Possible Accessibility Bugs for VoiceOver Users in iOS 7

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

IMPORTANT: we need to stress that as recently as this morning, the Apple Accessibility Team was unable to replicate most of the problems listed below. This could be because there have been changes made to iOS since the Gold Master version which was used by us when testing for problems. It could also simply be operator error on our part, or local and specific problems caused by external factors not related to iOS. This means that it is possible that you will not encounter all of the problems mentioned in this post if you update to iOS 7.

Most significantly, Apple has completely failed to replicate the first problem that we mention, which we believed could be the most serious. An experienced member of our Team has also failed to replicate this problem, despite testing on multiple devices.
 
This leaves us in a quandary, as we most certainly do not want to be posting inaccurate and misleading information. This would do us no credit, offer no value to the community, and be a disservice to the hard work of Apple's Accessibility Team.
 
However, having said all of this, we have decided to still post this list in its original, unedited form, as some of us are able to consistently replicate most of the problems. If these turn out not to be present in the public release of iOS 7, the worst that can happen is that we end up with some egg on our faces. It wouldn't be the first time. We hope, however, that by posting this information we will give some people the opportunity to at least delay updating a little if they want to wait and see what others report once the final version of iOS 7 is widely available.
 
So, here are our findings:
 
Detailed in this post are accessibility-specific bugs which members of the AppleVis Editorial Team have identified during their testing of iOS 7. If you have not already updated your iDevice to iOS 7, we would strongly recommend that you read through this post and any comments before doing so, as we believe that there are a number of bugs which might have a significant impact on the user experience for some VoiceOver users.
 
However, we do need to stress that our testing has been limited - only four of our Team have had access to iOS 7 as beta testers, and each of those have only installed and used it on a single device. As a consequence, it is possible that problems mentioned below will not be present on all iDevices. It is also possible that we are simply mistaken. To help with the latter, we would really appreciate feedback from those who have installed iOS 7, to confirm whether they are encountering the same problems (or have found workarounds).
 
Additionally, there are some problems mentioned below which have not been encountered by all of our Team. Some of our Team only use the touchscreen to interact with their iDevice, whilst others rely more on Braille displays and bluetooth keyboards.
 
Essentially, what we are saying, is that this list is not likely to be definitive or accurate. Some further problems are likely to be identified once more VoiceOver users have access to iOS 7. As we said earlier, it's also possible that we are simply mistaken. If that is the case, we will be thrilled. We are all VoiceOver users, so will be more than happy to find out that there are less problems in iOS 7 than we thought.
 
With all of the disclaimers out of the way, here are the problems that we have encountered to date:
 

1. Increased touchscreen sensitivity causing problems when trying to navigate and interact with your iDevice

 
This is probably the most serious problem that we have identified - not only because it gets in the way of reliably interacting with your iDevice, but because it can cause problems right across the whole of iOS.
 
Although we cannot be certain of the cause, there is enough to suggest that Apple may have made a change in iOS 7 which has increased the sensitivity of the touchscreen.
 
The result for VoiceOver users, is that the approach of your finger to the screen can cause the device to replicate the last gesture that you made. For example, if you are flicking right through a list, simply moving your finger close to the screen will be enough to cause VoiceOver focus to act as if you had made another flick, so it will move to the next item in the list.
 
We first became aware of this problem when simply flicking through pages on the Home screen. Having flicked up to move to the next page, we would regularly find that the device would jump a further page or 2 in the split second just before we touched the screen to locate an icon.
 
After some testing, we found that we didn't need to actually touch the screen for this last part to happen. Flick up to move to the next Home screen page, and then bring your finger within a couple of millimeters of the screen. At this point, the device would jump to the next page. It is even possible to jump multiple pages by moving your finger away from the screen and then back close again.
 
At this point, you might be thinking that this problem is at best entertaining, at worst it is no more than mildly irritating.
 
However, there are areas within iOS where this behavior becomes far more intrusive and can present a barrier to doing some fairly basic, but important, tasks. At it's very worst, you cannot be totally sure that your iDevice has just done what you intended.
 
