VoiceOver vs. Talkback: My Time on the Other Side
A Fair Look at Talkback and VoiceOver
Hello there, reader. Did you come here because you're the world's biggest Apple fan, and are excited to join in some Android bashing? Are you in love with Android, with visions of finally hearing someone put those Apple idiots in their place? Well, my goal is to do neither. You see, I've used iOS for years, and recently spent some time learning Talkback. I found it an interesting experience. I want to compare VoiceOver and Talkback, because each has strengths and shortcomings, and each could learn some major lessons from the other. Don't worry, though: there is a winner.
What This Article Is and Is Not
I want to be very clear about this: my goal with this article is not to provide details on how to use Talkback or Android. It's not to offer a handy list of Android resources. It's not to explain the ins and outs of VoiceOver. I assume you have at least a basic familiarity with VoiceOver on iOS, and an understanding of the idea of touch screen gestures and other mobile screen reader concepts. Finally, I don't want the comments to turn into a free-for-all. Keep things respectful and helpful. And again, don't ask me for step-by-step details on Talkback, because that's not why we're here. I will sometimes give descriptions of how features work in the below text, but that's only so readers can understand how the feature in question works. I'll try not to go beyond the basics needed to understand what I'm referencing.
The Hardware and Software
I've used an iPhone 7 since the model came out in 2016. My Android device for this experiment was a refurbished Pixel 1, a phone released that same year. I got the blue one. The Pixel seems to be in perfect working order, with a good battery, functional parts, and no cosmetic problems I or sighted people who have seen the device have found.
For this experiment, I was using Android 9 with the latest Talkback and other Google accessibility updates installed. My iPhone was running iOS 13.
A Quick Pixel Review
Skip this section if you're here for Talkback. You'll miss nothing important. If you're curious about the Pixel, though, stick around.
My Pixel is slightly larger, in all three dimensions, than my iPhone 7. However, it isn't uncomfortable or poorly designed. It's not as sleek and nice-feeling as my iPhone, but it's not bad at all.
The Pixel has an aluminum body with a glass-feeling material on the upper half of the back, with the fully glass front of any modern smartphone. It has a large chin, which feels odd as there is no home button or other control there. That doesn't impact performance, though, so it doesn't bother me. The fingerprint reader is on the rear, and seems to do a good job. In fact, adding my fingerprint was faster and smoother than on iOS.
The speaker grill is on the right side of the bottom edge, facing you if you hold the phone flat in your hand with the screen facing up. On the left side of this face is an identical grill, where I presume a microphone is hidden. Between the two grills is the USB-C port. A headphone jack is on the upper edge, about where it is on most iPads. The right edge holds the lock button, with the volume buttons below it. One nice touch is the texture: the lock button is ridged, making it rough under your finger, while the volume rocker is smooth. This makes it easy to feel which button you're about to press. Opposite these buttons is the nano SIM slot.
The Pixel's performance felt somewhat slower than my iPhone, but Apps open fast enough to avoid frustrating me, and Google Assistant starts listening about as fast as Siri does. There's a delay between performing a gesture and having Talkback respond, which I imagine is partly the phone and partly the software. Benchmark comparisons show that the Pixel lags behind the iPhone 7, but as a test phone, the Pixel is more than sufficient. It wouldn't kill me to use it daily with its current speeds, but it could definitely be faster. Remember, though, that this is still a 2016 phone.
My main complaint is the speaker, which sounds tinny and weak next to the iPhone's dual speaker setup and better bass response. If I had to come up with an esthetic annoyance, it would be the sticker on the lower part of the phone's back. It has some codes, numbers, and so on. It's a thick, obvious rectangle that ruins the look (I asked a sighted person) and feel of the smooth aluminum shell.
Basically, the Pixel is fine. Not great, or sexy, but... it's fine. It has a few things my iPhone doesn't, but it's slower and bigger. Still, if you want a cheap Android phone with no third party modifications to the software, even something as old as the Pixel 1 is a great choice for the money. There's nothing here that makes me hesitate to recommend it, especially since it can be had for under $150 from places like eBay, or even cheaper if you go for a refurb.
A Brief Talkback Talk
I won't give you a full Talkback primer here. There is one aspect of the screen reader, however, that is essential to understand: it only intercepts some gestures.
VoiceOver on iOS reads every touch you make on the screen, then reacts. This is why some apps have special places where VoiceOver doesn't interfere with gestures, while other apps ask you to turn VO off entirely. In contrast, Talkback only involves itself in touch gestures when those gestures include one finger. Two or more fingers are simply ignored, with Android itself reacting instead. Drag two fingers down from the top of the screen, and Talkback isn't opening your notifications shade, Android is. TB has no idea what just happened, it only knows it has new content to read.
This explains why Talkback lacks support for customizing gestures that include two or more fingers, and why it uses back-and-forth and angle gestures so much. The developers needed a way to pack a lot of commands into one finger, because they couldn't use more.
It also explains a quirk of Talkback: if you touch the screen to explore it, you must pause for a small amount of time. If you place a finger and begin moving it right away, Talkback reads the movement as an attempt at a gesture instead of telling you what's under your finger. This is rarely an issue, as the delay needed is brief, but I've run into it a few times.
Knowing that Talkback can't read multi-finger gestures explains a lot. It won't, however, stop me from holding this shortcoming against the screen reader. It's a problem, no matter why it exists.
What I Like About Talkback
Let's begin with the positives, as I usually do. There are aspects of Talkback I really, really like, and that VoiceOver would do well to consider borrowing. Note that I'm not saying VoiceOver can't already do some of the below. This section is a mix of things VO lacks, and things VO can do that Talkback handles in a simpler way.
Super-powered Fingerprint Sensor
Talkback supports "fingerprint gestures", which are commands you issue by swiping a finger over the fingerprint reader. Not all devices have this, but my Pixel is one that does. I can swipe one finger up, down, left, or right over the sensor on the back of my phone, and Talkback will respond. I can either use this as a menu for speech rate, volume, and other settings, or assign each of the four movements to any of Talkback's commands.
I don't use this often, mostly because of my grip. I hold phones in such a way that none of my fingers are near the reader, so I have to shift my grip anytime I want to use this option. This often requires two hands, so by the time I'm in position to issue a fingerprint gesture, I may as well have used a normal one. But I just need to work on holding my phone differently, and I can see this becoming a very helpful tool. I was hoping to also be able to assign multiple taps on the sensor to commands, but Google hasn't gotten there yet.
At any time, you can open one of two menus with Talkback. One is contextual, offering options specific to what you're doing. If you are editing text, you'll have editing commands; if you're on a notification, one of the options will be to view actions for that notification. You get it.
The other menu is also full of options, but these are global ones. They include things like opening Talkback's settings, spelling the most recent utterance, copying the most recent utterance to the clipboard, and the like.
I love this idea. In VoiceOver, you have to remember that the "copy last spoken phrase to clipboard" gesture is tapping three fingers four times, or you're out of luck. What if you have a hard time memorizing all the gestures VO uses? Or you've assigned something you use more often to that gesture? A menu of possible actions makes perfect sense. Just bring it up, choose the function you want, and you're done.
I promised you "ironic menus", and here it is: Apple already did this! On macOS, you can press vo-h, then h again, and you'll be in a searchable menu of every possible VoiceOver command you could ever want. Mouse movement, navigation, speech, and plenty more. For some reason, though, the feature never made it to the mobile world... Except it did. Google implemented it. Now, the only one missing out is the iOS version of VoiceOver.
Talkback lets you use circular menus if you want to. The idea is that, instead of a list of items you can swipe through, you place a finger on the screen and move it in a circle. As you move, Talkback will speak various menu options, as though each were on the rim of the circle you are drawing. To select an option, just lift your finger when you hear what you want.
While you can turn this functionality off and use a regular list of menu items instead, I've come to like the circles. They are faster to use in most cases, even more so once you know where specific items are. For instance, I can dismiss a notification by drawing the angle gesture to open the actions menu, touching the screen, sliding my finger down a bit, and lifting up. I don't have to open the action menu, swipe or touch to find the option, and double tap. Yes, it only saves me one extra gesture, but it feels faster and just as intuitive as the other method. And hey, that's one more gesture I don't have to worry about.
The question of whether a screen reader should allow you to hear what you type as you enter a password is a long-standing one. One side argues that since a blind user can't see the keys they touch, having the confirmation that they typed what they meant is useful. If they don't want it in some situations, they can turn it off. Most of the time, though, they are somewhere where no one will overhear the characters of their password. The response to this is that apps and operating systems sometimes offer users the ability to view their passwords as they type. If this is available, the user can use it. If not, the screen reader shouldn't override the system's choice and speak the password anyway.
