Big Is The New Small: A Love Story

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Twenty years ago, my seven year old son and I were sitting on the stairs in our house. Curious what he might say, I turned to my child and asked, "Richard, why do you love me so much?"

My son pondered for a few moments, and then thoughtfully replied, "I guess I'm getting used to you."

We love our children, significant others, friends, pets, and guide dogs. But, some of us are a bit nerdy. We also love our toys.

College in the 1970s was a great environment to discover new loves. I became enamored with access technology. Early on, my affections revolved around a large red Talking Book record player. Later, a more svelte yellow cassette machine took its place. For a while, I went camping with my smaller RoadRunner electronic text reader, and until recently, I would fall asleep with my compact Book Port. I love small.

Unsurprisingly, I did develop feelings for my first iPhone. It was elegant and comfortable to hold. Also, very accessible. VoiceOver was designed with us in mind, and it worked on a phone that anyone could buy. The iPhones had personality, intelligence, and volume control. Perfect. Each new model that I have enjoyed has been special, at least until the next model came along. For the last two years, my iPhone 5s was my beloved pocket computer. But, how fickle I am! Temptation led me to a phone call, which led to another debit against my bank account. Once the UPS package arrived on September 25, my new 128GB Space Gray iPhone 6s Plus, the largest of the Apple offerings, became my newest ally.

When I unboxed my new phone, I just sat there and gently held it. It felt solid, smooth, and luxurious. Succumbing to a flash of paranoia, I worried about somehow causing a wee scratch on its pristine surface. A Case! I must protect my new iPhone with a case! Before I even turned it on, my wife and I raced over to Best Buy. Although no one in my family had ever owned a Barbie doll, I now understood the desire to play "Dress Up." I was compelled to find the best possible ensemble for my new companion. I selected a slick brown leather outfit, a smart looking folio case. My phone was dressed to the nines and ready to work.

After getting home, it was time to turn on my iPhone 6s Plus. I was elated to discover that I could fit all four fingers on the screen without hitting the edges. Now, I could do a four finger tap at the top or bottom without falling off the sides. There was room to relax.

I also found my new phone more responsive to my gestures. For example, I like bringing up the Control Center from the Home screen. With my recently retired 5s, I seldom got this gesture to work on the first try. Or the second. I felt like I was calling a dog who didn't like me.

"Come here."

"Come here."

"Come here!"

With my new phone, the gestures work every time. Touch once in the status menu and then swipe up from the bottom with three fingers. Done. Give the phone a cookie.

One of the great joys shared with my iPhone 6s Plus has been the built-in Braille Screen Input. The larger glass surface accommodates all of my six Braille fingers, in the same straight line configuration that I use on my Perkins Brailler. On my old 5s, whenever I attempted Braille input, it was awkward squeezing the requisite number of fingers into that tiny space. Sitting at a table, I had to hold my elbows out at extended angles and curl my fingers like claws so that I could type on the imaginary V-shaped keyboard. I resembled a gargoyle! Now, with the bigger screen, I have a reasonable alternative to my Bluetooth keyboard when I am out and about. Braille is fun again.

The new 3D Touch adds another dimension to the relationship I enjoy with my phone. My world is about sound and touch. This new tactile feedback is already impressive and I am excited about how it can be used in the future. I love the click that you feel when you touch with just the right amount of pressure. I already force press to get into app shortcuts from the Home screen and find them useful. For instance, I like starting up the Mail app with a light push and I often jump back into my Music by force pressing its icon. Third-party apps are now adopting the new technology and many of their 3D Touch shortcuts are quite handy.

There is still some mystery to 3D Touch for me. I have not quite figured out how to best use the Peek and Pop functionality. To Peek, I think you force press somewhere specific in a 3D Touch-enabled app. Then, without taking your finger off the screen, you slide around to hear bits of information. To Pop, you press even harder while Peeking. Perplexing. Even so, I think this new tactile mechanism to move deeper into the operating system holds real potential.

The great sanity-saver is the new power source. The iPhone 6s Plus has a battery that warms my heart -- as it is almost always in my shirt pocket. As much as I use my phone, starting early each morning and continuing until I go to bed at night, this new iPhone has yet to require a mid-day charge. I start out listening to the news on my phone, and then I jump into checking mail and messages. I often play a few relatively inaccessible trivia games with family and friends before catching up on MacRumors and AppleVis. Around the time I finish my third cup of coffee, I am reading, researching, and writing for the rest of the day. I use my iPhone, my pocket computer, constantly. By the time I plug my phone into a power cord at day's end, I am generally hovering at about a 20% reserve. So sweet!

