The annual Apple World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) was held recently in the USA. While there was lots of interesting news broadly, there’s also been a few interesting accessibility-related improvements coming soon to the operating systems of Apple’s most popular devices.
Firstly, the big announcement by Apple is the launch of the HomePod, Apple’s entry into the ever-increasingly-popular Smartspeaker category. Like its competitors the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the Home Pod will have Siri built into a standalone device so you can give commands such as setting timers, playing radio stations and control devices around the house. As I’ve discussed previously the smartspeaker category offers a lot of benefits for people with disabilities such as providing a verbal way for a blind person to get status updates of food cooking in the microwave or for a person in a wheelchair being able to turn on the washing machine if the buttons on the device are out of reach. However, unlike the Amazon Echo which starts at $USD50 for the Echo Dot and the $USD130 for the Google home, the HomePod will retail at $USD350 which puts it at nearly three times the price of the competition.
Apple HomePod – image © 2017 Apple
In Australia, the Amazon Echo is not currently available outside of the US meaning that locally the smartspeaker fight will be predominantly between the Google Home and the Apple HomePod. While the announcement is exciting, especially if you use other Apple products already, the biggest issue at the moment is that most of the other Internet of Things devices such as light bulbs and heating systems will only work with a particular type of smart speaker, and in most cases, that is currently the Amazon Echo. Hopefully in the future there’ll be cross-compatibility between our smart devices and smart speakers so that people with disabilities don’t have to be locked into the one ecosystem. There is currently no pricing for the Australian release of the HomePod due in December.
The upcoming version of the iPhone and iPad operating system, iOS 11, has received the most attention by Apple in terms of accessibility improvements. As the release is still in beta it’s important to note that these features may change, but AppleVis has described some of the features as follows:
- Enhanced Dynamic Type: Text now grows to larger sizes especially designed for users with low vision, and app UIs adapt to accommodate those sizes.
- Redesigned Invert Colors: While using Invert Colors, media content and images won’t invert with the rest of the screen making them easier to view.
- VoiceOver descriptions for images: With images, three fingers tap to have VoiceOver describe what’s there. Voiceover can detect text that’s embedded in an image, even if it hasn’t been annotated. Or it can also tell you whether a photo contains a tree, a dog, or four faces with smiles.
- Improved PDF support including access to forms: Tagged PDFs now receive support for reading detailed information such as tables and lists.
- Switch Control typing: It’s easier than ever to type with Switch Control. Get access to more predictions, so that you can scan and type whole words at a time.
As a low vision user, I’m particularly excited about the ability to invert the colors without the images also inverting.
Other Apple devices will also receive some tweaks including the Apple TV which is receiving improved VoiceOver keyboard features and Braille display support, some minor tweaks are also coming to improve the Apple Watch and improved Zoom functionality will be added to Mac OS High Sierra. Additional information on all the new Apple products can be found at the Macromers WWWDC online resource.