A Review of the O6, a Media/VoiceOver Controller for iOS
What if I told you that you could have a tiny device you can use to control the music, audio books, or podcasts on your iPhone or iPad? Nice, right? No fumbling with on-screen buttons, no limited AirPod controls, no missing the rewind function on your Aftershokz headset. But what if I then told you that this same device can be a remote control for VoiceOver itself? That, without having to touch your screen, you can open and navigate apps, double tap, change the volume, even take a picture? Well, a new product says it can do all of this. It's called the O6, made by Fingertips Labs , and I've been using it for the last few weeks. I'm here to tell you what it is, what it isn't, and if you might benefit from getting your very own. Once you’re done with this review, or maybe even before you keep reading here, have a look at the O6 manual.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will say this up front. I was contacted by the makers of the O6, specifically a co-founder of Fingertips Labs named P.K. I was provided a free unit with one accessory (a belt clip) to test. This is a $118 USD value. However, the company stressed to me that they want honest feedback, not a promotional article. Though I was given a free review unit, I can assure you that this did not influence my evaluation in any way.
Exactly What Is It?
The O6 is a small, round device with just three controls on it. It is meant to offer basic media control or, in a different mode, basic VoiceOver gesture replacement. It connects via bluetooth, and is therefore easily kept in a pocket, on a table, clipped to a belt, or otherwise moved around. More than that, though, the O6 companion app is designed to give you easy, remote access to popular services. With the app and an O6 unit in hand, you can check email, Twitter, articles saved to Pocket, and other feeds without touching your iPhone or iPad. Keep reading, and this will make more sense.
Physically, the O6 is a round dial set on a non-moving, thin base the same diameter as the dial. Put another way, think of two small disks stacked atop one another; the top disk can rotate freely while the bottom disk stays fixed. In the center of the rotating dial is a button, and the whole dial can also be pressed in to act as a second button. Two buttons and a dial are the only controls the O6 offers. The vertical edges of the dial are ridged for easy grip, while the top face of the O6 is almost entirely covered in soft, grippy rubber. A rubber ring tactually separates the center button from the dial around it. The center button is also textured differently than the rubber on the face of the dial.
The bottom of the O6 is, as I said, fixed. It houses the guts of the unit—bluetooth, processor, battery, and so on. On the face opposite the dial are small ridges used for mounting. The O6 is meant to be used on its own, or connected to one of two accessories, with more to come in the future. For instance, you can quickly put the unit into a belt clip attachment, then clip anywhere you like for easy access. The way this mounting surface is designed is clever, making it obvious how to make the connection and nearly impossible to connect the O6 incorrectly.
For those interested, the colors are understated and simple. There’s no high contrast here, but there doesn’t really need to be. The sides and a ring around the edge of the dial are silver, the dial itself is dark gray, and the center button is light gray. The back (where the O6 connects to attachments) is the same gray as the center button.
The O6 is small, but is very well made. It is constructed of aluminum, with pleasant-feeling rubber on top and precise ridging on the sides of the dial. It is also impressively small, considering the technology and long-lasting battery packed into it. Even the charging puck is high-quality, with a solid feel and rubber on the bottom to hold it in place. Like the O6, the puck is quite small.
Yes, I made an entire section just for the product packaging. I know it’s an odd thing to do, but it should tell you just how impressed I was with how this device arrived that I devoted this much space to the topic. In short, anyone who receives one of these devices is going to enjoy unpacking it. Here’s why.
The O6 comes in a sturdy box, which is no surprise. What did surprise me, though, is that this box has a top flap you can open and close. When open, you have access to what’s in the box, of course. When closed, though, the flap is held in place by a magnet, making it solid when closed but also very easy to open. The O6, its charging puck, its print manual, and other bits are all snugged in the box in layers. Each layer is easily accessed thanks to the small flap placed on the paper or plastic that holds the layer in place. This tab is located on the same side as the magnet, opposite the hinge of the main flap. You need only pull the tab to free what’s inside and reveal the next layer.
It’s a bit hard to describe the setup to someone who hasn’t seen or felt it before. Suffice it to say that, if you get an O6, unpacking it will be a breeze. Not even Apple’s packaging is this easy to get into while still being secure and well made. This is no accident, either; when I commented on this to a co-founder of Fingertips Labs, I was told that packaging was an area on which the company had spent a lot of time and effort. That definitely shows. It also contributes to the overall impression of quality I get from the O6.
One note on mounting accessories: my belt clip arrived in the same mailing box as the O6 box. The clip is not packaged in anything like the same way, instead coming sealed in a regular cardboard and plastic container meant to hang on a store shelf. When I pointed out the huge disparity between this and the superb packaging of the main unit. I was told that the company had to package the accessories in this way due to requirements from physical stores, for security reasons. That’s fair enough, but it was jarring to find a $19 accessory enclosed in such a basic package after I’d just experienced possibly the best packaging job in my life.
How It Works
The O6 connects to your iOS device as a keyboard, despite its lack of keys. As you use it, it simulates keys to control media playback or VoiceOver. Pressing the center button, for example, can be play/pause or simulate a double tap with VoiceOver enabled.
The O6 can work in one of two modes: basic, to control playback, and advanced, to simulate some VoiceOver gestures. You can quickly switch modes, letting you move from VO control to media playback and back with a single command. Note that for this to work, you must start from Advanced Mode, rather than trying to go from Basic to Advanced. VO users will want to leave Advanced Mode enabled all the time, though, so this isn’t a concern for me.