On iOS, VoiceOver won't echo the characters you type unless the field offers a way to view the password. Talkback has a clever idea here, though. It follows VoiceOver's model, but lets you choose whether to speak the characters you type if you have headphones connected. Presumably, headphones mean only you will hear the audio anyway, so the security of not speaking what you type is unnecessary. While I can still see both sides of this debate, I tend to favor this implementation over Apple's more firm stance.
The Double-Edged Sword of Navigation
VoiceOver lets you navigate by swiping up and down to move by character, word, heading, link, and the like. You change what these swipes move by by changing the rotor. This makes sense once you grasp it, but the gesture can be hard for people to master, and it requires two fingers plus an odd wrist movement.
Talkback solves this by letting you swipe a finger up or down to change what left/right swipes move by. It's like a simplified rotor. This system makes it much easier to, say, go from jumping around by heading to moving by character or link. It's all done with one finger and no rotor motion.
Say It How You Want
It's no secret that Android is more open than iOS. This means developers can release Android apps that would never survive Apple's review process. These include speech synthesizers, and even replacement screen readers. Talkback can speak using Google TTS, Eloquence, Acapela, Nuance, eSpeak, and others. You need only purchase the app you want, then change a setting. Or, you can install a different screen reader and tell Android to use it instead of Talkback. For my testing, I stuck with Talkback as my screen reader, and a mix of Google's own voices and eSpeak for my speech.
I've touched on some of the gestures unique to Talkback, and the reason they exist (one finger maximum, remember). I want to highlight them, though, because they're really cool.
You can use angle gestures by moving your finger in a straight line, then in another, perpendicular straight line. You basically draw a right angle. This gives you eight gestures to play with : up then right, up then left, right then down, down then left, and so on. By default, you have one-finger access to the local and global menus, notifications, the overview (sort of like the iOS app switcher), home, and back. Some people hate these, either because they can be finicky to get right at first, or because they can interfere with exploring the screen by touch. But I don't mind them.
The other set of gestures are what Google calls back-and-forth ones. To perform one of these, you move your finger up, down, left, or right. Once you've drawn a short line, you reverse the direction, going back along the line you just drew. To jump to the top of the screen, for instance, you move one finger up, then back down. To scroll a list, you move right then left, or left then right.
Both of the above are very clever ways to do more with one finger, adding twelve more possible gestures. I'd love to see VoiceOver implement some of these, particularly the back-and-forth ones. If Apple offered those with multiple fingers, users could do a lot.
Getting Volume Keys in on the Action
Android makes much more use of physical keys than iOS does. You can press power and volume up to mute, for instance, or power twice to bring up the camera from anywhere. Talkback supports the volume keys as well. You can use them to change the value of a slider control, such as the speech rate. You also toggle Talkback on and off by pressing and holding both volume keys at the same time. While less useful than other features I've talked about, this is still a handy way to do things. I didn't like it at first, but I'm coming around. Android being Android, I imagine I could find apps to let me change tracks, activate buttons, and perform other actions with these buttons.
Impressively Specific Volumes
Android has several volume levels, all of which can be changed independently. There's the speech volume, media volume, alarm volume, and ringer volume. There may be more I'm missing, too. Talkback even tells you which volume has been changed; if you press a volume key while the TTS is speaking, you hear that speech volume has changed, whereas pressing a button while music is playing tells you that the media volume has changed. This lets you mix the volumes of speech and media together, to get them balanced just how you want.
Also, you can set your ringer and alarms to different levels than your music and speech. You might want alarms to always sound at 100%, while music plays at 45% and your ringer is at 70%. This is all easily done.
I know that iOS lets you change the ringer volume independently of other volumes, but it can't let you mix media and speech how Android does. It also won't report the new level, or which volume was changed. These announcements can be irritating at times, but the idea behind them is still great.
What I Don't Like
Sorry Google, but now it's time for the negatives. I found plenty to like about Talkback, but I also found plenty of irritations and missing features.
Talkback fails to support a shocking amount of gestures. When I first went to the setting that would let me customize its touch gestures, I was very surprised to find that a lot of obvious ones aren't present. There are no triple or quadruple taps at all, and nothing with two or more fingers. No three-finger swipes, no double tap with two fingers, nothing. Just a bunch of one-finger gestures that don't even include triple or quadruple taps.
We've already discussed Talkback's unique gestures, and how I think they're a good idea. Yet I can come up with twenty-one more gestures just off the top of my head which TB doesn't have: triple and quadruple tap one, two, three, or four fingers; one or two taps with three or four fingers; and swiping three or four fingers up, down, left, or right. The list gets much larger if you could use the reverse gestures Talkback already supports with more than one finger. And this still doesn't touch the position-based commands, such as the two-finger swipe from the top of the screen that shows notifications. Why not allow us to customize those, and others like them?
Not a single command in the previous paragraph is available to be customized. Most aren't present at all. I know why this is (remember that Talkback only intercepts one-finger gestures, not all touch input). As I said when we talked about that model earlier, though, I'm still counting this against Google.
The other major missed opportunity here is the magic tap. This is a VoiceOver feature that lets you double tap two fingers to do a surprisingly wide array of tasks without needing to find a specific control on the screen. Normally, these tasks relate to audio, so you don't need to hear speech mixed with other sounds as you try to find a pause button or answer a call. Instead of a simple gesture to accept an incoming call, Talkback's official manual says that you must place one finger "about three quarters of the way down the screen", then swipe right, left, or up. VoiceOver's two-finger double tap, which can be performed anywhere on the screen, certainly seems simpler.
The caveat here is that I was unable to test phone calls during my time with Android. I use iMessage a lot, and I didn't want Apple to find my phone number no longer associated with an iPhone. I can still use iMessage with my email addresses, but I wasn't sure what it would take to re-associate my number. The potential hassle didn't seem worth it. Still, I'm going off the official documentation, so I hope I have accurate information.
If nothing else, a universal "stop the music" gesture is great to have. Audio ducking isn't at all good on my Pixel, with music quieting well after speech begins and coming back to full volume almost before speech ends. This not only gives the ducked audio a choppy sound, it makes it harder to hear speech. I didn't realize how nice the magic tap was until it wasn't there.
A Lack of Actions and Options
Let's assume for now that Talkback did have the same set of gestures as iOS, plus its right angle and reverse ones. What would you assign to all those commands? Would you use four of them to always have heading and form element navigation available? Maybe set some to spelling the last utterance or copying it to the clipboard? Too bad.
You see, Talkback has a surprisingly small amount of actions. You can assign a gesture to move to the next or previous navigation option (similar to turning the rotor in VoiceOver), but you can't set a gesture to actually move by one of these options. In other words, you can customize how you get to moving by headings, but not set up a way to simply move by headings anytime you want to. If you're on a webpage and move by heading, then you want to keep going to see what is under that heading, you have to first move back through the navigation options to "default". If you don't, swiping right on the heading will simply jump to the next one. I found this slowed me down a lot. After all, VoiceOver always moves by what Talkback calls "default", regardless of the rotor setting. Land on a heading, and you need only swipe right to have VO read what follows that heading. Not so with Talkback. This is odd, because you can choose which keyboard shortcuts will move you by link, heading, and other options. I have no idea why you can't do the same for touch gestures.
Speaking of actions, VoiceOver long ago introduced the custom actions rotor. On emails, message threads, notifications, app icons, files, links, some buttons, and countless other places across iOS, you can simply swipe up or down to find actions. Share a file, delete an email, clear or view a notification, and on and on. Simply swipe one or three times, double tap, and you're done.
Android has actions as well, but Talkback hides them inside the actions menu. To open the menu, you have to perform a gesture. I realize this is only one extra step, but trust me, you feel it. Instead of swiping up or down, you must do the gesture that opens the actions menu, wait for the menu to appear, find the action, and double tap it. It doesn't add more than a second, but those seconds add up. Oh, and the best part: the gesture to open the actions menu is unassigned by default! You read that right: unless I've missed something, you have to open the actions menu by first opening the local context menu and finding the right item. Now we're up to three gestures at minimum just to get to something VoiceOver offers automatically.
