Learn How To Visualise iOS Apps.

Last modified
Wednesday, July 17, 2019

In this guide, I'm going to explain how you can visualise the layout of iOS apps using voiceOver, or VO for short. even though you may be totally blind. This can be done quite easily, even without using a ScreenDots protector, or relying on a bluetooth keyboard for navigation purposes.

I understand that everyone is different, so if you do find these accessories essential, then by all means continue to use them. However, if you master the below techniques, I believe you'll be able to use your iDevice as efficiently as your sighted peers.

I am totally blind myself, and have had an iPhone since 2009. So I thought I'd share what I've found works best for me, in the hope that you might find it useful too.

What I'm about to teach you is also applicable on the iPad, but their may be slight differences, due to most apps having a split screen layout.

Everything will work the same on an iPod touch.

I'm going to assume that you are fairly proficient at navigating iOS by flicking and double tapping, so I will be as concise as I can.

You'll have probably noticed by now that each time you flick, VO plays sounds as well as reading what the VO cursor has moved to. These aren't just for decoration, they give you important information about where you are on the screen.

A good place to start practicing is by playing with the keypad tab of the phone app, since I presume most of you can visualise what a telephone keypad looks like.

Once you have opened the keypad, place your finger on the top left of the screen, just below the status bar. You should here blank phone number. Flick right through the keypad and listen to the sounds that VO makes, and ignore the de dunk sound that it made before it said "1" for the time being.

When it reads the numbers 1, 2 and 3, you should hear a click before it says each number. This indicates that the VO cursor has moved. Visually this is represented as a black box around the item that VO spoke. Flicking again will take you to the number 4. As well as hearing the regular click, you'll hear that de dunk sound again. What this means is that the item VO just read is on the next line down, but in this case, it won't be directly below the previous one, which was 3. On a Phone's keypad, you'll know that 4 is directly below 1, and the same applies here. This should give you an idea about how the VO cursor moves. If you start on the 1 and flick right, it will move as far to the right as it can, before wrapping down to the left again and make that sound to let you know. It will then move along that line until it gets to 6 and so on. If you keep flicking, you'll eventually find yourself on the Voicemail button, which is at the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

The cursor moves like this no matter which app you have loaded.

I really hope that made sense. :- )

When you understand those concepts, try to explore the keypad by moving your finger around on the screen.

Start by touching the blank number field and move your finger down to the 1, which was the first item VO moved to when you was flicking. Then, slide your finger around the keypad methodically. Notice that you also get a feel for the size of items you come across, as well as their position.

Once you've mastered the layout of the phone app, try your hand at looking at the layouts of other apps.

In apps such as Contacts or your Twitter client, not all content is displayed in the vertical list as there isn't enough room. To get at the rest of the info, you have to scroll the list. You do this by flicking up from the bottom with 3 fingers. Flicking down from the top does the reverse.

The reason why they're the wrong way round is because these lists behave like an actual scroll, or one of those blackboards on rollers where you'd grab the bottom and push up to see the next lot of content, or push down from the top to go back. When VO's turned off, these lists actually behave like wheels. When flicked, they have momentum, so they'll gradually slow to a stop, rather than stopping abruptly.

With VO on, Flicking through a list scrolls it for you, so you might want to use a bit of both methods to quickly go to where you want to get to.

As far as activating an item under your finger goes, there are two ways to accomplish this. you can either use the standard double tap, or you can use what Apple calls Split Tap.

I think split tapping is far more useful when you're familiar with an app's layout as you don't have to take your finger off the screen to activate something, which could possibly cause you to become disorientated.

To do a split tap, find an item you'd like to use with 1 finger, then while keeping that finger there, tap the screen anywhere with another finger once. You should hear the usual activate sound, and your action will have been carried out.

More often than not, if you leave your exploring finger on the screen, the focus will jump to where your finger is, as opposed to jumping to the top left, as is that usually happens when you double tap.

Think of it like using a mouse. Your finger you use to explore with is the mouse, and the one you use to activate things is similar to the left mouse button. A mouse doesn't move itself to the top left a window when you click it, neither does your finger.

No method of navigating iOS is better than the other. There are times when flicking may be better than exploring - it's all down to user preference.

At the time of writing, the only areas where you might want to use the flick and double tap exclusively is in the various stores. At the far left and right of the screen, you'll come across items that scroll the screen ridiculously fast, and you'll be on #100 in the chart before you know it, and it's a bit of a pain to get back to #1.

I hope you found this of some help. I appreciate that visualising where things are on a totally flat peace of glass with no tactile markings seems totally impossible, but it can be done with patience.


The article on this page has generously been submitted by a member of the AppleVis community. As AppleVis is a community-powered website, we make no guarantee, either express or implied, of the accuracy or completeness of the information.



Submitted by KD on Wednesday, November 28, 2012

This was well-written and easy to understand. Thanks!

Submitted by Kara Louise on Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In reply to by KD

I'm glad you managed to understand it. :) It took me quite a while to figure out how to describe the way the cursor moves until I thought of using the phone keypad as a practice example. I started off using the home screen, but there's no real world equivalent.

Submitted by splyt on Sunday, March 24, 2013

One important thing to know or notice is that most part of apps will follow a user interface standard. In this standard, most part of buttons used to back for a previous screen will be placed in the top-left part of the screen, right below the status bar. This makes it incredibly fast to go back without having to hunt where the button is. If you have unlabeled buttons and are in needs of going back to a screen the very first one to try is the one in that position. Buttons for editing something often stay near the top-left part of the screen. In the other hand, informative dialog boxes such as message boxes tend to have the ok button right in the center of the screen. So do websites .. instead of flicr hundreds of times to go through all menus try to tap near the center of the screen and chances are that the contents you want will be right there or next to it.

Submitted by Gina on Sunday, March 24, 2013

Thanks. that helped, given the fact that I only gotmy iPhone a week ago. I figured visualizing the apps and such was the proper more eficient thing to do.

Submitted by Monica Rose on Saturday, August 9, 2014

I wish I had had this article when I bought my 3GS phone in 2010. Nowadays, it seems there was never a time I couldn't use my phone. I laugh when I remember wanting to fling it and wanting to return the thing, but thankfully, I'm too stubborn to give up that easily. This article on visualizing the screen was fantastic. I am saving it to help friends who get the phone. Though I can help them, it gives them something to look at on their own. Such a great resource, Applevis!

Glad to hear you found my article helpful, even though I think it's due for a rewrite. I don't think I've explained some things as clearly as I could have done. Also iOS looks that bit different in version 7, and may change again in version 8.