When Apple preview of the upcoming accessibility software as part of last month’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) celebration, there was some noise. The reason the company did this at GAAD was to “make room” for the announcements to come at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). On the one hand, there is a grain of truth in this reasoning; the root note was so packed with news that Apple didn’t bother to share what’s new in this year one of his ostensibly pillar platforms† On the other hand, however, a legitimate argument can be made that saying that Apple announced the aforementioned accessibility features prior to WWDC to get it out of the way implies that accessibility will not affect iOS 16, iPadOS 16, macOS Ventura, watchOS 9 in any way. , and, yes, tvOS 16. Not only is that logic arguably competent, it’s utterly shortsighted. Indeed, accessibility can be a discrete collection of esoteric functionalities, designed for a particular group of people. Still, its abstract dynamism means accessibility certainly permeates many of the so-called mainstream features Craig Federighi and crew unveiled on Monday morning on a pre-recorded stage.
With this feeling in mind, here are some thoughts on five new features of Apple’s operating systems that are sure to have an impact on accessibility. Apple invited me to the event at Apple Park, and I was in the audience with my fellow media members this week when Apple’s presentation played almost literally on a Jumbotron.
The redesigned lock screen. The redesigned lock screen, which relies heavily on technologies found on watchOS, is meant to be more useful at a glance — it was no accident that Apple lifted the Apple Watch’s complication idiom. From a practical point of view, the new lock screen should become much more attractive (and more personal) than today’s relatively stable state. From an accessibility perspective, this means that people with cognitive and/or fine motor delays should have significantly less overhead when gathering information.
For example, look at the weather. Currently you need to unlock your phone, find the Weather widget (or app) on your home screen and tap on it. If you look at it from a task analysis standpoint, those different steps are a lot of work. For many with the cognitive and motor disabilities mentioned above, the seemingly mundane task of checking the weather can be an arduous task. It can be tiring to remember Where your Weather widget is and how to navigate through it. Smartphones may now be an appendage to most people, but it doesn’t mean that their operation is necessarily second nature to all people. The new lock screen aims to reduce the number of “paper cuts” a disabled person may encounter by reducing what was once a multi-step process to a single step. If this feels familiar, it’s because the concept is identical to the allure of Shortcuts: they transform the annoying into something more eminently suitable.
Medicine app on watchOS. As someone who constantly struggles to maintain positive mental health and is on medication for it, the medicinal memories coming to watchOS 9 should help me immensely. While there have long been third-party apps that can do this sort of thing, I appreciate the fact that Apple — as a platform vendor — is expanding its health and wellness work into this realm. I consistently forget to take my medication daily, sometimes late in the day; having my Apple Watch ping me in the morning to take it would be extremely helpful. From an accessibility point of view, the cognition angle I just illustrated is entirely the point of the new Medicines app. It helps someone remember what you take, but more importantly, health-wise, helps remember when taking.
Haptic feedback on the system keyboard. Apple has developed the best haptic technology in the industry and they are finally applying it to the keyboard in iOS 16. The win in accessibility is bimodal sensory input. You’re not alone to see characters as you type them, but you quite literally to feel They also. The double dose of sensory stimulation goes a long way in confirming actions. In this case, each key you tap is amplified with a haptic buzz, letting you instantly know which action has been registered. Such validation can be especially important for visually impaired people, who may not be able to see that their computer has done anything, even when a feature like Zoom is enabled. The haptic feedback is reassuring that you pressed a button and the computer knows it.
Pay Apple afterwards. I have written in this room before how Apple products are not cheap and therefore unaffordable for many people. In general, people with disabilities make very little money – but it’s a spectrum, as many earn a living wage – so they pay full price for, say, the new MacBook Air may be unreachable. Aside from the broader socio-cultural discussion of disability and financial solvency, the reality is that unfortunately, the need for Apple’s best accessibility support doesn’t always align with the ability to actually purchase the tools it provides.
Apple Pay Later aims to rectify that, albeit indirectly, by allowing customers to pay for products in installments. Four payments in a six-week period doesn’t offer much leeway, but at least it’s a possibility. Paying for a pair of AirPods Max for a month and a half, for example, might be much more feasible for a person with disabilities than depositing $549 in one go. It’s a win-win situation: Apple ultimately makes a profit while the customer gets the accessible headphones they need.
MagSafe on the new MacBook Air. The redesigned MacBook Air has another MagSafe port – and it’s big accessibility news. As mentioned amid the USB-C iPhone Rumors, MagSafe has historically proven to be very accessible for connecting and disconnecting Mac laptops. That it uses magnetic force to align with the computer makes it much easier for someone with visual and/or fine motor disabilities to charge their computer. This is a stark contrast to USB-C, where finding and manipulating the cable can potentially be an unwanted adventure. Add to that the fact that the Air’s MagSafe cable is braided (first seen on HomePod), and handling gets even easier as the fabric adds friction. Friction equals grip, and better grip means the cable moves smoothly towards the computer. As with the lock screen considerations, it’s these kinds of intricate details that ultimately make the biggest difference in terms of positively shaping a disabled person’s experience. They always do.
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