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My AppleWatch Experience, Watch 3.0 and how it affects VoiceOver users

Watch 3.0 has been out for a couple of days now, I initially thought it’d just be another update that I’d install only to find it didn’t really change much for me as a VoiceOver user. But I have to admit I was wrong.

 

I’ve been a fan of the AppleWatch since its release last year and despite a lot of the media gripes about it under performing, not having it’s own cellular connectivity, being too expensive etc, I still think it’s a great device that will evolve into something that many people will end up using. Although I doubt that will be the case for several years, I do feel that the AppleWatch is absolutely fantastic for those of us who are visually impaired or blind and use VoiceOver. It was an absolute revelation for me to finally have a watch that talked in a voice that was clear and understandable, that gave me the ability to adjust its speech volume on the fly and that actually had the potential to be of genuine use on a daily basis. One of the biggest reasons I took the plunge was the ability to check emails and messages etc whilst I’m on the road or with clients. The fact I can do so extremely quickly makes life much easier. I often check these things throughout the day and much of the time my assistant isn’t even aware I’ve done so. This for me is great because it means I don’t need to dig out my iPhone and do so in front of clients at a louder volume.

 

So getting down to the point of this blog, what’s the release of Watch 3.0 done for VoiceOver users in particular? Well, put simply it’s massively improved the usability of a device that was already pretty damned usable. Let’s be honest about it, Watch 1.0 introduced VoiceOver users to the AppleWatch and made it mostly accessible, Watch 2.0 refined that accessibility  a little more and made using the watch a more pleasurable experience. What Watch 3.0 has done is not only refined accessibility considerably more, but has boosted the overall performance of the watch in a big way and this of course has had a significant, positive impact for AppleWatch owners, including those using VoiceOver.

 

I’ve installed Watch 3.0 on my first generation AppleWatch so obviously I can only really comment on what has changed on it. Those who purchase a second generation AppleWatch will of course find additional differences in standards of performance etc.

 

The first thing you notice once you’ve installed Watch 3.0 is just how much faster everything is. This may sound a bit of a vague statement, but with Watch 2.0 apps would take around three seconds on average and sometimes as long as five or six seconds to open. Doesn’t sound long I know but believe me, if you’re trying to do something on the move it feels like an eternity. With Watch 3.0 opening an app is almost instantaneous,. The other thing connected to this is the speed at which the watch switches from the clock face screen to the apps screen when you press the digital crown, as again it’s pretty much instantaneous. These two improvements are brilliant for VoiceOver users as you no longer get that horrible lag between when you double tap on an app or press the digital crown and when the app actually opens or the screen switches.

 

There are some new additions to Watch 3.0, only two of which I’m going to focus on here. The first is Emergency SOS. This function allows you to choose up to three people from your contacts who will be messaged in the event that you call the emergency services. The way it works is that if you need to call the emergency services you hold down the side button on your AppleWatch and the watch makes the call for you. Whilst you’re on the call the watch sends your current location to the emergency call operator so they can find you. In the meantime any contacts you’ve added are sent a message informing them that you’ve called the emergency services and also sends them your current location. I think this is a brilliant addition to the AppleWatch and can imagine that many people could be helped by it in the future.

 

If you wish to activate the Emergency SOS function on your AppleWatch go to the AppleWatch app on your iPhone, then go to General and finally go into Emergency SOS.

 

The next addition, or perhaps I should say change, is the removal of the Friends list to be replaced with the Doc. Where on Watch 1.0 and 2.0 you could press and release the side button to go to a list of friends you had allocated to a list of your most contacted, pressing and releasing the side button on Watch 3.0 opens the Doc. Just like on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch where you have a Doc in which you can place up to four apps that you use most often and/or want to get to quickly, the AppleWatch now has the same. The Doc on the AppleWatch has two additions however, you can place up to four apps in the Doc just as you can on iOS devices. Below those apps the Doc displays the last app you had open so you can go straight back to it. Then below that there’s a “Now Playing” option. Single finger double tapping on the “Now playing” option opens a player controls screen that displays the name of the song, audio book or pod cast you’re listening to as well as allowing you to Play/Pause, skip backwards, skip forwards and adjust volume. I think the addition of the Doc will be welcomed by most VoiceOver users, not only because it works well, but because by using it in conjunction with Digital Crown Navigation the whole process of using it is a pleasurable experience rather than the more frustrating experience we had on Watch 1.0 and 2.0.

