Unwanted Presents: How Apple could Make Bugs Easier to Live With

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Much as I love VoiceOver and everything it has done for me, at times, it doesn't quite behave as I'd like it to. Those are the times when I think VoiceOver should be put on Santa's naughty list. Sometimes, it gets distracted, like the time when I was editing a document in pages on my iPad, and VoiceOver kept getting excited about the page thumbnails. Yes, VoiceOver, I'm aware that page thumbnails exist, and I'm sure they're the most awesomely amazing thing ever, but can we please stop jumping to them and stay focused on the document? I'll have to turn them off to remove the temptation. At other times, it has the opposite problem, getting so focused on one page element that it stubbornly refuses to move. It lies to me, telling me there's nothing else on the screen as I flick, but as soon as I start exploring the screen by touch, it suddenly decides to start telling the truth.

Among the gifts apple generously bestow upon us in their software updates each year, a few unwanted presents always creep in. Bugs. Alongside all the new features and added emoji, there's always something VoiceOver doesn't report, or a time when it talks too much, or a place where focus keeps jumping around, or something that's gone wrong with Braille.

What should Apple do about it? Many of you will say they should fix the bugs, do more testing, and pay more attention to accessibility. Thats true, but it's not the only thing they can do. However much testing they do, however much time and effort is spent on accessibility, even if they're making a list and checking it twice, some bugs will still creep in. But there's one thing Apple could do to make the bugs easier to live with: they could make it easy to downgrade to the previous software version, not just for iOS and iPad OS, but for other apps too.

When an app I rely on has a new update, there's always that bit of extra worry. Will everything still be accessible in the latest version? We are a small community, but we rely on our devices more than most. If your book reading app is broken, that has a much bigger impact on your ability to read if you can't pick up a paperback. If we could easily downgrade to previous software versions, we could try out new features with confidence, in the knowledge that the old version is still there if anything goes wrong.

If you are a developer reading this, you might think there isn't much you can do about this problem, apart from doing what you can to reduce the number and severity of bugs in your software. You can't make it possible for users to roll back to the previous version of your app unless Apple cooperates. You can help by writing release notes that give details of what new features have been added and which bugs have been fixed. That way, users can at least make a more informed decision about whether to update. Some developers write detailed release notes that explain exactly what's in the new update: which bugs have been fixed and what new features have been added. Others use something vague for every update, like "bug fixes and performance improvements". With vague release notes, I can't be sure that something hasn't been broken in the update. On the other hand, if you, as a developer, give details of specific accessibility issues and other bugs that have been fixed, I can be more confident that any issues have been resolved. If you explain what new features have been added, I can decide how much I care about having them.

My Apple devices have given me so many fantastic gifts, and Apple have done great work on accessibility, but there's always more that could be done to make sure new software updates are tested with the full range of accessibility features and in a variety of use cases. If we had an easy way to return those unwanted gifts, by rolling back to previous software versions, we could update with less worry.

May you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy this Christmas, and may your Apple devices be free of bugs.

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Submitted by Ornella on Wednesday, December 23, 2020

I wish if there was a like button on this post. I would like it a million times.

Submitted by roman on Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Hey! I enjoyed your post a lot. thanks for this. have a happy holiday and mary chrismus

Submitted by OldBear on Wednesday, December 23, 2020

I believe every member of the Voice Over related Apple accessibility team should be required to use their Apple products at all times without a monitor or with the screen curtain on, no exceptions. If they require the screen, they should have to get assistance outside the team. I don't know if they do that now--probably not-- but that would deal with the creeping VO bug issue.

That would certainly reduce the number of voiceOver bugs. I don’t think you could force them, though, because people will want to look at photos and such. They do have some blind people, who would be VoiceOver users anyway, working on the team, so you’d hope they’d catch more of the bugs, but I suppose different people have different setups and use cases, so what’s obvious to one person will be unnoticeable to someone else. That’s why the more people test with VO, the better. I at least think that, when developers who aren’t blind themselves are checking whether their apps are accessible with VoiceOver, they should test with screen curtain on so they can see if the app works well without the visuals.