All good relationships have their challenges. Admittedly, when the iPhone gets an updated OS, there are always new bugs that impact VoiceOver users. Some are pesky and we put up with them. A few of the bugs can be maddening until they are vanquished. With iOS 9, my biggest hurdles have been with my Bluetooth keyboard and with standard text editing. I have finally found work-arounds from Apple, AppleVis, and through much personal trial and error. Still, I hate slow dancing around bugs. Fortunately, Apple is very good about eradicating the major problems we report, and squishing lesser bugs along the way.

Of course, if I could show a little self control around launch times, I would wait for a few weeks and read what others have to say on AppleVis before making the long term commitment. How likely is that? Not happening with me. I need to be at the head of the line, meeting a new partner, small enough for my pocket and big enough for my comfort.

I am naturally critical of the tools that I choose to use every day. If the tool does not save me time, energy, and frustration, and if it does not solve real problems, I do not want it. Tools that are both mainstream and accessible are preferred. I do not want to be held for ransom by my tools and later find myself unable to compete because something beyond my control has changed. So far, I am really pleased with Apple's commitment to accessibility on a mainstream product. For me, the Apple iPhone has been the best tool that I have ever made a part of my life.

If you asked me why I love my iPhone 6s Plus so much, I would ponder for a few moments, and then thoughtfully reply, "I guess I'm getting used to it."

*** Morgan is the author of ”Think Small” and “Pending Charges: My Life With a Perpetual Eye on my iPhone’s Battery Level”, other blog entries on the AppleVis site. He gratefully welcomes your comments and feedback.



Submitted by Ekaj on Thursday, October 15, 2015

This is awesome, and I definitely agree with you. Although I don't own an i-device I certainly have my share of assistive technology that I can't live without. I of course have my 13-inch MacBook Air, which I actually have taken to my parents' new house. I did this even before they had TV, Internet or land-line access. I love how I can just listen to stuff in iTunes while surfing the net, checking email or doing other things on here. I've said this before but I'll say it again: Apple has really won me over with their built-in access. I'm still learning, but I love VoiceOver. I am also the proud owner of an Apple SuperDrive, which I used to import my vast CD collection into iTunes. I am happy to report that this process was entirely VoiceOver-friendly. But in addition to these 2 pieces of tech, I couldn't live without my digital talking book player for sure. I can now freely download reading material to my heart's content using the very accessible BARD website and other NLS-approved downloads. Btw, my 5-and-a-half year old nephew loves to sit with me and listen to Dr. Seuss videos on YouTube.

Submitted by Holger Fiallo on Thursday, October 15, 2015

I thought I had it bad but I do not feel bad anymore. My first was iPhone 4, 4s, 5, 5s and now I have 6. I am not planning to get the iPhone 6s because I am not in love with it. I also am disappointed with iOS 9. From what I read iOS 9 is the worse of the old one. I am planning to get iPhone 7 next year and I hoping iOS 10 will be better in stability and accessibility.

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Friday, October 16, 2015

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team


Thanks for your note.

I am also a book junkie and have enjoyed access to reading material on my computers, cassette players, and many other technologies. For me, I read and listen to everything on my iPhones. Three of the iPhone reading apps that I use most are Audible, Bard, and Voice Dream Reader. Two major benefits to reading with an iPhone are the direct access to reading material without needing an intermediate computer and the fact it can slip into a shirt pocket.

One detail that I left out of this blog was the new job that I gave my retired 5S. For roughly a decade, I have been using a Book Port as my "Go to sleep" machine. With the Book Port, I had to periodically connect the memory card to a computer so that I could download stuff that I wished to enjoy until I crashed. I decided that when I put the iPhone 6S Plus to work, I was not sending the 5S to pasture. I reconfigured the iPhone 5S so that only reading and listening materials were available. No email or other "keep me up all night" distractions. With all of my DropBox materials, along with books from Bard and Audible, I have everything I might want to hear, right under a pillow. It is pleasant having my phones working 24 hours a day.

I hope you get a chance to have an iPhone with you all the time at some point in the near future. It is a great tool for reading and so much more.

Best wishes,