go back to sleep. It is small enough to let me dip into Twitter or the news headlines or whatever I want, without meaning I have to either sit up as I would with my netbook or even get out of bed - shudder ! hell no - as I would if I wanted to use my iMac. I can see what's going on with the world (which helps focus my mind on less personal thoughts that might otherwise prevent me from continuing my slumber), then drift off back to sleep again. Or I can listen to some music until I start snoring again. And that's another great personal joy of mine too - the ipod aspect of the iPhone.

At home, all my media and music lives on a mac mini connected to the plasma tv and surround sound system downstairs. If I - or my fiance - play anything on it, everyone, well me and he,  has to want to listen to it. Same with my imac or the macbook in the bedroom which serves as a media player. They involve everyone else in the house in your music. I could use headphones with any of these of course, but they hurt my ears. And despite the ratbag nature of my neighbors who plainly couldn't give a rat's bum about they affect my life (see earlier posts) listening to music at half four in the morning could be seen as being a tad unsociable, and I am basically a nice considerate person. So here's where the iPhone comes in - it's my personal little song box, for me and me only. I guess with the dock and speaker arrangement, it will be everyone in earshot's little song box too - but it doesn't have to be. I can snatch it off the dock and it's all mine again.
I wonder if this is an aspect that the (primarily) kids who blast their mp3s out on buses and trains and in Maccy Doo's and so on are missing. Having been a club and radio dj for a living some years ago, I don't feel a need to broadcast my tunes to everyone. And if I did, I've got a band who can make as much noise as one likes. So I value the privacy of the iPhone - it's for me only. I have no great desire to hide anything from anyone, but I don't want to literally broadcast it either. And I can enjoy my tunes without doing that. And I don't have to worry that anyone else around might not like them because they very likely are not going to hear. In my iPhone, they're all mine mine mine.

Of course, the privacy aspect is true of any mp3 / music player if we so desire - but my iPhone has everything I need to define me inside it too, and I don't need to stick that in the faces - or ears - of anyone else. Tunes, podcasts, Torchwood radio plays and dramatisations of Watership down, the names and numbers of people I care for, those who I need to speak to, my calendar which keeps me where I need to be and not wandering off doing something else (essential when one has such a crappy memory as I do). Pictures of my dogs, my fiance, my mum and her cat, of flowers and random animals. Apps that I find useful, like Navigon or fun, like Simon Sings and iPity.
All that stuff defines me, and I have somehow found great pleasure in having it all in one place, on hand at all times. If I meet someone on the bus and get talking, I can show them a picture of my dog. If I need to explain what I have in mind for a particular arrangement of a song to the rest of the reprobates in the band, I can whip out the iPhone and play them the ideas I put together in Garageband. And if I were to be knocked flat by a bus, whoever were to find my iPhone would at least be able to vaguely know me - before they called my next of kin, or stole my lovely 3GS for themselves of course. 

There is a saying that tells us that "The eyes are the windows of the soul." They may well be, but the iPhone is the windows of this woman's soul. And even better, there's no evidence of the computer variety of Windows anywhere. How do you like them Apples, Bill ? ;)

Monday, 6 July 2009

Twitter on the iPhone...

Many native apps exist for Twitter on the iphone, and it seems that Tweetero takes the prize for accessibility for VoiceOver users. But in the rush to get to the App Store and get our dose of appy goodness for our new blind friendly toy, we sometimes forget that there are web apps - i.e. apps for the iphone and other mobile phones - that live on the internet and are accessible through the Safari browser on the phone. These may well afford an even better accessible experience for those of us using VoiceOver, because they are basically webpages.

One I have stumbled upon that ticks boxes for me is called Logpost. It is essentially a front end for Twitter designed for the mobile phone web browser. Just visit the url, sign in with your Twitter details, and off you go. It's designed to be viewed on a mobile screen, so is not cluttered or confusing, which makes it all the better for a screen reader. And so far, from what I have tested, all of it is accessible with VO. You can do most anything from it that you would do on the usual Twitter site on your desktop or laptop, including searching for trends, which is a feature that seems lacking from the accessible apps I tried on the iphone. It can be used in the landscape format too - better for typing in my opinion.

 Of course, it is not as quick to respond as a dedicated native app as web pages have to physically load from links for Twittering tasks, but it is very functional none the less. Result.