Accessibility Improvements for iPhone and iPad

With my low vision needs, the Accessibility features of a new platform, both hardware and software, are of paramount importance. In fact, Accessibility was one of the enticements that lured me to the Mac platform in 2005.

While the Zoom feature of Mac OS X is first class, the built-in Text-to-Speech feature provides these tired eyes with the help they need. just highlight the text, hit the keyboard shortcut and let the nice lady inside the Mac read to you. I also use the feature to proofread outgoing documents and emails. I couldn’t operate without Zoom and Text-to-Speech.

With later releases of the iPhone OS and the advent of the App Store, I have been able to put together a similar use of Text-to-Speech using the iPhone Copy & Paste in tandum with an App called Speak-It from Future Apps, Inc.

First, I highlight the desired text inside the current application and select the iPhone Copyfunction. It’s sometimes a little tricky to get the desired selection, but, with persistence it can be done.

Once the Copy operation has been performed, you now need to exit the current App and launch Speak-It. Note: With the release of iPhone OS 4.0 and the right iPhone hardware, you will be able to switch between the two Apps.

Once Speak-It is up and running, you tap and hold in the text entry area until the Paste option appears. Select Paste and voila!. The text from the other App pops in. Press the “Speak It” button and let the soothing tones of the little lady inside the Speak-It App read the story.

Requested Improvement

It would be nice to be able to invoke Text-To-Speech function from the first App. Add a “Speak” option to the Copy pop-up. The Speak option would be available if the user had selected Text-to-Speech in his/her Accessibility preference pane. The operation would be performed directly in the current App, eliminating the need to exit or switch to a different App.

The iPhoneVirtual Keyboard

The original iPhone (2007) was my first Smartphone. I had never really used text messaging or any other keyboard intensive operations. The iPhone virtual keyboard with it’s pop-up letter indications was a game-changer for me. I press a virtual key and the key pressed is displayed above my typing digit. I press and hold and slide left, right, up or down in the event my first press was quite right. Using this method, I can type out text messages and Tweets and emails in an acceptable time period.

I noticed that the iPad’s virtual keyboard has lost this function. I realize that the keys are larger, but the lettering on the key is still somewhat small to me. It would be comforting to see the face of the little Letter, Number or Symbol peek up at me from the touch screen.

Another enhancement would be to allow increased contrast between the key and the displayed symbol; a Black Key with White Text without affecting the rest of the display.. This is the keyboard layout for the Unibody MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops (one of the reasons I purchased the first Unibody MacBook in 2008).

Anyway, those are some suggestions for improvements in iPhone and iPad Accessibility. Do you have any other ideas that would aid those of us that love the technology, but need a little assist in using it?

iPhone OS 4 Is Announced

On Thursday, April 8th, Apple announced the upcoming release of iPhone OS 4.

Among the many features of interest are two major items:

  • Multi-tasking
    Finally, multi-tasking is coming to the iPhone OS. But the joy of it’s arrival is dimmed by my inability to use it. I currently have the iPhone 3G which will not support the feature. One saving grace is that my update period will begin around the time the next iPhone hardware should arrive which is sometime in the June-July time frame.
  • Folders
    To me, this is a major update. I currently have 11 screens full of icons. Flicking screens back and forth is fun, but after awhile, the fun wears a little thin. Folders will allw you to group apps in whatever logical collection your logic desires.

iPhone OS 4 is scheduled to arrive sometime this summer with an iPad version coming later this fall. Yes! Multi-tasking for my new iPad. Life is good.

For more information on iPhone OS 4, visit the Apple website.

UPDATE: April 13, 2010

Rumors are rumbling concerning multitasking and the older Apple iPhones and iPod Touch models.  According to early reports, multitasking can be enabled on the devices by a simple change to a system preference file. There is currently no information as to how well the older devices may perform with multitasking enabled. It may be that performance takes a major nose dive which bears out Steve Jobs announcement at the recent unveiling. Time will tell.

The Case for iPad

As noted last weekend, I made a journey to a local Apple Store to experience the iPad first hand. I can only hope that my iPad 3G hurries it’s way home and arrives in the next two weeks. I’m hoping for an April 24th arrival time.

When I placed my original order, I added a couple accessories, namely, the iPad Dock and the iPad VGA adapter. I did not order a case.

While wandering around the Apple Store, I noticed a number of 3rd party sleeves which appeared to be 10.1″ netbook cases relabeled for the iPad. I also noticed several of the Apple iPad folding cases hanging in the display. I almost bought one of the Apple cases, but didn’t, thinking I can pick it up anytime between now and when the iPad arrives.

This weekend, I visited a local Best Buy and a different Apple Store. Both were out of Apple iPad cases and did not know when the next delivery would arrive. Knowing that I needed a case, I took out my trusty iPhone and placed an order at the online Apple Store. As with my iPad, the delivery is noted as late April.

But is the Apple iPad case the definitive carry accessory for the iPad. I have read some reviews that felt the case was overpriced and uninspired by Apple standards. I know that I do not want a “sleeve”  case, but more of a folio/book style preferably with the tilt angle capabilities of the Apple iPad case.

Any ideas?

The iPad is Here!

It’s not really an earthshaking headline. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past two months, you probably already know that today, Saturday, April 3, 2010 is the official release date for the new Apple tablet.

Today’s iPad release is limited to the WiFi-only model with the 3G-enabled version coming out later this month. As noted in a previous post, I opted for the 3G model so my release date has not yet arrived.

Even so, I could not resist traveling to the Apple Store at the Altamonte Springs, FL mall this afternoon to see what the “buzz wuz”.  I fully expected to see a line of people slowly working their way into the store a few customers at a time. The velvet rope was there, but no line was there. I had timed my arrival for one hour after the pre-order period that ended at 3:00.

Inside the store, it was very easy to detect where the iPad display was located. You couldn’t see the device, but a crowd of people about 2 or 3 deep was in the front right quadrant of the store surrounding something of interest. Since I didn’t hear the sounds of a fist fight or other disturbance, I assumed that this was the iPad table.

Yes it was. I waited patiently for about 10-15 minutes until I finally wormed my way to the table’s edge. There it was, the iPad. No longer was it a JPEG image on a web page or a video on Apple’s web site. It was an actual”pick it up in your hands” device.

I took a quick 5 minute spin around the iPad, sampling features such as iBooks, Safari and Mail. The iPad display was amazing. The iPad responded immediately to taps and swipes. Having used the iPhone since it was first released in June 2007, the iPad User Interface (UI) was a comfortable fit. Unlike the anticipated lag of the iPhone, movements such as pinch and zoom  were “instantly” (nothing is really instant in the world of computers) rendered by the iPad. graphics engine.

I sampled two iPhone games; NBA Live and Madden NFL 10. I could quickly see that the iPad will be a great device for gamers.

I am most excited with iBooks. With my visual difficulties, the reading of books has waned over the years. With the use of the Voiceover function within iPad, I will now be able to resume a “read anywhere” life style by letting the iPad read to me.  I was also favorably surprised at the ability to set different font sizes which allowed me to read the text.

I grudgingly surrendered my position at the table to a lady standing behind me. I left the store and opened my iPhone to check some early reviews. Even though I had used the iPad for a few minutes only, the iPhone now felt a little cramped by comparison.

I am now downloading selected iPad apps in preparation for the arrival of my iPad in late April. Late April…. that seems so far away.