GarageBand accessibility challenges in iOS

When I first got my 4th gen iPad a couple years ago, GB and VO seemed to get along really well... but with each new GB version and iOS update, that relationship has steadily declined, leaving us with an only partially accessibl GB now. I had a song idea I thought I'd try to quickly capture in GB today, but the experience was anything but quick. We're talkin' about as basic a project as they come, here -- 3 tracks for guitars, just recording my amp's speaker with the headset mic, and acoustic guitar and a vocal (also thru the built in mic) and a track of smart drums. Recording the tracks was easy, but editing was a nightmare, causing me to waste a couple hours on tasks that should only take minutes. After settling for a good-enough rough draft I put it away before getting even more frustrated.

Ok. Rant over. :) Here are some major pain points I encountered during today's excursion:

Tracks view:
• Drag and drop operations are fiddly and hard to precisely control
• Sometimes double tapping a region selects it, other times not. Other times still, a context menu sometimes pops up
• When using split or trim functions you must slide your finger around to find the tiny handle for the tool. Then you double tap, hold and drag to position the tool where you want to make the edit. Sometimes VO announces coordinates in bars / beats / ticks as you drag, but again, sometimes it doesn't. It is nearly impossible to set the tool's position with any kind of accuracy because it is very sluggish and doesn't keep up as you move your finger. It's these types of editing functions that were the most difficult, tedious and often yielded undesired results
• Hope you like the mixer section expanded, because once you expand it, I can't see any way to collapse it
• On several occasions I deleted what I thought to be regions of one track only to discover somehow I'd deleted regions from another track instead
• I suspect I'm forgetting some other track view bugs, but those are the biggies

Timeline:
• The mysterious vanishing Song Sections button! Sometimes it's there, sometimes it isn't, or at least not from a VO perspective. Usually occurs in track view and is remedied by switching to perform view. But, as with almost everything here, this behavior is sporadic and unpredictable sometimes

Touch instruments:
• As someone already mentioned, the "direct touch" roter option sometimes doesn't show up
• Sometimes when you touch the instrument's interface, you play an actual sound. Other times, VO gets confused. For example, when I have a drum kit open and I go to hit the snare, I sometimes get a snare hit and other times just get VO saying, "snare." This bug is a big deal because timing is crucial when trying to tap out a beat or melody line as the song plays
• VO shortcuts like two finger double tapping to start and stop recording sometimes just play a note on the instrument instead
• When trying to flick left and right to navigate the controls at the top of the app (undo, pause, play, settings, etc.) you again sometimes end up unintentionally interacting with the touch instrument
• Tracking of performance taps is sluggish with VO on, making it nearly impossible to record accurate touch instrument performances

Track settings dialog:
• Pan control value seems to change as you flick up and down, but there's no actual change of the panning of that track in the stereo field. Sometimes double tapping, holding and dragging left or right while on the pan setting allows you to actually change it, but not always

Input settings dialog (option to view this appears when using the audio recorder instrument)
• Whenever you switch input monitoring on, this also turns off automatic gain level. To be fair, I don't know if this bug is voiceover specific, or a bug that any user might encounter
• There's an option to enable a noise gate and a prompt telling you to use the slider to adjust the gate level, but I can find no such slider. I've tried flicking as well as sliding my finger around the screen, but to no avail

Undo / Redo:
• The undo history shown when you double tap and hold the undo button doesn't always match reality. It once said "undo split" but upon clicking it, it also deleted a recently added song section and reset all my song settings like key and metronome

Amps and stomp box effects:
While I didn't use any amp sims or effect pedals this time, these are some issues I've noticed fairly consistently throughout the years
• Hard to find the amp's control knobs. Sometimes VO just makes that clicking sound as though it doesn't recognize any valid control under your finger
• Parameter values of amp knobs (gain, EQ, reverb, etc) are not announced as you turn the knobs
• Cannot simply flick up and down on amp knobs to increase or decrease the value. Only double tapping, holding and dragging will change the parameter
• Stomp box effects seem to be completely inaccessible, not labeled correctly and unable to adjust any of their parameters

Well, that's about all I can think of right now, but some of those items represent some real big access challenges for voiceover users of GarageBand and I hope Apple will really consider fixing them in a future version. I browsed earlier posts about garage band before chiming in, and I didn't see any one post that captured all of the issues in one list as I have tried to do here. I will also send a copy of this list to Apple's accessibility team so they have some specifics to work from. Please let me know if I am leaving out any other big ones.

Forum: 

#1 Hello?

Is this thing on? lol. I can't be the only blind guy that uses GarageBand to record music. I am interested in hearing others' experiences, or if there are additional bugs I should add to this list before I send it to Apple. Thanks

#2 Getting Help with Garage Band

If you would like help with Garage Band, you might want to join the new midimag DL. This is a forum for blind musicians to share tips, suggestions, and other help. The folks there are very friendly and knowledgeable about all aspects of music, audio productions, playing, and just enjoying music.

