The latest update to Yosemite, 10.10.2, is now live. It claims to fix wifi bugs and other assorted problems, including VoiceOver. With the exception of the two bugs encountered when typing in edit fields on webpages and the inability to play audio iMessages, I have to say that I've found nothing new or fixed in terms of VoiceOver, as much as I hate to write that. See the list of bugs at the bottom of this post. There is a note next to some of them, indicating if it is fixed or could not be tested/reproduced. Bugs with no notes have not been fixed.
Yosemite is Here!
The long-awaited update to Apple's Mac computers, OS X 10.10 Yosemite, has just arrived, bringing along a lot of changes and features. It is a completely free update, as usual. Here are just some of the goodies you can expect:
- Handoff for moving tasks between your iOS device and Mac
- a Notification Center that supports widgets, "today view", and other iOS-like features
- an updated Spotlight that can convert units, pull up business information, and more
- a feature that lets your iPhone become an internet hotspot for your Mac, with no configuration or even unlocking of your phone
- the ability to use your Mac as a speakerphone for your iPhone, and even initiate calls from the Mac
- plenty of other things as well.
Below, I'll go through the major changes VoiceOver users can expect, not just in terms of VoiceOver itself, but also any updates that will make apps look different. I will then warn you about the bugs you can expect; if you are planning to update, I recommend you read the bug list first, in case there is something you would rather not deal with. This is not an exhaustive list - very few of us on the AppleVis team are heavy Mac users, so our testing pool was smaller than for our iOS tests. I'm sure more information will roll in over the next few days, and I'll do my best to keep this article up to date as I find more things to add.
A note for braille users: I have no access to a braille display, so I have not tested braille under Yosemite at all. If you rely on braille even a little, please do NOT upgrade until you can get confirmation that braille will work properly. I am not saying braille is broken in Yosemite, I am saying I cannot confirm braille support either way. Things might be just fine, but I do not yet know for certain one way or the other.
For what it's worth, I have been running the public beta of Yosemite for the last three weeks and have found no show-stopping problems. What I am willing to put up with and what you are willing to put up with will, of course, be different, but I will say this: if you are okay with using the Alex voice, and you want the new features of Yosemite, I would tell you that you can upgrade. Again, though, please read the bug list before you do anything.
Arrow Key Navigation in Safari
Yes, you read that right: Safari now supports moving through webpages with the arrow keys! This includes the arrows by themselves; navigation commands to move by word, jump to the start or end of a line, and so on; and selection commands. Basically, if you use an arrow key command to move around text in Pages or Text Edit, chances are you can use that same command on a webpage in Yosemite. Remember to have Quick Nav off to take advantage of this feature.
If you are wondering how this will work in edit fields, since VoiceOver lacks anything analogous to a forms or browse mode, it is simple. Once VoiceOver is focused on an edit field, the arrow keys will move only within the field. To get out of it and continue arrowing through a page, simply use a VoiceOver command to move focus elsewhere (for instance, vo-right). That is not to say that VoiceOver will get "stuck" in an edit field as you are arrowing along. The way to get it out of a field is the same used to get it into one: use VoceOver navigation to set focus to the field.
iBooks is Now Accessible
When OS X 10.9 Mavericks introduced the iBooks app to the Mac, VoiceOver users were surprised to see that it was mostly inaccessible. The app was never improved, despite five minor OS updates in the last year. Yosemite addresses the iBooks problems, though: buttons are labeled, all the library views work, the table of contents can be used, and, in short, I've found no accessibility problems so far. However, I am not a heavy iBooks user, so I may have missed something.
Below is a list of smaller changes made in Yosemite.
- Most, if not all, of the Nuance Vocalizer voices will have updates. You may need to visit the App Store's Updates section to get them after Yosemite is installed.
- I have not personally confirmed this, but I have been told that Yosemite now supports Hebrew, both in braille and speech.
- in Safari, as you type an address or search into the search field, VoiceOver will read the title of the website it thinks you want instead of just the text it auto-fills. In short, the auto-complete in Safari's search field will be much more verbose than you may be used to. This is also true of typing into Spotlight.
- When you wake up your Mac, VoiceOver will say how many new notifications you have. If you have only one, it usually reads that one.
- When you go to the Notifications Center, note that you will be focused on the "Today" radio button. To find your notifications table, vo-right and select the "Notifications" radio button, then vo-right again to get to the table. Of course, select the "Today" radio button to see your Today View instead.
- Some Nuance Vocalizer pronunciation bugs appear to be fixed, such as the AT&T problem introduced in Mavericks.
