Effects Of Gesture Patents On Accessible Devices.

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Hello all, I just wanted to raise a point that has been playing on my mind lately. With the recent round of patent lawsuits from the likes of Apple, Samsung and Motorola, it seems a very real propect that companies are going to struggle when it come to implementing accessiblitiy into their touchscreen devices. Take for example, Apples flick left or right gesture to move to the next element on the screen. Now not wishing to get into a apple vs android or whoever argument, the flick gesture does seem to be a very good way to move around screen elements on a touchscreen device. From what I understand, and I could be mistaken, Apple have patents on all their voiceover gestures and would not be happy letting another company use them. This surely would mean that a company wishing to make their device accessible would have to reinvent the wheel each time to come up with ways to interact with the touchscreen without falling foul of any of Apples gesture patents. Imagine if a company like Dell or HP had come up with the standard qwerty keyboard and patented it so no other computer manufactuer could use the qwerty keyboard design. Each computer would have a total different method of interacting with it, which would of course be very confusing and require the user learning many different methods depending on which machine they were using. Wouldn't it make more sense to have a agreed upon standard for touchscreen gestures for accessiblitiy? This would mean that a blind user could learn the 'basic' gestures for moving around and selecting or opening elements on one device and know that these gestures would work on any accessible device from any other company. This should also make it easier for companies to implent accessiblity into their devices as they would not have to waste alot of time on figuring out different ways to do the same thing. Now, I realise that agreeing on what gestures are the best for doing certain things is subjective but love or loathe Apple, you must acknowledge that they were the first company to implent accessiblity into a touchscreen device and so many blind users will have learnt and accepted apples voiceover gestures as the 'standard' method for using a touchscreen device. Not to say that if Android comes up with a way to do something on a touchscreen that it couldn't be added to the agreed gesture standard. I realise that the biggest issue here is getting the major players in the field, Apple and Google, to actually talk and see that restricting gestures to their own devices is not in the intrest of either the users or themselves. Touchscreens seem to be here to stay and so there will need to be a universal way for the visually impaired to use them. I would be very intrested to hear your opinions on this. Shaun.

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Submitted by Amir on Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team
Good points, Shaun. The very fact that such discussions can be heard among us -- the visually impaired community -- is good news for Apple and other companies as they can use feedback to further tweak their access model. Now let me add my thoughts to your opinions. You said: From what I understand, and I could be mistaken, Apple have patents on all their voiceover gestures and would not be happy letting another company use them. This surely would mean that a company wishing to make their device accessible would have to reinvent the wheel each time to come up with ways to interact with the touchscreen without falling foul of any of Apples gesture patents. Imagine if a company like Dell or HP had come up with the standard qwerty keyboard and patented it so no other computer manufactuer could use the qwerty keyboard design. //Like all companies which patent their innovations, Apple might have patented its VoiceOver gestures. However, since Android currently doesn't have a flicking mechanism doesn't mean it hasn't been implemented because Apple hasn't allowed them to do so. After all, patenting an innovation is something and allowing or barring others is something else. Has Google asked Apple for permission to use flicking and other gestures? No one knows, but given their sour enmity I think the answer is a resounding "no." Moreover, these companies have some dedicated but essential pattents which are, in effect, so essential that they should allow other companies to utilize them under fair and non-competitive circumstances. I'm refering to patents affecting 3G, 4G, switching radios, and so on. No one knows, but flicking might well be one of them. That's why if one of those companies had invented the keyboard, it couldn't have been called the exclusive property of that company. You said: Wouldn't it make more sense to have a agreed upon standard for touchscreen gestures for accessiblitiy? This would mean that a blind user could learn the 'basic' gestures for moving around and selecting or opening elements on one device and know that these gestures would work on any accessible device from any other company. This should also make it easier for companies to implent accessiblity into their devices as they would not have to waste alot of time on figuring out different ways to do the same thing. //True, but this is too good to be true. After all, such a thing has no precedent. I mean, for instance, you can't switch from Window-Eyes to JAWS and Vice versa without learning and re-learning a whole host of hot keys, concepts and weird keyboard-to-mouse names and ways of doing things. This is just Windows. Now add Hal and NVDA to the mix, add the Mac OS to the mix, consider Mac's VoiceOver, and you'll see we're, as we've been, thousands of miles away from such unified standards. On the other hand, though the idea of uniform standards is quite appealing, I think they're problematic on a different level. As these mobile operating systems differ from one another in various ways, there's nothing bad about their screen readers utilizing different ways of performing similar tasks. We're told that iOS and Android have their own distinct personality -- they are truly different, so why can't this be extended to their screen readers? Sure that doesn't mean flicking must remain the property of iOS to give it its distinct personality. Like you I can't imagine a touch screen phone or tablet devoid of such a great feature. What I'm saying is that there's nothing wrong with doing things differently on different platforms as long as they're efficient, intuitive and not time-consuming. If I want to switch from a platform to, say, iOS, I should accept the difficulties which might arise in the transition. The key point, IMHO, is selecting an OS which has a better and more efficient access model.