This translates to more than just an annoyance when handling notifications, though. It means there are more buttons all over the place, and they are sometimes not convenient to find. Each notification, for instance, has a button to expand or collapse it. That's an extra swipe per notification as you move through the list. On iOS, actions are just that--actions, tucked away in the rotor. To be fair, this can hurt discoverability on iOS, so for new users, Talkback's approach may be better. But once you know how the rotor works, you don't need extra buttons cluttering up your navigation.
Let's get back to the other kind of annoying button. In the Gmail app, you must swipe twice per email: once for the message itself, and once for the control that selects or de-selects the message. Once you select a message, you have to go to the top of the screen and find the action button (delete, archive, move, etc) you want. Once done, you have to get back to the list of emails and find your place again. If you've used VoiceOver, you know that deleting a message is as simple as swiping up and double tapping. No selecting by using an extraneous control, no leaving the list of messages then going back to it. Again, VoiceOver's rotor is only good if you know how to use it, so having on-screen buttons isn't a bad thing in itself. But having those buttons be the only way to manage emails makes Android a less efficient way for me to get things done.
No Help Mode
Every screen reader, braille notetaker, talking book player, and other blindness-specific technology I can think of includes a special help mode. When active, the press of a key or activation of a gesture will announce what should happen, but not do anything. This way, you can try something to confirm that it will do what you expect, or work through a set of new commands you've just learned, without actually affecting the device you're using. I consider myself a power user on macOS, iOS, and Windows with NVDA, but I still use this help mode.
Talkback doesn't have it, as far as I can tell. You can go into the settings and review the assigned gestures, but that's as far as it goes. You can't tell your phone to speak what a gesture would do. You can only try the gesture and see what happens, or try to find the gesture in Talkback's settings. This is especially disappointing given the unique gestures Talkback offers. Instead of getting frustrated while trying to learn angles or back-and-forth motions, but only getting random focus movements, it would be great to have a place to practice things, where the only feedback is silence or the pronouncement that what you just did matches the gesture you were going for. I know I'm not alone in having used VoiceOver's help mode to learn the rotor, how quickly to double tap, how far to move when swiping, and so on. I can't imagine why Talkback doesn't offer a similar mode.
The Double-Edged Sword of Navigation
I said earlier that Talkback's method of swiping up and down to change what left and right swipes do is far simpler than VoiceOver's rotor. It is, but I've also told you how much of a problem that can be. When you move through a website by heading, then want to read the text past a heading, your only option is to swipe up or down to set your navigation back to default. You can't rely on swiping left and right to always move by element, regardless of which element it is. Not having this always-present navigation is another way Talkback hurts efficiency.
Imagine using the screen reader on a Windows or Mac computer to move around a website. You'd likely press h to move by heading, or another single key to move by link or landmark. Once you got where you wanted to be, you'd probably use your down arrow to read, right? With Talkback, it's as though the arrow keys are all you have. Press up and down to cycle through the different elements by which left and right can move. Up arrow to headings, press right, and try to read. You can't, without pressing up or down several times to let left and right review the text of the page again.
The analogy isn't great, but hopefully it gives you an idea. If you're still confused, just trust me that Talkback's method is objectively slower than that of any other screen reader I can think of, including Voiceover on iOS.
Bye Bye Braille
In iOS 8, Apple introduced system-wide braille input, available right on the touch screen. Suddenly, I could type text with ease, instead of poking at the on-screen keyboard. I don't exaggerate when I say this feature was life-changing, either. With it, I've moved to doing far more on iOS than I ever expected. Social media, emails, texts, writing beta testing feedback, writing reviews, and more are all just a rotor twist away. My phone has become my primary computing device, and braille screen input is largely why.
Talkback has no such option, and that's the worst part of the experience for me. I'll give Google this: their automatic suggestions are better than those on iOS. Still, they're no substitute for the almost effortless input of braille screen input. BSI has profoundly impacted my mobile computing experience for the better, and Android can't offer it. For a heavy user of this feature, its absence is difficult to ignore. I realize I'm in a minority, but if you're a braille user like me, this is going to be one of the largest factors to consider when you look at Android.
Other Android Thoughts
While this post is about Talkback and VoiceOver, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the other aspects of Android I appreciate. Some are specific to accessibility, others are not.
I'm using the Pixel Launcher, since it came with my phone and the only other one I tried, Nova, didn't let me move apps around. The Pixel Launcher has a pretty neat way of moving apps, a way that's easier than on iOS.
First, you touch the app to be moved. Next, you open its actions and choose "move app". Third, you touch where you want it to go. When you touch the screen in this mode, Talkback says "move to row 4, column 3" (for example) if you touch an empty app slot. If you touch another app, you instead get, "create folder with [other app]". It's simple, intuitive, and does everything you need. Again, other launchers will vary.
I didn't appreciate widgets until I tried them. My favorites are the weather, which lets you have the temperature right on your home screen, and the Apple Music widget, which allows me to skip tracks or play/pause without opening the app itself. I haven't used other widgets yet, but what I've seen so far makes me curious to explore more. It also makes me wish Apple hadn't relegated its version of widgets to a screen that takes extra gestures to get to.
One thing I've never understood about Apple, from the first time I booted my first iPhone, is the company's eversion to using vibration to indicate, well, anything. On my Pixel, there's vibration feedback when the phone restarts, when I should lift my finger while saving a fingerprint, and more. I like this, both because it feels more slick than using speech for simple notifications like those, and because it's more accessible.
I don't use an iPad often, but when I do, I usually place my two top apps side by side so I can access them both without switching between them. It's very cool to have this same ability on a phone. Sure, it might seem visually cramped, but I don't care. I can touch one app or the other to put my focus there, and that's all Talkback needs. Managing them isn't as easy as it is on iOS, but it's at least an option. By Apple's decree, I can't do this at all on my iPhone.
You won't be surprised by my conclusion: VoiceOver is better in almost every way I care about, so it wins, hands down. It could certainly borrow third-party speech synthesizers, new gestures, and menus from Talkback. But what it lacks in those areas is more than made up for by what it offers that Talkback doesn't. Talkback has no global braille input, no help mode, far less commands that can be assigned, less gestures to which to assign the commands it does have, a less efficient navigation system, and no quick way to pause media playing in the background. Even answering phone calls requires you to put your finger in exactly the right place.
That said, I can absolutely see why people prefer Android. Note that I said Android, not Talkback. Widgets are awesome, using split screen on a phone is great, assigning my own apps for my browser, mail client, and other functions is quite nice, and placing apps anywhere I want is helpful. Also, I love having the ability to install any speech synthesizer I care to.
On the flip side, I'm missing a lot of apps I use all the time. Seeing AI, Overcast, Twitterrific, various games, and even first-party apps like Apple's Mail app are all ones for which I've not found Android counterparts that come close to being as good. Android's use of buttons instead of relying on swipe actions is painful at times, such as having to swipe four times just to move from one tweet to the next, or two times to move between emails in Gmail.
I hope you found this useful and informative. Please don't decide based on my experience alone, though. Try it for yourself, or, at the very least, seek out other peoples' experiences. I've read posts that echo my own, and I've read posts that talk about how much better Talkback is. Each person has their own preferences, so your milage will vary. Feel free to leave a comment, telling me what you thought of my coverage of this topic, or what I might have missed/gotten wrong. I'm sure there's plenty to learn, and short of switching to Android for a month with no fallback iPhone at all, I'm not going to get to know all the details. If I've mischaracterized something, or omitted an important point, tell me about it. As I said at the start, though, please keep things civil and fair, and please don't use this as an excuse to post detailed Talkback or Android content. We're still focused on Apple here on AppleVis, and while discussion of "the other side" is good, we don't want to wander so far into the weeds that we get lost.
I had a similar experience a few years ago. I also noticed that the average app worked less well on Andorid with Talkback than it did on IOS with Voiceover. The angle gestures were pretty unreliable on my tablet, a keyboard was much more useful.
