Podcast Episode 3 - Android Accessibility

the IAP Your Accessibility Podcast

This week on the IAP, we discuss what's new in Android accessibility.

Show Notes & Links


Announcer: This is the IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast with Mike Guill and Mark Miller. Introducing Mike Guill and Mark Miller.

Mark Miller: Hey I'm Mark Miller and this is Mile Guill and this is and this is your Accessibility Podcast. Hey, Mike how are you doing?

Mike Guill: Pretty good, Mark. How are you doing this week?

Mark: Doing excellent, excellent. So you have an interesting update from Android for us to talk about? You want to tell us a little bit about this. You've sent me a URL on this. Why don't you give the URL and people can follow along and and to talk to me about this.

Mike: Well, the URL is kind of long and I want to post it in the show notes but essentially it is from the American Foundation for the Blind. They run an online magazine called Access World and they've got a news column here about a big step forward for Android. There are some screen enhancement features on Android 4.2.2 which is always welcome. Right? Because for quite some time Android has been behind Apple's iOS with accessibility features. So any kind of screen enhancement features that Android can do is welcome for loads and loads of people - not just blind folks but anyone with any kind of visual impairment. (low-vision, different types of color blindness, or tunnel vision - those sorts of things.)

Mark: So, give me a picture of where Android was before this update in relation to the Microsoft iOS...er... I mean the Apple iOS. (laughs) Microsoft iOS - I am not sure where my heads at -

Mike: (laughs)

Mark: Microsoft doesn't have anything to do with any of this does it?

Mike: Well, for quite some time Android has been behind - the screen reader that ships with Android has been growing in feature set but the sleekness of Voiceover in iOS has always been miles ahead - by a long shot. The ability for a blind or low vision person to get anything accomplished on a portable device, like a phone or a table, has always been pretty complex thing to hope for in Android. Whereas, in iOS it has always been very very easy and integrated in the apps and all of that. And you get into because Android is not an OS it is a platform. The vendors have to create their OS and that opens an whole other can of worms.

Mark: And that's sort of the philosophical difference between open and control that Android really everybody and Apple tends to have. So this is Android saying hey we see a need for this and we're going to step up to the plate and integrate some of this stuff into our operating System.

Mike: And there's a real need for it, people around the world because statistics don't lie usually unless you are hearing about them on the news (laughs). Statistics show that people are buying Android devices like crazy around the world.

Mark: They are, they are. Well, on Twitter the Galaxy 4 was the least complained about device and the most complained about device on Twitter was the Apple 4, I'm sorry, the iPhone 4 from Apple.

Mike: Yeah, so -

Mark: You have to take that with a grain of salt because that's just aggregating Twitter Tweets. So it's not really -

Mike: And I was going to say your also getting a sample of people who use Twitter, you know, as opposed to those who don't. And I mean, I am an Apple product user and I'm very fond of Apple but I'm willing to admit that Apple people like to complain about devices a lot. It's in our nature

Mark: (laughs) And I agree with that because that majority of people I know tend to gravitate toward Apple products. One of my best friends is an iDeveloper - actually developed the highest grossing iPhone application ever. So, I am surrounded by Apple people so my personal experience is different from what Twitter says. I do think its interesting that Android is stepping up because it does have such a popular base and I'm an Android user. I prefer Android on my phones and I have never ever ever used Apple products of any kind.

Mike: Well, I have both. I have iPhones and iPad and I have an Android tablet - a Motorola Zoom. And that's where the relevance comes in is the tablets. According to most of the buying stats out there the sale of tablets is just exploding.

Mark: I just bought one.

Mike: A lot of people think that tablets are going to start outselling PCs.

Mark: They are really the same darn thing almost. The only real difference between a tablet and PCs right now that I see that is holding them back is the processors. The tablets are using very efficient but not as powerful processors as PCs are. Once that technology sort of mushes together so that the average super-powerful-processor is also efficient from a battery life standpoint then yep.

Mike: My wife was a heavy laptop user for a long time from just around the house - you know for day to day stuff - she got an iPad and every once in a while you see her pick up a laptop to got print something but as soon as she figured out how to do air-print forget it. She hasn't picked up the laptop in months. So yeah, people are using tablets like crazy. The tablet thing is a big deal because of course the screen is bigger and your ability to magnify, your ability to manipulate the screen with pinch and zoom gestures and that sort of thing is a bigger deal and that's where Android, if they can make some gains in the future even farther than what they've done so far in this report for this release that will be a very welcome change for everybody. I would love for there to be great choices between different types of assistive tech. Not everyone can afford to buy the top end iPad. I understand that. The ability for people to pick up a Nexus 7 or whatever tablet is out there and get these kind of accessibility features is a big deal.