The list has been in existence for many years but just recently moved. You can become a member of the new list by sending an e-mail to:

midimag-ex-subscribe@mailman.midimag-xt.org

A number of folks on that list do use Garage Band and should be able to help you. Just send an introductory note introducing yourself and ask away!

Hope that helps.

Good luck.

--Pete

#3 Thanks Peter

I appreciate the info and will check into that group. The goal of this post though is to report specific bugs with GB with VO. I don't believe in workarounds or compromises -- I believe if a program doesn't work properly with VO the developer has an obligation to resolve those accessibility issues -- especially when that developer is Apple. If you have any additional VO issues in GB that I didn't cover here, feel free to let me know. Thanks again

#4 RE: The Struggle is Real

Hello, I am a tutor based in Leeds and run a GarageBand course. I stumbled across this site for the first time last night and it's great to find I'm not the first person to find these bugs an issue!

I have one visually impaired student and together we have stumbled across some of the problems you've mentioned here Joe. We are working on a iPhone 6.

To add to the list here are some of the other things, perhaps not bugs but issues we've found. If you or anyone else has found a way of doing this that I haven't thought of yet please do say.

Loops
We have created multi track projects with multiple layers of guitar, vocal and usually a drum loop. For the loop to fit in the project we have to first work out exactly the length of the song adjust under the song sections tab. We found using just one section labelled A to be the best way. Controlling the loop or having it start at the first chorus for example is very difficult as any sort of editing is very hard with VO. It is also hard to move the loop left or right once it's in place.

Scrolling
This has been the biggest one for us so far. The phone can handle I believe 12 tracks of audio and we are looking to use at least 8 with our most recent project. Unfortunately when you get to 4 tracks with VO on you can't scroll any further though the mixer. You reach the final track i.e. the one lowest on the screen and can't keep scrolling down to see the other tracks that have been created. I have to take VO off and help scroll down to see the other available tracks. It is then hard to scroll back up again.

This scrolling issue is also a problem on the My Songs screen. We have over 15 projects saved on the phone but can only scroll though the top 6. Again I have to take VO off and find the other projects which is something my student finds impossible to do on his own. Saying this, in the last 5 mins I've discovered the 3 finger swipe works on my iPad to fix this although I will have to check with him if it's the same on his phone.

This also is an issue with in the guitar amp feature which I will mention moire about in a second. We have been using the iRig to record electric guitar and change the sound via the different amps. When selecting the various amps you can only access the first page of each category of amps. The VO prevents you from accessing the second page.

Guitar amp and iRig.
The iRig we use comes with its own emulating app which you can externally select within the guitar amp in GB. Unfortunately we found this a little unstable and kept crashing so we stopped using it. GB comes with a huge amount of guitar amp choices which are very impressive. The problem we found here is that VO labels each dial on the amp as 'button'. Fortunately they are the same parameters for amp so we could make a note of the order and work it out from them. Labelling would be a huge help. The stop box emulators we would love to have another look at but on first inspection look very hard to operate maybe even impossible with VO on.

#5 Hi Will

That's interesting about unlabeled controls on the amp models. I have the latest version of GarageBand for iOS and all the dials on the amplifiers are clearly labeled, but I do remember something like you described in an older version. Perhaps you guys want to make sure you have the latest version of GarageBand. As for the scrolling issues, I am able to scroll through all those areas you described by doing a three finger swipe. In the track view, three finger swiping up or down will allow you to see additional tracks in your project, while three finger swiping left or right allows you to move through the song in track view. those same gestures work within the various menus of GarageBand, so you can view additional pages of amps, presets, settings and so on. Let me know if that works for you

#6 New Goal

Hi Joe,

Thanks for your reply. We now have latest version and all working well! The now labelled playback head is really useful and we are able to start from a point during song which makes vocal overdubs much easier.

We have a new challage:

My student finds having one loop play throughout the piece monotonous and would like to adjust the lengths of loops to mark different musical sections. The voice over for the left and right locator is glitchy and doesn't read out bar and beat making positioning impossible. It does however look to be within reach soon!

#7 Will: Track view

Hey Will,

I agree. Working with audio regions in the track view is nearly impossible with VO. On Friday I sent Apple Accessibility a bug report listing all VoiceOver bugs I encounter in the latest GarageBand version, and track editing features were definitely a focus.

Are you guys using song sections for each part, verse, chorus, bridge, etc. or are you recording the whole song as one section? If you make a new section for each part, you can use different loops in each section and the loop length should automatically adjust to the length of the section.

#8 Track View

Hi Joe,

Thanks for your message, I havnt looked at song sections yet as we found it slightly tricky in the last version, the new version looks like it could be manageable though! Thanks for the tip. I will have another think about any other issues we've been having.

#9 GB barely usable to me.