I have to use a Pixel for work. The absence of the braille keyboard for text input is a major draw back. I haven't found a third party substitute on android yet. Applevis was a huge pier to pier resource in beginning my IOS journey. I haven't found an android equivalent resource yet. The pixel 2 with talk back running is still slower than my iPhone XR. Also, the thumb print reader went bad on all 3 of the android devices long before the thumb print readers on any of my iPhones. Hard ware braille support is an unstable experience for all of the 3 braille displays that I have tried to use with the the latest version of BRAILLE Back. There is also a bug that makes it nearly impossible to type a web address into the chrome browser address bar when talk back is on. Personally, I like the form factor of the pixel and samsung phones but the frustrations with talkback make it very difficult to be as productive as I am with any of the iPhones. Thanks for the feedback on the circle menus. I will have to check them out. The finger print reader does still work with gestures to bring up the talk back menus, which is good because no matter what I do, I cannot get those angled one finger gestures to work with touch to explore turned on. You mentioned iMessage. I find that google products are more accessible on IOS than they are on the native android platform. I haven't found much support for Apple products on the android platform. I'm not complaining, I wish that Talkback was easier to use.. I would love to have more choices when purchasing my next phone. wrr
I use 2 devices in my daily life, iPhone 11 and Google Pixel 2XL. However, it feels like the iPhone is still the best, especially in terms of Braille screen input. The biggest obstacle when using Android is my writing ability which is reduced quite dramatically, even just to reply to short messages ... Apple is still the best!
I like what you wrote and agree with it mainly. I would add one huge drawback to Talkback is that if in a web view if the page is larger Talkback can freeze. Take for example Bard mobile. If my page settings were set to display more than 25 results Talkback would become sluggish and unresponsive this was happening 3 years ago and still happens to this day. I contacted Bard about this issue and they suggested shortening my page results and this worked but is unnecessary in my opinion. I found browsing in chrome a bit annoying as well some you touched on but it should be better. I often hear folks on Applevis saying Apple needs to do more with VoiceOver then these same folks would hate Talkback because it hasn't changed in at least 3 versions of the OS. All that being said I view screenreaders as tools in a toolbox and the more a user knows the better off they'll be.
Hello mehgcap. I just wanted to take a moment to tell you thank you for such an in depth review of your Talkback experioences. I have only used an Android phone for approximately 60 seconds, when a friend was assisting me in setting up my new router. In just that tiny bit of time, I could see that my iPhone wins hands down. Of course, 60 seconds is not enough time to determine whether or not, if the Android platform would be my my choice, but it was enough to see that, in my personal opinion, I feel that Apple has hit the accessability feature set out of the park. I appreciate you explaining the Android platform to us. Despite some of the shortcomings of late, in the Apple software, I still feel that my productivity would suffer greatly, should I have decided to jump ship and try the Android side of things. Thanks again for your time and thoughtful presentation of your experiences, on the other side.
Well. Yes apple is good but needs to work on how it deal with support regarding accessibility when reporting bugs. In case in point unlucky 13. VO works well and I had been using iPhone since 4. I am going to do like the episode from Dalas TV show where everything was a dream and wake up and iOS give me bad memories for a long time and apple respond to it. May the apple will be with you.14 be out and I will say that was a bad dream about iOS 13. I do like my Series 5 and XS but unlucky will be
Nice write-up. I think from my experience you covered things well. I think a key point you made that I agree with is both screen readers could learn from each other. For me TalkBack has a lot more to learn than VoiceOver. Along with no touchscreen braille input, the hardware braille support is hardly usable.
I also find typing on Android difficult, the keyboard just seems slow and picky and this is on a Pixel 3 where hardware processing power is good enough. Here is a surprise for you: Google the original maker of the swipe style keyboard, does not support swipe typing with TalkBack. Yes you read that right: TalkBack disables swipe typing entirely. And here in iOS 13, Apple figured out a way. I don't' feel swipe typing has made me more efficient and I mostly don't use it but this does highlight Apple's ability to find solutions.
It is difficult to quantify but I'd say that if you are a speech-only screen reader user, TalkBack has came far enough that you can use it fairly well and get things done. Like you identify some things are just not as efficient. If you want Braille though it is far better to use iOS.
Magic tap is a perfect case in point. One aside: on a Pixel 3 anyways a phone call can be accepted with a two-finger swipe up, or rejected with a two-finger swipe down, using the full length of the screen. Since TalkBack does not accept two fingers for input I am guessing this is an Android gesture versus a Talkback one. That said, they are difficult to get to work. More than once I've swiped down to reject a spam call and nothing has happened.
I know this is an iOS forum, but I do feel compelled to make one public service announcement about the original Pixel that you highlight in the blog post. While a perfectly ok piece of hardware as noted, be advised Google is dropping support for it. December 2019 is scheduled to be the last security update for Android on an original Pixel. My advice is unless you just want to play don't spend money on an original Pixel at this point.
I made the switch to Android and I love it! Double tap and hold has replaced many of the 2 finger double tap gestures on the menu side of things for example to react to a Facebook post. When I get a call I can swipe up with 2 fingers to answer or down with 2 to decline. The lock button ends calls. I miss being able to pause media however with motion sense I can skip songs with a wave of a hand so it's a good substitute. You asked why you can't do 2 finger gestures and the answer is so that you can do Android gesters. If I swipe up with 2 fingers in Android 10 it goes to the home screen. If I swipe up and hold with 2 fingers it goes to the app switcher. Google's accessability team is also way faster than Apple's. I'm not saying Talkback is perfict but neither is Voiceover. In the end it should come down to the phone you want not Voiceover vs Talkback because both work right out of the box and what an amazing thing that is!
For me, Braille is a big deal. I hold firm the position that Braille is literacy for a blind person, as it is the equivalent of print. So, Android has BrailleBack, but it is not even built in, as TalkBack kind of is, so you have to download it from the Play Store. And no, I don't buy that it might take up space on a phone for a blind person who doesn't use Braille. If people are that worried about space, they should get some SD Cards, of which Android supports so well, and not update to Android 10 since apps won't be able to use them well anymore due to Google's locking down, to promote Google Drive. If Apple can provide all their accessibility services, and indeed, the option for high quality voices, and good Braille Tables even, Google, the AI company, should be able to do better. But they haven't, yet. Why is this?
Recently, Google has worked on verbosity, but not in the best of ways. When actions are available, TalkBack now says so, in every case. When confronted with the idea that most blind Android users wouldn't want this, the developer basically said that it's a great idea to him, implying that it wouldn't get fixed as to the community's wishes. Android people, please calmly correct me if I'm wrong on this. Contrast this to Apple's fixing the Mail thing in iOS a year or so ago, where if you double tapped "delete", the rotor wouldn't go back to "default" action. We see in this that while Google folks are available to the lists for Android users, They do not comply with the community's wishes nearly as much as Apple's does. Apple's accessibility team rarely interacts with the community, but still gets things done that the community feels strongly about. For example, TalkBack doesn't have multiple finger gestures, so they have to work around that by creating convoluted one-finger ones that make me feel like I'm playing a fighting video game rather than working on a smart phone which isn't a toy. At least they don't make us do the dragon punch, yet. Doing those gestures makes me feel silly and unproductive, because I know they are a mere workaround because Android's accessibility team doesn't seem to have much power and ability to make anything better. Braille Screen input isn't a thing on Android, and third-party braille keyboards are either no longer supported, or are $12+. Yeah, pretty bad.
Now, the one thing that I do like about TalkBack is its tutorial. When TalkBack is opened for the first time, it guides the user through a tutorial on how to use it. VoiceOver on the Mac has this, why not on mobile?
But, as Alex pointed out in the article, VoiceOver still wins hands down, as many more training centers can teach VoiceOver, mitigating the need for a tutorial somewhat, and do not know as much about TalkBack. I've used an Android phone before, for half a year, with and without a Bluetooth keyboard, which is pretty much required for any quick, painless typing if you're a totally blind Android user. I know a bit about Android, but hate the laggy mess that is most Android phones because Android is apparently good because it is cheap, and Apple is bad because it's expensive, even though you really get what you pay for with Apple, a long lasting, accessible in spirit as well as law, device that will keep up with anything you throw at it, usually unless you use braille, without any third-party hardware, and no extra software necessary for functions that come with the phone, including email, web browsing, and reading books, which in Android, you technically cannot do with Google Books, as Google TTS reads it to you, not TalkBack. Yeah, so no braille support in Google Books.
In short, I cannot take Android seriously, because it cannot take accessibility seriously, and I will not budge on this. Compromise on these issues, to me at least, means that we support poor standards of what constitutes accessibility, and I don't think that we can afford Google telling companies like Amazon that, for example, blind people love just having TTS read books. They don't need to read in braille, know how to spell something, or annotate passages, or even set, with their finger, where they'd like to begin reading. Understand, though, that I do not condemn Android users, simply Google for allowing such poor accessibility, and will not, personally, explicitly support Android by buying their devices. Apple has shown much greater attention to accessibility. Even when some blind pundits said that Apple had "released the gas pedal" on VoiceOver development, this year's release, while very rocky for everyone, sighted people included, brought several features to the screen reader. I have faith that Apple will keep innovating, and do not have faith that TalkBack will ever have leaps forward, as Apple's VoiceOver has.