 

To reorder the apps in your Doc go to the AppleWatch app on your iPhone then go into the Doc settings area. Once you’re in there the four apps that are in the Doc by default are displayed at the top of the screen in a list. Below that list there’s a “Do not include” list. You can easily change which apps are in your Doc by single finger double tapping on the Edit button found at the top right corner of the screen. Once you’ve done this a “Reorder” button appears alongside the name of each app up the right side of the screen. Simply single finger double tap and hold on the “Reorder” button of the app you wish to move and drag your finger up or down the list. VoiceOver will announce where you’re moving the app to. For example. “Messages moved below Maps”. You can move apps into or out of the Doc list using this method. Once you’ve finished moving the apps simply single finger double tap on the “Done” button found in the top right corner of the screen.

 

There are also reported to be battery life improvements with Watch 3.0, but as I’ve only had it for a couple of days I can’t really comment much about that, but time will tell.

 

In summary, I think that anybody who owns a first generation AppleWatch and uses VoiceOver would benefit from installing the Watch 3.0 update, it’s faster, smoother and I feel more user friendly than its predecessors.

Finding the right assistive technology for you

We live in a time in which disabilities such as sight loss are no longer as lonely and isolating as they once were. Some of this is due to more social awareness and acceptance of disabilities as a whole, but most is due to the technology that’s now available to everyday people like you and me. Over the last fifteen years technology has increasingly enabled those of us with varying degrees of visual impairment to become fully interactive with our peers, be they visually impaired or not.

 

As more assistive technology becomes available we’re faced with the challenge of finding what works well and suits our wants and needs. An added complication is that this technology by its very nature is not cheap, so we are often faced with potentially parting with a lot of money only to find that the piece of equipment or software we’ve bought doesn’t do what we really want it to. So how can you identify what’s going to be best for you?

 

In terms of Windows and Android devices, it’s relatively easy, particularly if you already own one, as pretty much all assistive technology software manufacturers offer some sort of free demo version of their software. Usually these demo versions last for a limited period of 30 days or so depending on which manufacturer it is. Not only are these demo versions often free, they are also available as downloads so you can install them straight away rather than having to wait for discs to be posted to you. The only slight draw back is that if you’re at the stage of looking for software to help you be able to use your computer or device, you’re likely to need a friend or family member to help you download and install the demos before you can try them out. The great thing about demo versions is that they allow you to try out the software for a decent period of time at your own pace rather than putting you on the spot to make a decision whilst at a shop etc.

 

In terms of Apple devices, it is even easier if you already own one. All modern Apple computers and devices have built in assistive technology that you don’t need to pay for which can simply be turned on so you can try it out. This is great as you can turn it on or off as many times as you like without being restricted by the time limitations of demo versions. If you don’t already own an Apple device but want to try one or several out, you can go into an Apple store and spend as long as you like doing so. The staff are very accommodating, however it is worth being aware that they may not have full knowledge of how their devices work for the visually impaired. Many stores do now have a learning specialist who should know all about their assistive technology capabilities, so it’s worth asking when you go into the store.

 

Two further ways of getting to try out software or devices is to go to events that have a variety of manufacturers all under one roof like Sight Village or the RNIB technology open event. These are good because you can speak to people about what the software or device does and in most cases actually try out a fully functioning version whilst there. More often than not you can also pick up demo discs to take home and install on your own computer. The only drawbacks with these sorts of events are that inevitably they’re extremely busy and loud and you never really get very long on the software or devices you are having a go on, so it can be rather frustrating. It can feel like complete information overload when moving around from manufacturer to manufacturer as well, but you can take away a lot of information which comes in handy when trying to remember what you’ve seen.