For example, when editing text - you may want to move to a specific location in the text and are using the rotor to help you. This is set to character, word, line or paragraph. You swipe to the position that you want. Then, in that split second before your finger touchs the onscreen keyboard, your device will jump focus one more place in the direction that you had previously been swiping. Even correcting a simple spelling mistake in an iMessage now becomes an irritating process.
 
So far, this behavior has been seen when moving through icons on the Home screen, when moving through pages (on the Home screen, on the emoticons keyboard, etc), when moving through lists, when moving through text, and generally when moving through elements in many apps.
 
This problem has been reported on the iPhone 5 and on the iPhone 4S (to a lesser extent on the latter). It is not something that we had seen prior to installing iOS 7. It is possible, however, that it is specific to certain devices. At this point, we simply do not know how widespread this problem will be.
 
If you have already installed iOS 7, there is a quick way to see if you can replicate what we have seen - go to your Home screen, locate the first icon and swipe right once or twice. Now, slowly bring your finger to within a couple of millimeters of the screen. Does this cause VoiceOver focus to jump to the next icon on the Home screen?
 
We did wonder if the cases on our iPhones had been a factor in this behavior, but see the same when using them without a case.
 
As we say, this is potentially the most significant problem that we have identified in iOS 7. However, only 2 of us use the touchscreen on our iDevices, so it is possible that this might not be a widespread problem.
 
So, if you have installed iOS 7, do please let us know if you are seeing the same behavior, so that we can determine if this is a common problem.
 
This is potentially the most serious problem in iOS 7, so we have covered it in some detail. The rest of the bugs will be described more briefly.
 

2. Problems when using Braille Displays

 
The state of the "virtual keyboard" is unreliable and can sometimes get in the way. When in a note in the Notes app, we were unable to get the onscreen keyboard to come up. Pressing space with dots 1-4-6 would not change this setting, it would only speak the status of the setting. Further, when in a text message window, the virtual keyboard would come up either way after entering a letter on a Bluetooth keyboard or Braille display. (Reported on iPod Touch 5 using a Braille Edge, Braillenote Apex BT, and Refreshabraille 18.)
 
Pressing space with dots 2-3-5-6 is supposed to activate the select all command, but it no longer does. (reported on iPod Touch 5 using the Braille Edge, BrailleNote Apex, Focus 14 Blue, and Refreshabraille 18.)
 

3. Messaging - loss of accessibility after adding a contact

 
When composing a new message, if you use the 'Add Contact' button to select the recipient, you will not be able to swipe further down the page to the Attach Media button, the message field or the Send button. The only solution is to locate these with your finger. You will need to do this even if you are using a bluetooth keyboard or a Braille Display. This problem does not occur if you type in the To field and then select a Contact from the dynamic list that will be displayed as you type. (Reported on iPhone 5 and iPod Touch 5.)
 

4. Phone - missing information on Favorites tab

 
When browsing Contacts on the Favorites tab, VoiceOver will not announce the specified location/device of that Contact (for example; Home, Work, Mobile, etc.). So, if you have multiple entries on this page for the same Contact, there is no way to distinguish between them. This information is visually displayed on the page, but not recognized or announced by VoiceOver. (Reported on iPhone 5.)
 

5. Folder badges not announced by VoiceOver

 
Folder badges are not announced by VoiceOver. So, if an app in that folder has a badge indicating new items, you will only know by going into the folder and locating the app icon. (Reported on iPhone 5 and iPod 5.)
 

6. Inconsistent and unreliable feedback from VoiceOver when selecting multiple messages in the Mail app

 
When selecting multiple email messages (for deletion, moving or marking), if you select a message and then flick left or right, you will occasionally find that VoiceOver will announce "Selected" followed by the details of the email that you have just selected (much like you had just swiped onto that message). However, focus has in fact moved to the next or previous email in the list. Double-tapping at this point would select that message rather than unselect the one that VoiceOver has indicated that its focus is on. (reported on iPhone 5, iPod Touch 5.)
 

7. Cannot navigate web pages by Headings in Safari

 
When navigating a web page by Headings, you may find that VoiceOver focus will skip back to earlier Headings as you try to move through the page. The AppleVis home page is a prime example of where this has been encountered. This is not new in iOS 7, as it was a widely reported problem in iOS 6. (Reported on iPhone 5 and iPod Touch 5.)
 