Submitted by Shaun Uk on Wednesday, April 4, 2012

In reply to by Amir

Thanks for the reply Amir, I have very little knowledge of how patents work and what knowledge I do have is from what little I've read on the various reports on the apple etc lawsuits. I was assuming that a patent on a gesture would prohibit anyother company from using the same gesture on their own device. It would be dissappointing to think that the bad blood between Apple and Google would prevent Google from asking Apple for permission to implement a solid feature like the flick gesture. I understand that a transistion to any other device / os will require a period of re-adjustment, even for those with sight, but I feel 'basic' low level gestures such as flick to move through elements and the 2 finger swipe up to read the whole screen should be a essential low level function of any touchscreen device. Is it the gestures you use with a device that gives it it's own feel or personality? Or is it the way the os is designed and reacts? I don't know. I'll have to think about that. :) Thanks for the reply, very informative and made me think again.

Submitted by Amir on Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

In reply to by Amir

You said:

Is it the gestures you use with a device that gives it it's own feel or personality? Or is it the way the os is designed and reacts?

Well, definitely the latter. However, the gestures can, under many circumstances, become part of the way an OS is designed. Of course, I was telling that all of these different gestures, or lack thereof, form the over-all experience of a user on a particular OS as opposed to others. So simply assuming that Apple's implementation of a certain feature acts as a barrier, IMO, doesn't form the whole picture.

Back in January 2010 Code Factory released Mobile Speak 4 with support for touchscreen devices. I didn't really pay much attention to the features or how they worked, because at the time I wanted no part of anything touchscreen. So my question is thus: how did Code Factory implament access to touchscreen devices? Did they use any gestures from VoiceOver on the iPhone? As far as the question of what makes one touchscreen device different from another...I think it would be the OS vs. how one interacts with it.

Submitted by Shersey on Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Good grief, it's a flicking motion with one finger! How stupid to patent it! That's just my opinion, but I really do think patenting a gesture is really stupid. If I can figure out how to explain why I think it's stupid, I'll write more later. It's just frustrating. What is the point Apple is trying to make here with their fifty-million patents? Sheesh. Shersey

Submitted by Graham Page on Thursday, April 5, 2012

Shaun I would agree but would take it further. these companies have been squabbling like little kids in the school ground. I'd like to be smug and blame it all on the americans and say how in the UK we rise above this but sadly I would be telling wapping lies if I were to suggest that. Was it not BT that tried to claim it invented the hyperlink? Accessibility is a casualty of these patent wars but so is more general inovation. Companies do need to protect their research. if a company has spent millions on research then why should another company be able to take that research and produce a product at a lower cost because this company did not have to do any of the research? On the other hand we need companies to be responsible and if I knew the answer I'd be a very rich man indeed. as a quick aside, this is the first comment I have replied to and was surprised to find that the subject line was not inserted automatically for me. I could not reply at all using the IPhone 3GS with IOS 5.1 and had to revert to the PC.

Some good points there Graham, I think I remember the BT / Hyperlink issue awhile back. I guess the thing we must remember is that companies are there to make a profit. Simple as that. With no profit there would be no products. I just listened to the Serotek Podcast 102 (dated 2nd April) on iblink radio, and this subject is touched upon briefly in the first article. Joe Stiencamp talks about how Apple are now trying to have talks with Samsung and other companies in regards to patents etc. Looks like they may be trying to build some bridges after the genius / madness of Steve Jobs. Have a quick listen if your interested. I can also recommend listening to the Steve Jobs autobiography for more insight into his feelings towards Google and other companies. The money invested in research and development arguement is a touch one to arue against. Why should one company spend the money only to have another company simply use the results without making any finacial contribution. Doesn't sound very fair to me either.

I had HTCTouch Pro and the touch screen support was pathetic. The screen was divided into four touch buttons that u had to touch in various combinations it truly was a waste of the screen and horrible to use.

I currently own an Android phone, and actually, the Code factory's take on the touch screen is quite similar to my Ipod Touch. Here's the difference. You flick down to move to the next element instead of right, and up to move to the previous element instead of left. Flicking left and right takes you several icons up or down on the screen. So, if you're in a contacts list for example, flicking right will bring you down about ten contacts in the list. They also have similar features such as double tapping the screen to open an app. So, there's some difference, but the flick gestures are still used to move through apps, though they're organized differently. I'm not sure if they would have had to get Apple's permission for this, since they used different gestures. Does Apple have a patent on flicking in general, or their specific flicking gestures for certain actions?