This article is informative and I think you give great examples of the positives and negatives on both. I agree with you on Braille Screen input making typing much easier on the iPhone and in general I feel that Apple has the better platform . I have also played with Android and I've thought of two things Apple could borrow to improve accessibility that I don't think you mentioned. I've noticed that on Android when typing, the numbers and some basic punctuation are on the main keyboard without you having to go to more numbers. I think this makes typing easier for those using the on-screen keyboard. I recently played with an Android phone that did not have a home button; I noticed it had three on screen buttons at the bottom: recent, home, and I forget the third one. I do not miss it, but I think having that option on Apple would help people feel less apprehensive about no home button.
Very nice post. You covered a lot of territory here, and I must admit that as much as I like Apple with VoiceOver on both my devices I'd like to try out Talkback sometime. Actually a former tutor turned it on on his Samsung Galaxy to let me hear the voice. Also, my neighbor friend across the hall recently got a new Android phone, and there is a function in the clock app which speaks the time and alarms. He turned on the voice, and it's not bad. But he tells me that my phone is better. For example, his does not have the setting that will automatically send unknown calls to voicemail. He was trying to block them one day not long ago while over at my apartment, and he had to enter a PIN each time and it kept timing out on him. He is fully sighted, but has heard me using VoiceOver on numerous occasions and has been very impressed. My brother was at a Meetup here in the Chicago area not long ago and demonstrated both of these screen readers. I believe the recording is still up on YouTube, or I guess people can just search for it on www.meetup.com .
Love reading and listening to your stuff. I hope you keep it up for many years to come. smile.
I am no authority, but I am only just this month now a very happy Android user, and it works seamlessly with my iPhone 10s!
You probably just said, "What? Wait!" So here's one facet of the VoiceOver/Android picture I don't believe anyone has mentioned.
This month I fulfilled a long held dream of mine and just finished the installation of my 7.1.4 surround sound, complete with overhead speakers, OLED monster TV home entertainment system. I am awestruck. The audio video receiver I bought appears to be completely compatible with IOS and MacOS via AirPlay 2. This means that I can play music and movies from my iTunes library on my surround sound/OLED TV home entertainment system, all directly from my iPhone or from any other apple device having Airplay 2!
First, the Android TV I bought has TalkBack plus a screen reader. It talks as I use the remote control, telling me where I am and what I'm doing, including inside apps downloaded from the google play store to my TV. Second, , even if it doesn't talk with one or more apps on my TV, if the same app is on my iPhone and it's accessible via VoiceOver, I can use the app from my iPhone, choose what I want to hear/watch, tap AirPlay, and away I go!
Better yet, AirPlay sends all of the video and audio data. It doesn't compress. Whatever you are sending goes in its entirety to the receiver, which decodes the file and then plays it in its original format. This means that if the movie is on my phone as a 4k movie, it plays on my chime entertainment system as a 4k movie, even if it couldn't play as a r4k movie on my iPhone because of some iPhone limitation. Similarly, if I select loss less audio from my iPhone, , it will play on my home entertainment system as loss less audio, even though my iPhone can't itself play loss less music.
. It all depends on its original format. If it started as 5.1 surround, it's played as 5.1 surround. If it started as 24 bit 96k sound quality, it's played at that sound quality.
Now, I don't know about you, but I have a fair number of movies on my Phone, and yes, for each movie, if it had audio description on my iPhone, I get the audio description on my home entertainment system.
I also have over 43 gigs of music in my iPhone iTunes library, and so far as I can tell, all is playable on my home entertainment system if it's a file format my receiver can decode. Advice: be very careful what your receiver will be able to decode before you buy.
Big smile. So that's my contribution to this thread. When it comes to home entertainment, VoiceOver and Android together give me the best possible solution. I should add that I have zero experience with Apple TV, so if you're happy with what you have, well, I'm happy too!
I'm only skimming this post and thread, but thought I'd chip in my $.02. I blew a lot of cash on a flagship LG phone a year and a half ago, when I kept reading reports that TalkBack was finally a good alternative to VO. I'm not a fan of Apple post-Steve Jobs, and really wanted the more open, customizable experience of Android. I was also intrigued by the Saber Quad DAC, which was supposed to offer terrific sound quality. While the Saber chip was slightly better than the Sirrus Logic chip used in the better-sounding of the Iphone models, it wasn't *that* much better, not enough to buy a phone for. And I found Android still to be a really jangly mess, much as it was the first time I tried it when I poured money into a Nexus 7 I never ended up using. I tried to use the LG V30 for at least four months, then gave up and bought another Iphone SE, just as they were closing the door on it.
One major issue I had was that touch navigation just wasn't as polished as on IOS. I think Apple must have some machine intelligence behind those swipes and touch navigation that TalkBack lacks. On Android, I was constantly "stuck" in either the notifications up top or the Back/Home buttons at the bottom, and couldn't get back to the main screen area. Or, touching and moving didn't seem to do anything, or did something I didn't intend. Medcaf noted the source of another issue: I was always accidentlly brushing the screen vertically and inadvertently changing the navigation unit, which I would then have to troubleshoot.
Another stand-out issue for me was sound design. TalkBack sounds like an early 80s computer game. It's just really cheesy compared with the audio design of Apple. It sounds like such a small thing, but it really grated on me and I turned off most of the arcade sound effects. Also, it vibrated so dang much that I had to turn the feature off entirely: when everything makes it vibrate, it can be just as uninformative as nothing vibrating.
I tried to work on all of the above and become fluent in the new gestures and features, but it just wasn't worth it. The main reason I ditched the phone, though, was not accessibility related. It kept dialing phone numbers while the phone was in my pocket: man-nipple dialing! Many of the locking features were either not accessible to set up, like setting up a pattern of tap zones, or didn't work well for some other reason. The phone seemed not to lock when I wanted it to sometimes, perhaps thanks to fingerprint unlock being on the same button and in the same gesture I'd use for checking the time. Hence, it would be unlocked and start dialing away when I was walking someplace.
Finally, I had hoped that the Google accessibility team was less of a neglected step-child in the development cycle than Apple's team had become. I think both teams try their best, but it really seems like they are not privy to early developmental stages of new features and OS versions. If anything, it seemed worse on Google.
If others have an easier time with Android, then great, and I'm jealous. I still find it way, way too fiddly, overcomplicated, and unreliable compared with IOS. As a result, I do less with my Iphone than I'd hoped to do with an Android phone.
This is excellent! I agree with everything you've said. There is room for improvement in both screen readers, and both accessibility teams really need to interact with us more and/or prioritize things much better than they currently do. This is why I have both an iPhone 6s and an original Pixel. I get the best and worst aspects of both mobile platforms.
Hello Bruce. Isn't it great that you can use whichever version of accessible technology to enhance your home entertainment needs? I am a die hard Apple iPhone user myself, but have absolutely no plans of converting away from Windows to the Mac. It's so nice to just simply choose what works and go on with your day. As a kid, I never had any sort of access such as is available now. It sounds like you have been able to take the best of both Android and iPhone and make it work to your advantage for your entertainment needs.
From what I understand, Samsung has its own screen reader called voice assistant which has many of the same gestures as talkback, however, Samsung screen reader allows multiple finger gestures and seems to have utilised some of the same gestures as voice-over.
If anyone has used Samsung, I would be grateful if they could chime into this discussion.
thanks for this.
I just got an IPhone on 10th may this year.
I'm really, very happy with it.
I was using an android device before that. though it was android 5, an old one, I agree with all of what you said.
I tried using talk back when my dad bought a new phone this year just after my IPhone.
one thing I hated about it out of and I would like to add is talkback doesn't offer camera support. at least, it is not up to the level voice over does.
my android device did not offered it at the time. when I tried using my dad's phone, I realized that though it did offered camera support, it was not the way VO does. what I found was this.
according to me, VO tells us where to tilt the device since IOS 13 and even in IOS 12, I found I was able to take pictures even if they weren't good.
but I think TB when on in camera does not realize that its on. means it wants me to interact the way sited people do. and it is a bit too interfering.
I'm no expert and probably you won't be able to understand what I mean untill and unless you use it.
sorry for this long comment but I just wanted to add this.
