iOS or Android for the visually impaired: nine reasons that count
When it comes to choosing a new handset, I can become as meticulous and picky as hell! It’s not necessarily a vice; however, if it takes more than three months to make your final decision, it can no longer be called a “virtue” either.
Having used several Symbian handsets such as the 6630, N73, N82, N86, and X7, I finally decided to kiss goodbye to Symbian about four months ago. My phones were sort of decrepit and I needed something new. Having had heard many good points about Android (I’m a Googler by heart), the very thought of landing in the world of Apple was never on my mind. However, after considering the following factors I decided to forgo Android. Note that here I’m not going to list the typical VoiceOver vs. Talkback arguments; rather, I want to focus on the nifty little features people might ignore. I looked into all of these at the time of making my mind.
1. The screen curtain
Yes, I must mention it first! This feature allows users to essentially turn off the display and use the handset without necessarily worrying about prying eyes or the so-called “quidnunc.” Now someone might say Android can do the same with a third-party app. Though I’ve not heard of such an app, VoiceOver’s approach requires no extra installation or configuration – just a gesture.
2. Labeling unknown icons
New to iOS 5, this feature allows users to give a proper name to unknown or confusing controls. I’ve used it several times in various apps, and can’t imagine how a mobile screen reader can exist without it. Perhaps I’m lucky enough to have entered the iOS world at the right time.
3. Flicking is the star of the show
I’ve heard this from some Android fanboys: “flicking is unnecessary and time-consuming.” May I beg to differ? Flicking makes a huge difference in using newly installed apps and discovering new controls. Even when you’re too tired to locate the proper place quickly, flicking efficaciously does the job. The nice point about VoiceOver is that it can also be operated without flicking – a single and fast movement of one finger from left to right or vice versa, but Android’s solution doesn’t have such a feature altogether.
4. Independent and functional touch and keyboard modes
Everyone knows that VoiceOver can be operated with or without a Bluetooth keyboard. That is, if you don’t have one such keyboard, you’ll lose no functionality. However, as things stand right now with Android 4.0 (ICS), some operations -- especially using the native web browser as opposed to third-party ones – require a Bluetooth keyboard. This, of course, will change as TalkBack matures, but, hey, we’re not talking about the future. Here it’s also worth mentioning that VoiceOver’s keyboard hot keys and functions are quite comprehensive and easily go beyond simple element by element navigation.
5. Easy movement to the top and bottom of the screen
With iOS 5 one can perform a four-finger gesture on the top or bottom of the screen and move the focus to that area – I mean to the very first or the very last item on the screen. That’s really fantastic.
6. Better language and voice support
Simply put, I don’t like the default Android voice for US and UK English. In Android 4, Google has added a new TTS engine for some languages (namely US and UK English), but both of them are harsh on my ears. VoiceOver, on the other hand, uses the familiar Nuance Vocalizer voices – it even has Arabic language support though my language is Persian and can’t use it. Admittedly, extra voices can be purchased in Android (like the great Ivona voices), but I really don’t like the half-accessible Ivona app in Android. It’s currently in beta and therefore free, but it’ll definitely become a paid app soon.
7. The use of headings throughout the whole OS and in many apps
When I first read about this I thought it wasn’t a big deal, but it sure is. Using the Heading item in the router and a simple up/down gesture one can very comfortably move around sections and subsections in various windows and apps – the alphabetical list of Contacts is a very good example. This means that you can jump from letter A to letter B there as they’re identified by a heading.
8. Guaranteed future iOS updates
Even many Apple 3GS users have now upgraded to iOS 5.1 and are happily using their two-year-old handsets. Apart from the issue of largely inaccessible skins, Google doesn’t determine the fate of more than 99 percent of Android handsets – other handset manufacturers do.
9. Superior Braille support
I’ve heard that Braille is coming to Android through a commercial application. No one knows how it’s been implemented, but iOS has pristine built-in Braille support for those who need it.
OK, I do have many more reasons to list here (flexible Rotor, more accessible dictionaries and Apple’s commitment to VoiceOver are just three of them and let’s not forget the magnification features built into the iOS), but I guess these are enough to make anyone a happy camper.