Mike: One of the things that is kind of exciting that is coming out a new magnification gesture that is built in to the entire Android OS now. What it is going to allow people to do is use gestures to magnify certain pieces of the screen. It doesn't matter what app you are in or what window you are on or what menu you are in or whatever you can access this feature on the fly.

Mark: I am glad you brought that up first here because that is so important to me. I really realized this about a week ago when I was at - I guess it was about two weeks ago - I was at the Carroll Center for the Blind having a meeting so of course its me and somebody else from the company and a bunch of people who can't see and are relying on the touch features on their cell phone. Just to watch how quickly they operate that device it really occurred to me how important being able do things quickly and gesturally really is. So I think this is a good move right here.

Mike: Oh yeah, definitely, definitely. And there is some other stuff too. I think we are going to see some big enhancement in the screen reader portions of Android - the Talkback system is what it is called. In iOS its Voiceover. There's some enhancement for color schemes so you can invert colors and do high-contrast displays -

Mark: which is important for low vision and colorblindness

Mike: Oh yeah, huge. That being said, there is a lot of potential for improvement and this article on the AFB points all that out and I'll leave that to the readers and listeners to check that out. But, its a big deal and its a big step. One thing I noticed when I checked out the Android page to read about the release of the operating system is that pretty bold front and center was a note about the accessibility features for Android and I don't remember if Android had specifically pointed out accessibility features in the past but this -

Mark: I don't think so -

Mike: - this was a nice change.

Mark: - at least not in that big of a deal.

Mike: Yeah, it was nice to see that as a big bold header. Because so many people overlook it. They don't think about it or whatever. But Android realizes that to really break though to everyone they need these kind of accessibility features baked in.

Mark: They do. I think it is important to just because people in general are becoming more aware of accessibility so they're clicking that button in the settings that says accessibility and they are figuring out what it means and more and more of them are understanding what it means. I think it is important in general that companies keep that in the forefront and it is nice to see that Android is stepping up to the plate and trying to equalize themselves in this area with Apple. I just think it is important.

Mike: Yeah, I totally agree. Totally agree.

Mark: Maybe in the future we can get a copy of this OS when I can get it on my tablet and we can do a little more in-depth review of what works and what would be better.

Mark: Right. And I have to say after visiting the Carroll Center for the Blind that I am a little jealous that people who are really good at these accessibility gestural features and stuff don't have to pull their phone out of their pocket.

Mike: Yeah...

Mark: It makes me want to turn on the accessibility feature and do it myself. It's really pretty cool.

Mike: I do. I do a lot since I am testing on the iOS anyway I do listen to my phone more than I look at it probably. (laughs)

Mark: Well, you know, I turned on the accessibility features because - you and I had this conversation a while back - and I turned on the accessibility features and tried it for a while and I'll tell you what - it gave me a - and this was on an old Android not this new thing we are talking about here - it like putting on somebody else's glasses. I got sort of that reverse experience. I got ah, I don't know how to do this. This is frustrating. And again this is underscored for me the frustration of somebody who is trying to use assistive technology, who does rely on accessibility on something like a phone and not having it working right for them - it underscores how they must feel.

Mike: If I recall correctly you are on Gingerbread on your phone.

Mark: I think so, yeah.

Mike: - and I remember that was the first time I tried accessibility features was on Gingerbread. It was frustrating. You are absolutely right.

Mark: It was crazy. It was a phone and it wasn't a smooth experience. I could never tell if I was doing something wrong or if the phone was just choking on what i was trying do. Everything just came kind of grinding to a halt. It was a big mess so -

Mike: Exactly. Jellybean is a lot better. I am really excited about these new features.

Mark: Yeah, overall Jellybean is a better operating system. I think this is huge - especially for people in our industry and people who rely on it. This is a huge step forward for Android.

Mike: Yep.

Mark: Alright, well thanks Mike.

Mike: Another good one.

Mark: Yeah, and we'll post in the show notes like we did before we will make sure we post this URL from the Access Magazine the AFB Access World Magazine so you can give this a read. Check that out.

Mike: Yeah, we'll also post the link to the Android page that shows the release info.

Mark: Alright, this is Mark Miller.

Mike: and this is Mike Guill reminding you to keep it accessible.

Announcer: The IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find their Access Matters Blog at Interactiveaccessibility.com/blog


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