Hi!
I'm working with the latest version of GB on an iPad pro, and I find it, sadly, barely usable. It seems to me if you have some vision, or visual assistance, you're better off than a totally blind person using this app. Mind you, that is my opinion, and I am certain I could be proven wrong, but I spent a good hour or so trying to figure out some things only to wind up disappointed and frustrated.

Specifically, I wanted to create seperate tracks with different loops and try to merge it all together.

#10 Loops: bug or incompetence

Hi Everyone,

Alan W: I'm a music tech teacher based in Leeds and am currently working with a blind student on the latest version of garage band on an iPhone 6 which has a very similar layout to the iPad layout so I can certainly see your frustration. It is however a huge improvement on the last versions that were designed to work with voice over and it's now reach a point where it is certainly possible for a blind person to multi track a song and add loops with multiple sections. It has taken us a good few few months with both of us working together to get to this point though. You may find working with a teacher really beneficial to help you get round the first tough few steps which I think in your case maybe:
Adding tracks (this is found at the bottom of the screen and therefore the last option when scrolling through the options in tracks few) and song sections, this allows creation of different sections such as verse and chorus which allow you to drag on loops into these different areas.

The main reason for this post though: Has anyone else had trouble navigating the loops with VO on. I've tried on several devices and when scrolling through the list of loops with the new version of GB I can't seem to get beyond the first 5 or 6 loops. I've tried turning VO off and manually scrolling down the list but when VO turned back on the selector jumps straight back to the top. Am I missing something obvious or is this a guenuin bug??

Thanks.

#11 Latest GB iOS version a turn for the worse for VO users

Hey everyone,
Each time a new version of GarageBand for iOS is availble, I hope perhaps they've finally took all our feedback into account and significantly improved its functionality with VoiceOver... and sadly, I'm consistently disappointed. This latest version is the worst offender yet, not only not fixing past issues but actually making the app almost impossible to use now with VoiceOver. I don't know what else to do. We've voiced our challenges here. We have notified Apple Accessibility about the many bugs. I even sent them a very clear, detailed outline of all bugs I was aware of. I get the usual cordial "thank you for your feedback" responses but nothing seems to be getting worked on. I saw that an AppleViz user has started a petition because of similar frustrations with the Mac version of GB. I wonder if we should do the same for the iOS version? Part of my frustration is, it seems only a small handful of folks on this board use or care about GB, making it very hard to get any real steam behind an effort to get Apple's attention. Perhaps this is the plight of being a blind recording hobbyist, lol. I'm in a small subgroup of an even smaller subgroup.

#12 GB on ios.

I've played around with GB on ios, just for a hobby primarily. I have to say I do find the app extraordinarily awkward with VO, and I do believe the current version represents a retrograde step backwards again. I'm by no means an expert with it, but the fundamental design, responsiveness, layout and UI concept, could do with major attention.

#13 Even more basic access

Hello all:

I downloaded the latest update to my iPhone SE. The main reason is that Apple added Alchemy instruments to GB. I can't access them. In fact, I'm stuck on the drum page of the app. I have GB on my iPad, but haven't updated it there, as I'm currently using it with an iRig Pro keyboard to play bass along with my regular synthesizer in a Worship setting. I'd really like to upgrade, but am afraid I will get that messed up as well. Thanks Joe for this thread. I've been following it.

Lou

#14 Don't upgrade

Hey Lou,
It sounds like you rely on an older version of GarageBand for your worship performances so I would not touch that if I were you. As you found on your iPhone, things only get worse if you upgrade. If you haven't done so already, please send a specific and detailed description of your garage band problems to Apple accessibility at accessibility@apple.com

#15 Crashing as well.

I've also found that this latest version seems to crash rather frequently, and in addition, appears unresponsive when double tapping buttons on multiple occasions, the more sounds button, for example. I've now decided to delete it, as it is so confusing and apparently flaky.

#16 2.2.1 even worse.

Lots of new features like Alchemy synth. However, the interface has changed so much and is so difficult to use now. I don't know how much is because of the GB update or going from iOS 9 to 10.
I'm frustrated and unhappy. I hope to talk to a few people directly at Apple about this. Wish me luck.

Apple does a lot to help us so I hope we can convince them to make GB super friendly with Voiceover soon.

I wrote this before reading all the comments in this thread.

#17 Still crashing

I've been re-reading this thread and wondered whether anyone had an update on the most recent upgrade and its tendency to crash a lot?
With Will's help (I'm his student that he refers to above), I have got a great deal out of GB over the course of the past year and a bit; thanks, BTW Joe, for your tip on song sections - that was absolutely game-changing.
So its a massive frustration that the current version crashes so much; I also find the new way of presenting 'settings' rather unhelpful; for one thing, it seems to have made it very difficult to adjust echo and reverb as they now appear to be on a 0-1 scale rather than a percentage scale; and one swipe up takes it all the way to 1, whilst one swipe down reduces it right down to 0. In the absence of any good news, I'll post my concerns to accessibility@apple.com and see what they say.