- In the Mail app, threaded conversations will show all the senders of the messages in a thread as a list of first names, instead of the sender of one of the messages.
- In Mail, when you compose a new message, a button to "add contacts" appears after each contact entry field (To, CC, or BCC). If you tab through the fields of a new email, or vo-right arrow, expect to have to do a bit more key-pressing than you did in Mavericks.
- The button to show or hide headers when composing mail messages has moved to the toolbar of the composition window.
- In Contacts, the label of the search field changes to reflect the selected group, telling you what you will be searching without the need to go to the table of groups to see which one is in focus. The exception is the "All Contacts" group, which provides no label to the search field.
Below are the bugs we have found so far. First is the list of bugs present in Mavericks that remain unfixed in Yosemite, followed by the bugs new to Yosemite.
Old Bugs Still Present in Yosemite
- Commanders still cannot toggle audio ducking
- In Messages, you cannot up and down arrow through the table of conversations. You need to interact with it and then navigate with vo-up/down. In most OS X tables, you can simply up and down arrow with no VO keys, and interacting is unnecessary. In Messages, this is not the case, and pressing down arrow by itself (with Quick Nav off) will move you to the text field to write a new message.
- VoiceOver will sometimes still treat a press of up or down arrow like moving by character, even though Quick Nav is off. Toggling Quick Nav on and then off again fixes this, and I cannot reliably reproduce it, but it has been a problem since 10.8 or earlier. I have only ever seen it happen while editing text. Note that this is very rare, but it does happen.
- (untested in 10.10.2) There is still no way to close the Preview Pane in the Mail app without using a physical mouse or trackpad. In older versions, one could at least use one of the sliders to do this with VoiceOver, but that was broken in Mavericks and remains so in Yosemite. Even the AppleScript command to close the Preview Pane is still not working, to my knowledge.
- (fixed in 10.10.1) Activating the "Show in Finder" button in Safari's downloads window still causes Safari to go busy for a few seconds, then recover. Nothing else happens, certainly no switch to Finder to view the downloaded file. Safari simply stops being "busy" and the downloads window remains in focus.
- Using Nuance voices, with VoiceOver set to change pitch for capitals, speech still says "capital" before the capitalized letter in addition to raising the pitch.
- Pitch changes for capital letter, text field label, and other spoken notifications remains extreme. Using Alex, the change sounds relatively normal, but using Nuance voices,it is unnecessarily huge and has been so for years now.
- If you do a search with VO-f in a text field in Safari, your search string is never found, no matter what it is.
- When switching to an app where VoiceOver lands on a text field, you will always hear "empty text field" even if you have entered text and the field is thus not empty.
- If you highlight text and then cut it with cmd-x, VoiceOver reports "selection deleted". Deleting the selection should result in this announcement, but cutting it should not. VoiceOver should instead say "text cut" or a similar announcement.
Bugs New to Yosemite
- There is a lag that is often, but not always, present when using Nuance voices. It is most evident if you type some text, then delete character by character. Instead of responding immediately you will often hear the tone (if you have VoiceOver set to play a tone), then a pause, then the letter. It can also be seen when switching apps, or trying to do several commands in rapid succession. Note that some users report no such lag with Nuance voices, so your milage may vary.
- (seems fixed in 10.10.2, but perhaps I've just gotten used to it) Overall, even using the Alex voice, VoiceOver feels more sluggish than it did in Mountain Lion or Mavericks. There is a very small, but very noticeable, pause between when the user presses a key (such as arrowing through text or a list of files) and when the system begins speaking. This delay is not a show-stopper, but it is worse than I have seen it in a long time, and is quite irksome. Given how much more quickly and smoothly Macs operate in general than Windows, this delay is a big step backward compared to Windows screen readers.
- Randomly, the Preview app will fail to render a PDF in a way that VoiceOver can use. In other words, VoiceOver users will sometimes find themselves unable to read PDFs they formerly were able to read with no problem. There is so far no pattern (file size, machine, location, etc) and there are reports that even the same file can be "invisible" or just fine from one day to the next.
- If you start an Airdrop transfer from the Mac, there is no way to choose the target machine except to simulate a click. Instead of enter, or even vo-space, you must interact with the table of machines, find the one you want, interact with that row, then route the cursor there and simulate a click. Not only is this far more complex than it needs to be, it is something that many newer users will not know about, causing them to possibly conclude that Airdrop is not at all usable with VoiceOver.
- VoiceOver is incredibly laggy when you open and first try to browse the VoiceOver Utility. It calms down after a few minutes, but never goes away completely. No other app exhibits this behavior.