I'd advice the author to test camera once and post his reviews here. it'd be great to compare the camera accessibility since it is the reason I switched to IOS not that there are not more...
thank you for reading and sorry for such long comment.
by the way, another thing to just be aware of is whether the apps you depend on are available or have equivalents on Android/IOS. I continued to use my Android phone after switching back to IOS just for playing music, because USB Audio Recorder was accessible only on Android and it let me play all the audio formats in my NAS-connected music drive, including DSD; and BubbleUPNP let me stream remotely. On the other hand, Seeing AI is only available on IOS, and Bard Mobile was very unstable on Android when I tried to use it last year. Outlook and AquaMail are feature-rich accessible mail apps on Android, but no option felt as simple and fast as the rotor-enabled Apple mail app. The New York Times app on Android never worked correctly for me for some reason. Not sure anyone has mentioned the Eyes-Free Google group, but that's the hangout for blind/low vision Android users. Unfortunately, all attempts to get an Android equivalent to AppleVis up and running seem to have failed to catch on.
I've had a couple of Android phones over the years because I like keeping up with the changes. My latest phone combo is the iPhone 8 and a Samsung Galaxy A10. Samsung has their own screen-reader, Voice Assist. I find the gestures here much more like those of iOS, and they do offer the 2-finger double-tap for many things. To me, that is one gesture that I have trouble living without, so was very glad to see that Samsung has it. They also make it very easy to switch between Voice Assist and TalkBack.
I've used voice assistant briefly and it certainly uses some of the same gestures as Voiceover but one of the major problems with it is that it rarely gets updated. If you want a good way to test the Android experience, I would recommend using Talkback or Commentary on a phone running pure Android with no bloteware or overlays like the Pixel line of phones. I'm currently using Talkback with a Pixel 2 for work that requires me to test accessibility on Android. The variety of phones at different price points is an advantages since it makes an android device incredibly affordable. As others have mentioned there are different screen readers available for it such as Talkback, voice assistant, and Commentary. Commentary is new and addresses a lot of the flaws of Talkback. Also, if you use an Android for several months and need to find apps to replace functionality you could do with IOS, you'll find that there are some excellent alternatives with good accessibility that for example, takes advantage of actions. Based on my own experiences, I've noticed that just as there are apps that are more accessible on IOS, there are some that are more accessible on Android. In terms of my personal use, I still prefer IOS over Android because I find Voiceover allows for greater efficiency with the way it is designed.
Hello everyone. I'd like to add my own personal android switch experience if I may. In may of this year, I was growing unhappy with the 8 Plus. The battery life was just not what I'd like and yes I did all the battery tricks in the book. So I sold the 8 Plus and what a huge mistake after second thoughts. LOL I got a Pixel 3A XL figuring the grass was greener on the other side and that was far from true. I was using google lookout and really did not have the extra money to pay for envision AI so I can't speak to that. But I can say that seeing AI is miles ahead of google lookout. I also found out just how useful that 2 finger double tap is. You really miss it when you no longer have it. I listen to music all the time on my phone and android just did not have an easy way to pause it. Plus the ducking with voiceover is much smoother than talkback. Also for me personally, the 2 finger swipe up to answer was very inconsistent. I even practiced it for like 20 mins calling myself from my google voice account and like 5 or 6 times out of 10 it would work but that is just not the results I'm looking for. Plus the right angle gestures on talkback drove me up a wall. I was always in the talkback settings refreshing my memory what gesture did what. To me voiceover just makes more sense. I have been using an iPhone since 2010 and have been off and on android since 2013 but for right now, IOS is home for me. I now have an iPhone 11 and plan to hang on to it as long as I can. Also, I am aware of voice assistant on the Samsung phones and really enjoyed that on my S8 when I had it early last year. The funny thing is I prefer windows over MAC OSX but I would consider a mac again as well. I'm pretty open minded when it comes to technology.
J Mosen did a podcast on how to use voice assistant with galacy, when he was doing his podcast. Check it out. He did not use talk back.
Good overview. Thanks for this.
I have, over recent months, considered moving to android. This is mostly because of the cost of phones in the apple line that have a decent battery life. I think the principle of 'it just works' that rang so true during Job's time is no longer the case and has made the freedom of the open platform of android more appealing. Saying that, life is too short and spending days learning a new system is not my idea of fun.
Also, regarding the android TV experiences, is that the Sony that also has airplay 2? I've got a Samsung with airplay 2 but it's own operating system on there, which I would assume is a version of android customised by the giant.
I'm guessing Amazon's VoiceView is a reworked version of Talkback. I only have a Fire tablet on the Google side.
It's usable for me, but I mostly swipe through movie selections, or read an occasional book. It does have the two finger tap, and the three finger page swipe.
I very much doubt it could be my sole device, but I would prefer to have as many alternative devices as possible for when one OS sends out a bad update or one of my computers goes down, and I have to switch. Maybe having a Samsung on the side would be a good idea.
One thing that hit me when reading this is that you didn't mention typing on-screen at all, aside from the lack of braille input. Talkback has no braille input, and weirdly enough, Brailleback doesn't either, though you can get third-party apps that do this. On-screen typing is awfully slow compared to VoiceOver, and that's one thing that pains me when I use it daily. The ease of direct touch typing is missing, though you could briefly suspend touch exploration, but that's still a step that should be unnecessary and I'm not even sure it still speaks at that point as you type. Probably not.
I've been using Android only for half a year, with having an iPhone 7 for work because at the time, I used iOS and ordered one for that purpose, so I don't use anything but Android in daily life aside from work hours. Hilariously, some of the features that made me switch to Android because I do it often made it to iOS 13.
The slow response time seems to be Talkback-specific. Using a third-party screen reader instead of Talkback, the performance is significantly improved by like a massive amount. I'm not sure what Google's stance on Talkback is at all these days, since even their betas include old release notes with no remarks on what to test.
I found that Talkbacks "speak password" option didn't work at all on my device. So, I told it to speak even when headphones were not connected as I was at home during setup, but Talkback still kept saying bullets and only spoke the delete button and other such nonsense. Entering network information and other credentials was a huge bummer this way. It would tell me what the letter was after lifting my finger, but that wasn't very useful.
As for the lack of multi-finger gestures, I've heard that it's due to limitations in the accessibility API because Google wants to keep supporting older devices. I'm not sure how true this is, since it's just something that I heard on a mailing list a while ago, but it's absolutely something that slows me down in certain cases whatever the reason.
On websites, VoiceOver is also vastly superior. No denying it. There just isn't an equal, so it doesn't even deserve a comparison. I've never seen such awful support of website menus, and Talkback feels awful when it's trying to follow your finger when you're dragging it down a webpage. Most of the time it doesn't do it well. It's another reason I switched away from Talkback to another screen reader.
I'm staying with Android though because when it comes to battery life, my phone is still superior from what I've been able to gather. I don't feel like buying an iPhone 11 Pro just to find out or whatever the biggest iPhone is these days. Also, the screen reader I use now solves some of the issues Talkback introduces, so it's something that doesn't slow me down as badly. Some apps I use also work better on Android, and I like the greater control of when apps run and when they shouldn't run anymore. Also, an iPhone that might match what I have now is just way too expensive for my budget, and I know I'd miss it. Granted, comparing VoiceOver to Talkback the shortcomings become obvious, but I've kind of learned to work around them or with them, and grown to be productive enough anyway. There are things I miss,though.
Thank you for this excellent article.
I came to the same conclusions but did not take the time to articulate them so well.
One thing to add, you mentioned toggling Talkback with the volume buttons.
Well, that is only on some models.
The thing that makes me dislike Android phones is that you do not know where the settings are for Talkback from one model to the next; and if you are a blind user, you have to have someone sighted turn on Talkback before you can do anything, unless the model happens to use the volume buttons like your Pixel.
Apple wins here to since you can turn on VoiceOver on any device right out of the box.
While VoiceOver has added game changers like audio graphs, TalkBack has only added announcements about "actions available", the accessibility volume, and language detection recently. Google is simply falling farther behind, while Apple continues blazing the trail.
For a guide to Samsung Voice Assistant and its Gestures, please see
For support, email
For a guide to Voice View and its gestures on Fire Tablets, please see
For a guide to Voice View on Fire TVs, please see
For support, email
The Commentary screen reader (also known as Jieshuo), has much of its documentation with in the program itself under the Commentary Screen Reader icon among the Apps Drawer/Home Screen, or with in its main menu (down Plus Right gesture) under the item Program Settings. Look for the section entitled Help And Feedback.
For the official Jieshuo Telegram support group (high traffic with over 500 members), please see
For the Jieshuo official forums (if you ain't into Telegram), please see
For the unofficial English Jieshuo Telegram group (less traffic with just over 80 members), please see
PS. Jieshuo in Chinese, means "To Comment."