8. Various App Store problems

 
VoiceOver focus can be a little inconsistent on app pages in the App Store. At times elements are not read in their correct sequential order as you swipe through the page, and occasionally focus will jump back to an earlier element when you are swiping right. (Reported on iPhone 5, iPod Touch 5.)
 
When viewing the reviews page for an app in the App Store, VoiceOver may jump straight from the App Support button to the Featured button on the bottom menu, skipping the actual reviews. You need to do a 3-fingered swipe up and then locate the reviews with your finger to force VoiceOver focus onto them. You will then be able to swipe through the reviews, although VoiceOver may not always find all the of other page elements when you swipe back up the page. (Reported on iPhone 5.)
 
When viewing the Featured tab, VoiceOver focus does not move correctly or predictably if you swipe left onto the page from the bottom menu bar. Swiping left from the bottom menu bar does not take you to the last item on the Featured tab. Instead, you are taken to what appears to be a random spot on the page. Focus will rarely go to the same spot if you repeat this procedure. This problem does not occur if the bottom part of the screen is visually being displayed at the time. (Reported on iPhone 5.)
 
When deleting text from the search field in the App Store, you may find that VoiceOver does not announce the letters as you delete them. This appears to be an intermittent problem, and not one that we have found a way to consistently replicate. (Reported on iPhone 5.)
 
It's worth noting that App Store content is generated dynamically, so as such is not part of iOS. This means that changes and fixes can be made at any time without the need for an update to iOS itself.
 

9. No feedback when reordering lists in the Reminders app

 
If you have multiple lists, you will find that these are now referred to as a 'Stack'. The order of the lists can be changed by doing a 1-fingered double-tap and hold on the list name, and then moving your finger either up or down the screen and then lifting your finger from the screen. This will move the list, but VoiceOver provides no feedback that this action is available or that anything is happening when you are doing it. There is not the usual 'Moved above ListName'. (Reported on iPhone 5, iPod Touch 5.)
 

10. Missing hints on Lock Screen

 
When tapping the Status Bar on the Lock Screen, VoiceOver hints tell you that a 3-fingered swipe up will open the Control Center, but does not say that a 3-fingered swipe down will open the Notifications Center. (Reported on iPhone 5.)
 

11. Poor accessibility of 'Popular Apps Nearby' in Apple Maps

 
When viewing the information for a location in Apple Maps (for example by double-tapping on the 'More Info' button that appears next to a location in a directions list) you will see a section titled 'Popular Apps Nearby'. Double-tapping on one of these apps will load what appears to be the App Store entry for that app. VoiceOver does not recognize all of the elements on this page and reads some out of the usual order. Most significantly, the description of the app is not read. (Reported on iPhone 5)
 

12. Random resetting of Inverted Colors

 
If you have your device set to use inverted colors, you may find that this is occasionally reset to the default colors. There appears to be no pattern to this and we have been unable to find a way to replicate this behavior. (Reported on iPhone 5.)
 

13. VoiceOver problem in Music Settings

 
If you have iTunes Match disabled, you can only flick as far as that toggle switch in the list of settings. At this point flicking any further will cause VoiceOver focus to loop back on itself. This happens whichever way you approach this toggle switch - either by flicking from above or below in the list.
 
It would appear that there is an element on this page which is intended to provide more information on the iTunes Match service if it is not enabled, and this is effectively blocking VoiceOver users from being able to flick any further. (Reported on iPhone 5.)
 

14. Siri asking for a response before it has finished reading back your initial command

 
In situations where your command to Siri requires that you give a further response, Siri can sometimes reactivate before the TTS voice has finished reading back your initial command.
 
For example, the exchange should go like this:
 
You: "Text Mom, Hi."
Siri: "Your Message to Mom says, "Hi." Ready to send it?"
Siri automatically activates and you reply, "Yes."
 
Except, sometimes, the message isn't read aloud and Siri just reactivates:
You: "Text Mom, Hi."
Siri: "Your message to Mom says..." then it reactivates for your response without telling you what it has for the message.
 
This happens in other areas, such as setting and turning on/off alarms, etc.
 

Important

If you encounter any accessibility bugs in iOS 7 (either those mentioned above or additional ones), it is extremely important that you report them directly to Apple's Accessibility Team at accessibility@apple.com.

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