 

Another option is having somebody come out to your home with some examples of the devices or software you’re interested in. This is a good option if you’re less mobile and has the bonus of your being in a familiar environment in which you’re comfortable. This works well as you can ask plenty of questions, get your hands on the equipment and of course try it out without feeling rushed. You will often find that the person that visits you will also be able to leave you with demo versions of software if it’s software you’re looking at. You may be able to find an independent company that will come out to you, give you advice and demonstrate equipment from a variety of manufacturers based on what you want assistive technology to do for you rather than being biased towards a manufacturer they work for. There are several of us around the UK that offer this service, but even if having somebody out to your home doesn’t work for you, it’s always worth getting in touch, asking questions and getting some advice.

 

I often get asked what is the best device or software for visually impaired and blind people. Unfortunately there’s no right or wrong answer to that question. The fact of the matter is that there’s some brilliant technology out there that can help us do pretty much everything a sighted person can, but at the end of the day it comes down to what the individual’s wants and needs are as well as personal choice and budget. My best piece of advice would be to try out as many different devices or pieces of software as you can. Also, if you can speak to other visually impaired people who use assistive technology that’s no bad thing, as they have the day to day experience of using it. If you’re very lucky you may even find that they’ll let you have a go on their device or computer.

VoiceOver accessible iOS apps suitable for kids

As we all know there are literally thousands of third party apps out there for smart phones and tablets, but sadly very few of them are actually accessible to those of us who are visually impaired and rely on using screen reading technology to operate our devices, let alone ones that are good for kids. As I’m a VoiceOver specialist this blog focuses on apps useful and suitable for kids using Apple iOS devices, there are of course apps for Android devices too, but as I’m not a trainer for Android and don’t have specific knowledge about them I’m afraid I’m unable to give any meaningful advice or opinions about them. So, in the spirit of Christmas I’ve pulled together a list of 12 apps that are fully accessible with VoiceOver, are suitable for kids and that work well. I’ve tried to get together a reasonable mixture of apps that are useful, educational and fun, but that can also be used by kids and families alike. In the list below you’ll find the name of the app, a brief description of what it does as well as which devices and operating systems it will work with, its cost and finally a link to its page on the Apple iOS app store.

 

 

App name: Accessible Letter Soup.

Price: £0.79.

Description: Learn words and spelling with Accessible Letter Soup. Words can be found vertically, horizontally or diagonally. You can also choose the size of board and difficulty of words. There are lots of different categories of words to choose from including, animals, musical instruments, colours, professions and jobs, human body. Good for most ages, and particularly good for learning spellings as you can start easy and work your way up.

Devices this app is suitable for: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch running iOS 7.0 or later.

Get the app in the iOS app store at: https://appsto.re/gb/nKih6.i

 

App name: Blindfold Bowling.

Price: Free with some in app purchases.

Description: A good app for all ages. In this game you can play on your own, with friends and family or against computer opponents. The game is fully accessible and relies purely on the player’s hearing. It has excellent sound effects as you hear yourself get strikes and half strikes along with frustrating gutter balls.

Devices this app is suitable for: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch running iOS 7.0 or later.

Get the app in the iOS app store at: https://appsto.re/gb/xTC79.i

 

App name: Blindfold Hopper.

Price: Free with some in app purchases.

Description: A really fun game for younger kids, this game is audio only and is fully accessible. In the game the player is a frog trying to jump from lily pad to lily pad as they pass by. The further through the game the player gets the quicker the lily pads pass by. Lots of great sound effects of animals give this game a really nice feel. But don’t get too distracted, if you miss the lily pad and fall in you’ll get eaten by an alligator!

Devices this app is suitable for: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch running iOS 7.0 or later.

Get the app in the iOS app store at:  https://appsto.re/gb/8Ibq6.i

 

App name: Blindfold Simon.

Price: Free with some in app purchases.

Description: This is a great fun app for all ages. Really good for the memory and helping kids get used to gestures on the touch screen. Just like the game Simon Says, this app gives the player a sequence, touch screen gestures are then used to replicate the sequence. Each time a sequence is successfully replicated another gesture is added to the next sequence and so on. This app has 1 and 2 player modes. In 2 player mode the iOS device is passed from one player to the next each time a sequence is successfully passed.

Devices this app is suitable for: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch running iOS 7.0 or later.

Get the app in the iOS app store at:  https://appsto.re/gb/h5VF7.i

 

App name: Blindfold Pong.

Price: Free with some in app purchases.