Another point I'd like to add after 2 months or so with my iPhone 11. BSI is seriously an amazing thing. I have a smart beetle which is out of commission for the moment and BSI has replaced that and flicktype. I personally feel that IOS's braille support is much better than android. There are things I do miss from android but not enough to stick with it. Also I just enjoy using apps and reading things on IOS as well. It just feels more polished to me. At the end of the day, it's what platform you have invested in and are more comfortable with and for me IOS and my iPhone are the companions I want in my daily life. This is a really good discussion and I have enjoyed everyone's takes. Thank you.
I use both iOS and an Android One phone. I can say, although iOS is more accessible than Android, Android has its positives. For example, you don't need iTunes in order to transfer data between a phone and a computer, Android is much more customisable than iOS in terms of setting default apps, replacing launchers etc. I don't have a hardware braille display, but the thing for me that is missing from Talkback is braille screen input. I think if I was sighted, I would be using Android for sure due to its flexibility. In either case, I've got the best of both worlds which is a good thing. Any thoughts or comments?
I started on Android and Talkback and I use it every single day. I've made it work. It's decent. The problem isn't so much Talkback but rather the hardware it runs on.
Pick up a low-end phone and Talkback will run so slowly that you'll think something is broken. Pick up a phone from a Chinese vendor (perhaps one who's name involves adding to one) and you may find they've added scores of features that aren't accessible. Aim for a bigger vendor and maybe they've added some annoying quirks. I used to use the fingerprint gestures religiously until I got an s9+ and then they just decided they didn't want to work anymore.
Anyone looking to use an Android, beware of lower-powered handsets. Talkback is not kind to phones with poor performance. Honestly that lack of consistency is the biggest turnoff. Provided that it's running the latest version of iOS, an iPhone is an iPhone is an iPhone. Yes, Talkback is objectively worse than Voiceover but its biggest crux is that you can't just pick up any old Android and get the same experience. Oh, and Braille support is garbage. It can input and output well enough but you can forget about Brailling on the screen or having good battery life.
I'm using a stock Android phone (Xiaomi Mi A2). It runs quite fast because it's a stock Android phone. Android is much more flexible than iOS. Especially now with Android 10 and the new gesture navigation system it's faster in day-to-day use. Google implemented gestures similar to iPhone x and later models. Instead of swiping with one finger, you swipe with two fingers to perform a desired gesture. For example to go to the home screen, you swipe up with two fingers. It makes navigation a lot faster, rather than the three-button navigation system they were using for years in stock Android.
Excellent job in explaining ins and outs of Talk Back. I have been curious about Android but my 73 year old brain is not up to an immersion in such. After using Telesensory VersaBraille, Speech Plus calculator, IBM mag card ATU, JAWS for D O S, Braille N Speak, Jaws for Windows, Mac OS,and most recently, IOS, I just felt like I could not take on Android and Talk Back. You told me all I need to know. Thanks. Fred
This was an excellent and balanced post. I use an android pixel 3Xl for my job. I'm an accessibility tester so i need to be familiar with the commonly used platforms. Personally, I would not choose android for several reasons. I will describe them below.
Android Braille support is lousy. Every time I bring this up on a computer mailing list I use people personally attacked me as though Android was a religion. the fact that people slavishly defend Google is beyond me. Enabling Braille support on an Android device is difficult. The user needs to pair the device in the Android settings Bluetooth menu before they even get started using the display. Android doesn't give the user much time to enter a pin so it almost takes two people to set things up. One person types the pin code on the phone and the other types it on the Braille display. If the user is lucky enough to get their Braille display paired. Then they need to install BrailleBack from the google Play Store. Google controls what apps are made available to a specific Google account based on the Android device it detects when the user tries to download an app. If the user's particular phone or version of Android don't support the latest version of BrailleBack, then the user is out of luck. To even get BrailleBack the user needs to join a Google group which is a completely separate process. If the user succeeds at pairing a BlueTooth Braille display, installing BrailleBack, and enabling Braille support in the accessibility menu they may be able to read and write Braille. they will need to set their default keyboard to BrailleBack which also means the user can't easily switch from the onscreen keyboard to using their Braille display. If BrailleBack crashes which it frequently does the user will need to go to the settings menu and select a different keyboard. they can type onscreen or with a standard Bluetooth keyboard or both.
The implementation of Braille in the Android environment is a joke. Commands can't be customized and it is difficult for the user to navigate the entire screen. If the user scrolls the Braille display they may only be able to read the active window. The user cannot automatically turn pages with panning keys or buttons so reading a book is impossible. The BrailleBack command set is not standard. Using the spacebar with dots 1 thru 3 does not take the user to the top of whatever they were doing in an application but invokes the BrailleBack help mode. I can't remember how to exit BrailleBack help so I try not to accidentally use this feature. Google doesn't update BrailleBack very often so I don't expect good Braille support in the Android environment in my lifetime. I gave up using BrailleBack and now use a Bluetooth keyboard. this means I can't easily switch to a particular Bluetooth channel on my Braille display to use my Android phone. I have to make sure the BlueTooth keyboard is paired before I start entering text, and then when I don't understand what TalkBack is saying, I have to read character by character when I am reading complicated things like the builds and version numbers of the mobile apps I test. I can easily read this information in Braille when I test iOS apps. No such luck with Android.
I will stick with Apple. I know that if I get another Braille display it will be relatively easy to configure it and be up and running in no time. I also know I can call Apple Accessibility and actually speak with a human who can help me do diagnostics in real time. I also know that if VoiceOver crashes I can still get up and running again and my Braille display will work.
You put it much more eloquently than me. Braille support is one of the big reasons I want to switch to iOS. Going back to school for me meant getting back into Braille. I already knew it wasn't very good, but a lot of people said that about Talkback and I've made it work. Brailleback, however, is inexcusably terrible. Everything you said about it is still very much true. I tried hooking up my Focus 40 to my S9+ a few weeks ago. It was annoying and anything beyond basic Braille input and output was awful. Even input was messed up by the fact that you have to switch the default keyboard over. If you use Braille input on Android then you can kiss Gboard and its speech-to-text goodbye. Better hope your phone lets you switch keyboard inputs on the fly if you want to keep using it. The worst part is how unstable the app is. I constantly got notified about app crashes and excessive battery usage. By the end of the day my battery was dead. Normally I don't have to charge until into the night. To add insult to injury, there's no way to do Braille input by placing your fingers on the touchscreen like you can with an iPhone. At least, I couldn't find any way to do it.
I still think Android is a decent OS, even for Talkback users but You have to have a lot of knowledge and do research to not end up with the wrong phone. If you want Braille then look elsewhere because Android will give you a very bad time.
Thanks for your comments Jenna. Unfortunately, there is no Braille screen input option for android. I have tried using iOS Braille screen input with the phone in landscape mode. I have an iPhone 6S. I just can't get the hang of it. My fingers won't seem to calibrate. There are times Braille screen input would be useful when I don't have a Braille display handy. If there was a really small Braille display which would fit in my pocket and I wouldn't have to carry around a case I would love to know. I have the RefreshaBraille but the keys are hard to use, and plugging in the usb cable to charge it is a real challenge. It seems to me there used to be a product called the Easy Link which was really small but I don't know what happened to it. If anyone knows of a really small and reliable Braille display let me know.
For those who wish to ‘vent” about the changes, visit the link below. Official announcement in textual form, follows after it.
Hello members of the Eyes-Free Community,
We'd like to share some news about the next stage of the Eyes-Free Google Group. As this community continues to grow, we want it to remain as helpful for you as possible. A few months ago, we asked you how this group could serve you better. The vast majority of you (74%) said that you were most interested in product updates and announcements. Therefore, after a great deal of thought, we've decided to make this list announcement-only by the end of March 2020. After this change, you'll still receive announcements from Google, but you'll no longer be able to send messages.
We want to emphasize that we want to continue hearing from you. You will still be able to contact Google and give feedback on products and services in all of the following ways:
The Disability Support team is available via email, chat, phone, Be My Eyes, and ASL, Monday through Friday in multiple time zones and languages. Visit g.co/disabilitysupport to connect with a specialist on your preferred channel.
Most Google products have an option to send feedback (usually located in a Help menu). If you have feedback related to accessibility, please add #a11y to your feedback.
We monitor the Accessibility feedback form and pass on feedback to product teams.
