Hi fellow AppleVis members.
Today I did something online I've never done before. I set up an online petition, which is available at petition.mosen.org. . I'm under no illusion. I realise these things don't usually change the world. At the same time, I think the precedent Apple has set with its recent deliberate exclusion of blind people in the watchOS public beta is alarming and that we should stand up and be counted on this. I appreciate that people feel strongly on both sides of this issue, but I hope you will consider the reasons why I think it is necessary that we respectfully express our concern about this. If you agree, please share the petition, and sign it yourself.
When encouraging developers to make their apps accessible, Apple puts it simply. "It's the right thing". And so it is.
As everyone reading this knows from our daily experience, Apple's commitment to accessibility has transformed lives. Each year sees more innovation which results in increased opportunity for disabled people.
However, where VoiceOver, the screen reader built into Apple products is concerned, in recent years serious quality control issues have created difficulty and frustration every time Apple issues a major operating system update. The amazing innovations keep coming from Apple every year and I am very grateful for that, but the quality control issues really are a problem that can affect our productivity, independence and even safety.
It is therefore critical that we can offer constructive feedback when it can make a difference. The earlier we can get our comments in, the higher the chances of there being time for Apple to fix bugs.
Sure, we love being on the cutting edge and trying the latest and greatest, but there is an element of service about beta testing too. We volunteer our time and take the risks inherent in testing beta software because we care and want to make Apple products better for the good of all.
When Apple released watchOS developer beta 4 without VoiceOver working, some people said it wasn’t so bad because it was only a developer beta, so they reluctantly accepted it. Despite a week having gone by when such an impactful bug could have been fixed, the first ever watchOS public beta was released without the ability for blind people to participate.
The implications of this are that any Apple Watch owner can give Apple feedback on watchOS 7, except blind people.
The more time that goes by, the less likely it is that any significant bugs can be fixed before release.
People point out that beta software has bugs, that’s why it’s beta. And of course, that’s true. Beta testing is a jungle out there dude. Things break, and sometimes they break very badly. But it’s a bit more nuanced than that. I’ve been a senior product manager at two IT companies. I know that sometimes a beta build is produced, and it goes to the quality assurance department for testing. If a bug is found that is so severe that it is considered a showstopper, the developers must fix the bug and a new build is spun and sent back to quality assurance for more testing. So, what kind of bugs are impactful like that in the context of the Apple Watch? If a software update broke the digital crown or rendered the touch screen unable to get input or output, that build would never leave Cupertino because it would break people’s devices.
So, there is clearly a list of things that make a software build too bad to release. I contend that VoiceOver not working at all should be in that category. If VoiceOver can’t function at all, you effectively brick the device for blind people and exclude them. It should be considered a build that fails the eligibility criteria for going out to beta. There may be all kinds of issues, VoiceOver may be rough and ready, but to knowingly release a build that renders the feature completely inoperable is in my view a step too far. It sends the signal that our bug reports aren’t important enough.
Because of the quality issues blind people have experienced with Apple in recent years, to many this feels like yet another slide down a slippery slope.
I respectfully urge Apple never again to release a beta build when they know it renders a device totally inaccessible to any group of disabled people. It undermines confidence and tarnishes Apple's brand.
An unequivocal, public commitment from Apple's Chief Executive on this matter will help restore confidence in the quality of Apple software. Ensuring we can all participate in building better products is a win for us and a win for Apple.
Thanks for reading, and I would be grateful for you signing and sharing. Petition.mosen.org.
And for those of you missing your Apple Watch, perhaps because you didn’t turn automatic updates off so you got updated to developer beta 4, don’t forget there’s a song by Chicago from the 1970s called “does anybody really know what time it is”. It’s on Apple Music.