The following guide has been inspired by this episode of the Apfel-Fleger Podcast, a podcast in German for blind users of Apple products. All credit goes to Jürgen Fleger and his friend for discovering and presenting this little trick.
One thing that Braille Screen Input apps for Android, the likes of Soft Braille Keyboard or Advanced Braille Keyboard, seem to have mastered very well is the ability to write text and then simultaneously navigate and edit it without leaving the keyboard's interface. Under iOS, it seems, it is necessary to leave the BSI mode in order to find the desired granularity using the rotor, spot the places where corrections are necessary only to return to BSI once again to type whatever we wanted to in the first place. This sounds pretty tedious and I personally resort to making the corrections using the standard on-screen keyboard. It turns out, however, that there are gestures that allow for direct navigation and editing of the text written using Braille Screen Input and this tutorial serves to demonstrate how to use them. I haven't found this being mentioned anywhere else so I hope I am not reopening the same door again.
I would like to preface the following instructions by saying that I use my BSI in the screen-away mode on an iPhone 13 mini running iOS 15.6.1. Your mileage may vary, especially in terms of gestures you might be performing to trigger the actions described below.
In order to enter the mode in which the gestures described below will be working, hold down any of the dots on the screen the same way when entering the exploration mode. Upon hearing the first beep, try performing one of the following gestures while still holding your finger on the screen:
- A vertical swipe up or down with two fingers - switches between navigation units: characters, words and lines;
- a horizontal swipe with two fingers - moves back or ahead in the written text;
- A horizontal swipe with three fingers - selects or removes the selection of the text while navigating through it.
Once we have reached a place where we want to make our edits, we can use the usual gestures to delete text by character or word, we can also start writing right where we are with the cursor or use actions such as copying, cutting or pasting for which we need to define the gestures ourselves in the Commands -- Braille Screen Input section of the VoiceOver settings. Four-finger swipes in all directions are unused by default and sound like a good starting point.
A couple of things of note:
- It might happen that the gestures will not start working the first time we try, even though we heard the first beep. They should work as expected on the next try.
- When writing in contracted Braille, it is necessary to finish writing the current word so that the back-translation buffer is freed up, otherwise the cursor will still remain at our current spot and the word being currently written will not count as one anyway.
- The direction of navigation and selection is opposite to what could be logically assumed i.e. moving to the right moves the cursor backwards, while moving to the left navigates ahead.
Again, I did not seem to find this method being widely discussed, perhaps it is undocumented or did not use to work reliably when it was first introduced. It does certainly seem to be working fine at the moment and I hope I could help you discover it through this tutorial. I believe it was also on this forum that somebody discovered a while ago that if you hold down a finger anywhere on the screen and start moving with two and three fingers, some text navigation and selection is taking place. It intrigued me back then and I would like to congratulate that person on their attentiveness - you were very close indeed! I'm not sure whether these gestures were also intended to work globally or just within the BSI but I'm glad to see they work flawlessly with the latter.
I cant get this to work
Running the latest version of ios 16, ios16.02, i've tried this, but cant get it to work. I hold one finger on the screen, and when the first beep sounds, I release the finger. Braille screen input announces the dot released, but when I try some of the gestures mentioned, I.e: swiping horizontally with two fingers, it just continues to perform the default actions,,, delete a word, or putting a newline. Is there something i'm missing?
Edit: nevermind, I figured it out. You have to keep holding one finger on the screen for the gestures to work.
Correction regarding the usage instructions
I have just corrected the instructions to reflect the fact that the finger needs to be held down for the gestures to work. Apologies for not making it clearer.
This Is An Awesome
Thank you so much for putting this up. I
almost always use bsi and this is making it even more useful to me. This editing mode is working perfectly for me. I wonder how these gestures were figured out in the first place? I've never seen a reference to them anywhere before. It is so nice not to have to worry about changing my rotor to edit what I write.
Thanks so much for posting, I've never seen this mentioned anywhere. I just tried it and it worked well for me!
I cannot get this to work even after instructions
First of all, thank you for this amazing discovery!