- (fixed in 10.10.2) In some edit fields on websites (and, I am told in the Mars Edit app), VoiceOver behaves oddly. The punctuation level is sometimes ignored, and no punctuation is spoken; lines are sometimes spoken twice when you move to one with up or down arrow; and Command or Option with the arrow keys are unreliable for moving around the text. Not all of these happen all the time, but at least one of them happens nearly always. Not all edit fields are affected. One that does exhibit the behavior is at www.applevis.com. Go there, sign into your account, click Submit Content, click Guide or Tutorial, and write a few lines of text in the Body field, then try to move around with the arrow keys. You should see the afore mentioned problems start happening immediately.
- In Mail, if you read an email from a VIP, it is marked as read (that is, the unread message count decreases). However, VoiceOver continues to identify it as unread.
- Occasionally, when you hit cmd-left bracket to go back a page in Safari, the page you land on is unusable. VoiceOver can navigate headings,if there are any, but they appear to be the headings of the page you just left, and the only thing you hear aside from headings is "text". For example, you might hear "heading level 3, text" and then "heading level 1, text". VO-arrows only land you on items that are spoken as "text". To fix this and get the page to be usable again, you must refresh the page.
- In Safari, go to a webpage where the Reader is available, and activate the Reader with command-shift-r. Move to the end, then vo-right to loop around to the top (you must have cursor wrapping enabled in VoiceOver's preferences to do this). As you move now, some elements will be spoken where sounds might normally play, depending on your settings (specifically links). More importantly, doing a vo-a to start reading will freeze Safari completely. All these problems are fixed if you command-tab away from, then back to, Safari. Even if you don't use cursor wrapping, if you activate the Reader before a page is done loading, when it loads, this bug can be triggered.
- Open Text Edit and write a few lines. Go to the Format Menu and choose "make vertical layout" (why horizontal is now default, I'm not sure). Try to navigate your text with arrow keys, and try selecting; in both cases, things fail very badly. Putting the orientation back to horizontal will cause everything to work normally again.
- (cannot always reproduce) Open an email message containing a phone number and navigate to it with regular arrow key (not Quick Nav) commands. Vo-shift-m and try to find the usual phone number options; more often than not, they are not there, because focus is stuck a few words back. Now use vo-arrows to put the VoiceOver cursor on the number, press vo-shift-m, and the expected options appear. Focus seems to not always track properly.
- In Messages, open the details of a thread with someone who is sharing their location. There does not seem to be a way, using VoiceOver, to determine the person's location. If you have labeled the place the person happens to be, the label is used, but otherwise there is nothing more than the city the person is in.
- Focus is sporadic and confusing in Spotlight results if you try to do any navigation other than up or down arrow. You might want to do this, for example, to call a business right from Spotlight. To be clear, things work fine for arrowing through results and pressing enter to open one, the problem occurs when you try to interact with one result. Also, if a local business is a Spotlight results, the Maps thumbnail is not labeled, it is just called "image".
- In System Preferences > General, the Dark Mode toggle checkbox is labeled simply "theme", and has no hint at all. It is not clear from the available information what this checkbox does.
- In Classic View in Mail, all messages are preceded by the words "Conversation, collapsed disclosure triangle". This includes single messages not part of a thread. Yes, "show related messages" is disabled. Note that this does not happen in Standard View. I marked this as moderate due to the unnecessary wording taking up time. It is bad enough to have to hear "disclosure triangle" on all threads, but worse to hear it unnecessarily.
- (reported fixed in 10.10.2, not personally tested) There appears to be no way to play back an audio message received in the Messages app. Recording works, but not playing.
- If you use Enter to open emails instead of using the Preview Panel, you'll find that messages don't automatically read all the time anymore. About half of the time, VoiceOver lands on a "message content scroll area", which holds the headers and message text. It then either reads nothing, or reads the text only after reading the sender's name followed by some clicks and the word "unknown" twice. If this happens, you also can't use regular arrow key navigation to get around the text, you must use VoiceOver commands. Finally, to even get to the text, you must interact with the scroll area. All this just to read or skim through a message gets to be very frustrating after a while.
- When arrowing through a webpage in Safari with Quick Nav off, VoiceOver does not honor the punctuation setting. It seems to read everything as though the level were set to Low, even when it is not.
- (appears fixed in 10.10.2, not completely certain) In Mail, focus on a message and press enter to open it. Interact with the message text, stop interacting once, then press vo-left arrow. You will find a group of four unlabeled buttons with no help tags. Oddly, if you don't follow the above steps, these buttons rarely, if ever, appear.