If you'd like to give detailed feedback about Google’s products and features for blind and low vision users, consider applying to join the Trusted Tester program.
For product updates and announcements, follow us on Twitter (@googleaccess), our Google Blog, and our YouTube Playlist.
The Eyes-Free email group started before we had more structured channels to provide feedback to the Android team. Now that we have a fully staffed Disability Support team, a monitored feedback form, and an accessibility-focused Help Center (g.co/help/accessibility), we believe this email list will be most useful to everyone as an announcement-only channel.
Thank you for being part of this community and continuing to make Android better for everyone.
Thomas and the Google Disability Support team
The Commentary Screen reader makes the phone much more responsive. Moreover, it's much more customizable than Talkback. Talkback lags behind as far as features and responsiveness.
What versions of Android does Commentary work with? I have Android 8.10 on my phone. I cannot update further.
I'm using Android 10 and it works fine.
The Commentary screen reader for sure works on Android 8 and later. I have never tried it with prier versions myself.
Subject says it all. Where can you get it form? I cannot find it in the Play Store.
You have to download the .apk file and install it manually on your phone. Believe it or not, my Android phone is much more responsive with Commentary than my iPhone X with VoiceOver
there are lot of enhancements that the poste does not know about. Android 11 as its in public beta and talkback 9. if he reads the developer blog on accessibility hooks and frameworks . The poste will se multi jesture support in the accessibility frame work being worked on for android 11.even multi jesture support . So have accurate factts before commenting on x or y platform and placing the two different approach and attempts at accessibility into question.
also there is now braille keyboard support in talkback 8.2 and its working and alot of braile users who have both android an i os prefer that braille keyboard an some swear thta they can type much faster then on a touch keyboard.
Lol. Here the Android fanboys come! The post was accurate as of last year. Also, just because TalkBack now has multi-finger gestures, doesn't mean that all of its other problems are gone now. Its reliance on menus for actions, not using AI for anything, and general sluggishness on many types of phones, still make it inferior to VoiceOver. And before you say "well TalkBack doesn't need AI," remember, Google is the AI-first company. What does that say about its attention to TalkBack? And what does that say about Apple, who is now using AI to even make inaccessible interfaces at least somewhat usable? Pretty bad when Apple, who doesn't even focus on AI that seriously, leapfrogs Google every single time, at least in accessibility. Oh and VoiceOver has had multi-finger gestures since day one.
I agree on some parts here. Talkback improving is good, but how many people will actually get Android 11? Outside of Pixel phones, you're lucky to get 2 years of software updates which is pitiful compared to Apple who has already confirmed the iPhone 6s, released in 2015, will recieve iOS 14 later this year. Oh, and Pixels will only get 3 years of software updates. I'm currently rolling with a Galaxy s9+. Samsung updated it from Android 8 to Android 10, and no more. That's it. No more updates. My phone was released in 2018. If you frequent the blind community on reddit, I was that moron who posted the Talkback and Voiceover comparison a while back. I still mostly stand behind it, but then iOS13 happened and Voiceover pulled far ahead. Talkback is decent. You can use an Android phone successfully with no sight. I can attest to that personally, but Voiceover is, frankly, better. If you have a Braille display or want a smartwatch, Android simply becomes a non-option because of what a hot pile of garbage WearOS and Brailleback are. I also agree with the fact that you, until very recently, were forced to go high-end on Android phones. Many hardware vendors aren't viable because they don't give a damn about accessibility and sprinkle unlabeled buttons into their UI. Qualcomm's newer mid-range SOCs have made it easier to not spend as much money, but Talkback still runs just a bit slower on phones like the Pixel 3a compared to an Android flagship. Yes, iPhones are also quite expensive, but you can easily buy an older model for less money, or you can purchase the new SE which sports a top-end chip that's still smoking Android flagships.
I actually agree with most of your post. The only thing I will contest is the use of menus in Talkback. There's a box you can untick in the settings to switch over to radial menus. After a few hours of retraining, I was leagues faster with them. All you do is put your finger on the screen and move it around until you find the option you want, then simply lift up. No double tapping or swiping required... and uh, that's about it. I think most other Voiceover features are better. None of Talkback's advantages can trump the fact that I can just go on a website and get support and app listings for an iPhone. I think Talkback users have a google group, or something. I'm patiently waiting for Apple to release the iPhone 12 and Apple Watch Series 6 so I can finally switch over this fall.
So I've been a lurker for years, have used iOS since 2010, except for a brief disastrous experiment with a Galaxy s7, and recently jumped ship to Android again. Given my reliance on iOS for years and my last few days in Android land, I have a few thoughts that might be relevant.
First, voiceover is definitely easier and more streamlined. This is even more true after iOS 13 (more than anything I miss the two-finger swipe gestures I set up to navigate by headings) but the difference is nowhere near as vast as it was three years ago and easier isn't always more powerful or even more efficient. Having that status bar right at the top of your screen on iOS is nice, no doubt, and I can't deny checking your battery there is a couple seconds faster than doing it in the notification center on android. But with that slight speed deficit, which diminishes the more I learn where things are on the screen which seems a lot more necessary on Android that iOS I can quickly see messages I might've missed, complete venmo requests, reply to uber drivers on the way, turn on/off wifi or bluetooth, open my settings, etc. It puts the iOS control center and notifications to shame and, yes, it takes a tiny bit more time and flexibility to handle all that info all at once. I'm willing to make that trade, I'm still fast enough.
The other thing is I'm getting much more efficient with talkback now that I've started paying attention to where stuff is on my screen. iOS is great because it makes sure you can easily flick through the items on your screen and, hey, if you want to be a bit quicker you can just memorize where they are but there's really no need. I never really had the insentive to play the screen memorization game on iOS but, for example, whenever I have a video playing in the background on my Galaxy while I'm in another app (iOS will be there in a few months), I just know the control to dismiss or open the video is going to be in the bottom right corner of my screen. So I can have my youtube video going, text/browse the internet at the same time, and easily close the video when it's getting too distracting. That'd be a lot harder if I had to flick to find the control every time, and I think a lot of people switching over from iOS to android don't realize that kind of spatial awareness brings a ton more efficiency. Is it as simple as voiceover? Of course not, but sometimes you can do more with more complexity.
The last thing I want to point out is it's not all about the screen readers. Sure, if your screen reader isn't good enough that's a problem, but I switched back to Android because I'd rather have a good screen reader and great operating system than the other way round. Take google assistant. Talkback's braille input is, IMHO, not nearly as polished as iOS, but it's plenty good enough for me to type my commands to google assistant directly instead of having to speak them. I can't tell you how many times I've been frustrated because I had to talk to Siri in a place where I rather wouldn't, or else go digging in my apps and settings. I have my google defaulting to keyboard input so now I can press my assistant button, use the braille keyboard to write "turn off bluetooth", "text Dad [insert witty message here]," "wake me up at 8_000 tomorrow" "play Bad Guy by Billy Ilish on youtube" "put a dentist appointment for next Tuesday at noon in my calendar", all without having to say a word. Google, by the way, is smart enough to know not to talk to me when I do this, the answers are all on screen and easy to find directly now that I know where they show up. Voiceover is, by almost every metric, a superior screen reader. That doesn't mean talkback can't be good enough for a superior experience.
That spatial awareness is what I dislike about Android. Even on my phone, I struggle to focus on some elements, especially the smaller ones. Truthfully, I quite like Talkback. It's very competent and becomes very powerful when you switch over to radial context menus, but for me, it's my dissatisfaction with Google, Android hardware vendors, and the lack of support which has pushed me over.
I prefer Android. I used an iPhone SE for about a month (the OG SE, not the new one) and the way iOS handles some controls and functions seems bizarre and somewhat asinine to me. Why do I have to focus on the status bar to open control center? Why can't I navigate text as quickly? Why doesn't wifi and bluetooth actually turn off when I tell them to turn off? Why can't I just swipe with two fingers to move stuff around like on Android?
Then I go over to Android which does things the way I like, but I can't have a smartwatch. I can't have a Braille display, and if I have an accessibility question about a third party app, I best hope I can find an answer on reddit or a listserv somewhere. I open up Applevis, and it's all there: apps, bug reports, help topics, the works. I've come to value app support a lot more as of late. As much as iOS drives me crazy, one thing that I can say about it is that I feel far, far, far more confident when I enable the screen curtain on an iPhone than I do on an Android. I think Talkback will serve low-vision users much better, but Voiceover is great when you're blind or don't have enough functional sight.