Description: Based on the classic arcade game Pong, this app is audio only and the player wears headphones to hear the direction that the ball or balls are travelling. The app uses the gyroscope built into the iOS device to determine when the player is swinging the bat (the phone or iPod) to hit the ball. It has progressive levels that get harder and harder the further you get. Good fun for all ages and also great for developing motor skills.

Devices this app is suitable for: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch running iOS 7.0 or later. However, it is rather difficult to play the game on an iPad due to the device size.

Get the app in the iOS app store at: https://appsto.re/gb/UjqE7.i

 

App name: Braille Reference.

Price: £0.79.

Description: A great app for kids learning braille or for those who don’t use it very often. The app has over 250 braille symbols and contractions that can be easily looked up for reference. The app is fully accessible with VoiceOver and a great tool to have in your bag or pocket if you’re a braille user.

Devices this app is suitable for: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch running iOS 6.1 or later.

Get the app in the iOS app store at: https://appsto.re/gb/TwoZE.i

 

App name: Chime.

Price: Free.

Description: This is a great little app that enables your iOS device to make quarterly, half hourly or hourly time announcements. You can choose between several different sounds and two voices for the announcements. It’s a very useful app and is fully accessible with VoiceOver.

Devices this app is suitable for: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch running iOS 7.0 or later.

Get the app in the iOS app store at: https://appsto.re/gb/c5CUy.i

 

App name: Double Post.

Price: Free with an optional in app upgrade purchase.

Description: A great app for older kids who have their own Facebook and/or Twitter accounts, it enables you to post to both simultaneously very quickly and easily as well as adding photos etc. It is fully accessible with VoiceOver and even works with AppleWatch.

Devices this app is suitable for: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch running iOS 8.0 or later.

Get the app in the iOS app store at: https://appsto.re/gb/IhXdN.i

 

App name: JumpInSaucers.

Price: Free, there is also a paid version of the game that you can purchase.

Description: This is a game developed by parents of visually impaired children initially to allow their kids to play with their siblings. The game is an alien shoot ‘em up that utilises the iOS device’s gyroscope to allow the player to control the character. It’s fully accessible and suitable for all ages. It has good sound effects and interesting alien noises. This app is also available for Android devices on Google Play.

Devices this app is suitable for: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch running iOS 6.0 or later.

Get the app in the iOS app store at: https://appsto.re/gb/kRB54.i

 

App name: Listerine Smile Detector.

Price: Free.

Description: This is a lovely fun little app that enables visually impaired and blind kids to see when people are smiling at them. The app is supported by the RNIB, is fully accessible with VoiceOver and also has built in magnification. The app can use the front or rear facing cameras and makes sounds or vibrates when a smile is detected. I think this is a really nice app that was created for all the right reasons.

Devices this app is suitable for: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch running iOS 7.1 or later.

Get the app in the iOS app store at: https://appsto.re/gb/K-KV8.i

 

App name: Pages.

Price: Free.

Description: Pages is actually an Apple app and is fully accessible with VoiceOver. It’s a powerful word processing app that enables you to create, edit, read and save documents in multiple formats including Microsoft Word and PDF. It’s great for general word processing and good for school work as it offers a large selection of pre loaded documents templates for things like reports, posters, flyers, CVs, letters etc as well as enabling you to create your own unique documents. This app is fully accessible when using the touch screen on devices but it becomes even more viable as a tool for school work when a bluetooth keyboard is used with the iOS device.

Devices this app is suitable for: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch running iOS 8.4 or later.

Get the app in the iOS app store at: https://appsto.re/gb/EysIv.i

 

App name: Spelling Bee.

Price: Free with some in app purchases.

Description: A fully accessible spelling app great for improving kids’ spelling. The app comes with 1,000 pre loaded spelling tests organised into different difficulty levels. The spelling tests are made into games to help kids enjoy doing them. This app is aimed at children aged 9 to 11 years.

Devices this app is suitable for: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch running iOS 6.0 or later.

Get the app in the iOS app store at: https://appsto.re/gb/lqQY0.i

 

 

This blog has made me think about doing the occasional article about apps that I find to be accessible and useful, so watch this space for future instalments.