- (fixed in 10.10.1) In Text Edit, the Tag Editor text field, and some other areas, VoiceOver says "object replacement character" before certain items. In file tags, it says this just before any tag in the edit field; in Text Edit, it says it just before each item in the File > Open Recent menu.
- (untested on 10.10.2, as my Weather Widget appears blank) There are some unlabeled buttons when editing the Weather widget.
- In the Calculator widget in the Notification Center, the number buttons (0-9) are not labeled. All other buttons are, and simply typing the equation you want will work fine, but the buttons corresponding to the numbers should get labels.
- In Safari's new tab view (cmd-shift-backslash), there seems to be no way of activating a tab. VoiceOver reads them, but I cannot find a way to switch to one.
- In Safari, find a chunk of text, such as an article, and start reading through it with the arrow keys (with Quick Nav off). Press vo-shift-h,, then keep arrowing. Even though VoiceOver seems to move to the previous heading, the arrow keys keep moving you through the text you were reading. If you instead press vo-right just after vo-shift-h, you are moved to the element after the heading, as you'd expect.
- When reading a webpage with the arrow keys, VoiceOver sometimes gets stuck in one area and keeps looping through a small subset of the elements on the page. Pressing vo-left or vo-right a time or three clears it up.
- When reading a webpage with the arrow keys, headings and lists are not indicated in any way.
- When moving through a webpage by heading, VoiceOver reads the headings, but focus doesn't seem to follow. If I do a search on www.duckduckgo.com, for instance, I sometimes need to interact with a heading and click the link of a result, as focus remains at the top of the page even though I might have moved several headings down.
- When reading the conversation history in the Messages app with the arrow keys, VoiceOver reads past messages, but the message sender names are skipped. If using up or down arrows. Reading character by character will speak "new line" in place of the name.
- Some HTML areas can be read with the arrow keys, but some cannot. For instance, the App Store does not respond to arrow keys at all.
- In Mail, pressing right arrow on any message, whether it is a thread or not, will cause VoiceOver to say "row N expanded" (N is the index of the row). This should only happen when an actual thread is expanded, not on any message. Similarly, no matter what, pressing left arrow will result in "row N collapsed".
- (cannot reproduce, appears fixed, or perhaps a one-time oddity) If you have a login password set, VoiceOver may not come on when you press cmd-f5 at the login screen
- (happened in Beta 2, have not seen these dialogs since) In iCloud's preference pane (in System Preferences), I got two dialogs, one a warning that Notes could not be enabled and the other a prompt about merging local Calendar data with iCloud Calendars. In both cases, the image that was near the top was labeled "(null) iCloud Image".
- In Notification Center, pressing up or down arrow will not move you through the table of notifications in Notifications View unless you vo-right twice to focus on the table. Needless to say, since the table is not focused on when the Notification Center opens, it takes a couple extra keystrokes to look at your notifications. This isn't critical, but it would be great if VoiceOver focused on the table automatically, instead of the two radio buttons. Note that arrowing while not focused on a table works in other apps, such as Mail.
- In the Messages app, find a thread and activate the Details button. Be sure it is a thread with someone who is sharing their location. Find that person in the Participants Table, interact with the table and then that person's row, and you will find a button and a menu button. Neither is labeled, and both lack help tags.
- (fixed in 10.10.2) When you are typing into a text field on a webpage, every time you press the shift key in conjunction with another character, you will hear "new line, selected". This seems to have no bearing on what you are typing, so you can ignore it. Note that my typing echo is disabled.
- When reviewing text character by character by using left or right arrow in a webpage (with Quick Nav off), phonetics are not spoken. If you have VoiceOver set to append a phonetic pronunciation to letters, that setting is honored in all situations I've seen so far except for webpage text.
Overall, the major new features of Yosemite seem to be accessible, with the exceptions noted above. The additions of iBooks accessibility, arrow key navigation in webpages, and the other small fixes are wonderful to see. Arrowing through webpages will be especially good, as that has long been a sticking point for potential Mac users. Plus, it will make the lives of even long-time users much easier.
The lag in VoiceOver is definitely annoying, and most people will want to try their preferred voice after the update, but will probably switch back to Alex for a while. If you already use, or don't mind using, the Alex voice, I see no other reason you should not upgrade. My system has gotten much better when using the Ava voice, and the lag is now barely noticeable. Yes, there will be annoyances to deal with, but nothing large enough to make me suggest waiting, unless you rely on a Vocalizer voice or need to read a lot of PDFs. Again, please note that I have no way of testing braille display support under Yosemite; if you need braille, please wait until someone can run tests to ensure everything is working as expected. As of 10.10.2, I have not heard any reports about braille support being broken, but again, I'm not a braille user so can't say for sure.