Not sure if a demo or more precise instructions are needed. I'm just not able to get this to work.
After I hold down any of the dots, I wait for the first beep, and then try to slide two fingers on the screen to perform some of the mentioned gestures. However, VO continues to beep and, eventually, enters the exploration mode. So, when should I perform these gestures?
Also, should we be hearing any announcements as the gestures are performed?
After The First Beep
As soon as you hear the first beep, you can start using the editing gestures. Make sure you are still holding down the finger that you used to get into dot exploration. So if you are doing a 2-finger swipe up or down to cycle between characters, words, and lines, you should actually have 3 fingers on the screen. VoiceOver will announce characters, words, or lines. It will also tell you if you are selecting or unselecting text, and if you are just moving the cursor, that will be announced as well.
From what little testing I've done, using tabletop mode swiping forward or to the right takes you forward, and swiping left will take you back.
If you know what you're editing this works fine.
However, I think you would still need to use the rotor if you needed to use the spellchecker.
It will of course say misspelled when encountering a word that's misspelled, but you would still need the rotor to use the built in spell checker.
I could be wrong, but like I said, I only played with it briefly.
Great feature, still prefer MBraille
Thanks for posting this. Handy feature to have. I still find MBraille to be a better option for my needs. I like being able to quickly fire off texts and google searchs with the dot commands,. A key feature still missing from braille screen input is a gesture to read the entire edit field. All that being said, I think I will be more likely to use BSI now that I am aware of the editing gestures.
Thanks, it works for me now!
Guess I was missing the "you should actually have three fingers on the screen" part. Thanks for that!
I have to say though that it's quite a dexterity exercise if you have to do it for long. I wish there was a way not to hold that one finger on the screen at all times! :)
Spellchecking and commands
Thank you for the great feedback, I'm glad it works for all of you.
Regarding spellchecking: it is possible to move through suggestions for the currently selected word by performing a horizontal swipe with one finger and the gesture can be customized too.
Using commands to perform all sorts of interesting actions is also possible to some extent. I use the "Type to Siri" feature for that. Of course, speaking to Siri is probably more convenient in most cases but I switched to typing so that it understands my queries even if the names I'm typing come from languages Siri doesn't yet support. I wish there was a faster way to toggle between the two modes, though. "Type to Siri" can be found in Siri's settings.
For those worried about dexterity, it's possible to do this using both hands and that really makes it a breeze. So, by way of illustration, use one finger on the left hand to activate the gestures. You can then keep that finger held down on the screen and use the right hand to perform all the swipe gestures. that's how I did it. I agree it's trickeier if you try and use one hand to hold down and to perform gestures - much trickier in fact. What a fine discovery this is, though. I'm very pleased.
New discovery regarding this feature
I have just discovered that these gestures work everywhere, just go to edit field, type, then you can use these gestures, you do not need to use braille screen input.
This feature needs to be added to the manual
This feature is great. It must be added to the BSI guide in applevis and made available even years later.
I am so glad these features were discovered. I'd love to know how these gestures were discovered. I also wonder why these features aren't documented? I have read the VoiceOver section of the iOS 16 manual and these features and gestures are not referenced at all.
An Issue I Encountered
Thank you so much for this great and very informative post. I came searching for it after having her the description given about this on the most recent episode of mosen At Large.
One comment I would like to make though. When I tried it, initially, I found that the gestures worked with the exception of moving the cursor. So, to clarify, after pressing and holding the dot with my left finger, Voiceover would speak each element as I swiped left/right with two fingers, but when I released the finger on my left hand, the cursor had not moved. I tried this on two different phones with the same result. as I don’t give up easily, I played around with it a bit and discovered that after swiping down with three fingers, when not in explore mode (to toggle the status of the screen orientation), and then swiping down again with three fingers to set the screen orientation status back to my preferred mode, resolved my issue. I am adding this here, should anyone else encounter the same problem I did when I first tried this. Simply toggle the unlocking and locking of the screen orientation and then the cursor should move in explore mode exactly as described. Hopefully this helps someone.