In either mode, combinations of pressing and rotating are all you need. For instance, you can press the dial once to simulate pressing the Home button, or press the center button twice to perform a magic tap, or rotate the dial while pressing it in to control the VoiceOver rotor. Fingertips Labs is always coming up with improvements to the commands available, but the basic idea remains the same: pressing a set number of times, holding a button in for long enough, and rotating the dial after some kind of button press or with no press at all are the ways The O6 works. There is a surprising number of options when you put three controls, one to three presses, holds, and press and hold actions together. The challenge is remembering them all! I’ll say this, too: if you plan to use the O6 one-handed, get a belt clip. It makes life a lot easier.
Origin of the Idea
It may seem odd, at first, to propose a small, round device with just three controls as an alternative to touching your screen. Why three controls? What’s the point? I talked to P.K. (co-founder of Fingertips Labs) about this, and he told me the whole story.
P.K. grew up in India, and watched blind students struggle with the use of iOS devices. Apple products are very accessible, and are thus highly desirable in India as they are in most countries. The problem is that they are also very expensive—much more so than in the United States—and are therefore even more precious. If one breaks, it’s not at all easy to repair or replace it. This wouldn’t be quite so bad if, at least at the time P.K. was there, India’s schools lacked available teachers for visually impaired students. There wasn’t much in the way of explanations for VoiceOver gestures, iOS concepts, and other keys to successfully using these products. Couple fragile, expensive devices with lack of instruction and you have potential problems.
When P.K. moved to America, he went to work for General Motors. Much of what he did involved product design and testing, and he noticed a common problem: distracted driving. No matter what, people were looking at texts, checking Twitter, and otherwise using their phones when they shouldn’t have been.
In 2012, P.K. had an idea that could, he hoped, address both of these problems. Along with a friend who stepped away from the medical devices company he’d founded, P.K. began designing and researching. After countless prototypes, tests, hours of research, and dollars, the O6 was ready. It offers an easier, more intuitive approach to VoiceOver control for students, and it can, when combined with its iOS app, give drivers the information they want to look at in audio form. There’s even a steering wheel mount so drivers can put the O6 in easy reach and operate it with one hand while behind the wheel.
During my initial review time, I didn’t have access to the new firmware being developed. If you’ve read this review before I updated it on August 15, 2017, please read this section and my conclusions again. A lot has changed for the better: increased battery life, more controls that are easier to use, easy mode switching, and more.
The O6 is still not something I use every day, given my use of headphones with playback controls and a braille display. However, it has some compelling use cases. For instance, I found it a nice change to leave my phone on my desk, lean back, and simply click a dial to move through tweets or emails. The mechanics are different, and more comfortable. Rather than my hand hovering over the screen, my finger making the same motion over and over, I can rotate the dial on my O6 while leaving my hands in whatever position I want. This can be done with one hand if the O6 is in the belt clip, but I found it harder to do one-handed with no clip attached. I read saved articles at night, while my phone charges. Rather than reaching awkwardly to my bedside table to issue commands, I could control the phone with the O6 while lying comfortably. I can swipe right through an article, or use the rotor to delete it. I can even switch apps, either by going to the home screen or using the app switcher. You can do a surprising amount with just one-finger swipes, the rotor, and a double tap. The O6 lets you do more than that, but those are the most common gestures I find myself using it to emulate.
Now that the two modes have been integrated, my O6 has become very much more useful than it was when I first got it. I can now control music playback with media commands, switch to Advanced Mode, and quickly scroll through a list of songs. I can double tap the one I want, then go back to Basic Mode if I want to change the volume, play/pause, or skip tracks. It’s easier to do this while I’m holding a guitar or bass than it is to try to use the touch screen. While my Apple Watch can perform playback control as well, it’s faster and requires no audio feedback to use the physical buttons and dial on the O6.
You can see how an O6 could be used in your own use case, I hope. You can’t type web addresses or searches, but once you’re on a page, you can easily navigate by whatever rotor option you want. You can swipe right or left to read, double tap links, jump to the bottom of the screen and turn the dial left a few times to get to the “back” button… You could use the iOS Mail app, opening and swiping through messages, closing them, managing them with the rotor, and switching mailboxes, all without using your screen. I’ve reviewed the weather, played some dice games, scrolled through Twitter (where the rotor options in Twitterrific were easy to use), and even unlocked my phone with the O6. That last takes a bit, rotating the dial until VO lands on the number, then pressing the center button to double tap the number. Still, it can be done.
Using the App
One of the main selling points for the general audience of the O6 is its companion app. With it, you can scroll through emails, tweets, Pocket articles, iOS notifications, and other information sources using just the O6. It is important to note that this functionality is aimed more at sighted people, particularly drivers, than it is at VoiceOver users. The thinking behind this is that VO already has speech output, and is much more powerful than a single app could be, so visually impaired users will be much more likely to use VO than the O6 app. Still, I tried the app to see how it worked. At this stage, I don’t recommend doing so.
First, the app requires Basic Mode commands, so you’ll have to use those. They can be done in Advanced Mode, by pressing and holding the dial for two seconds. Once done, you’ll have to switch back to Advanced Mode by repeating the gesture.
The next problem is that you can't lock your device while using the app, or everything stops working. I can't figure out why this happens, since the app is being controlled by O6's media mode. This can work on music or other audio even with the iOS device locked, so that it can't do the same for the O6 app is something I can't understand. Please note that Fingertips Labs told me using the app with my device locked is supported, and they’re as confused as I am about why I couldn’t get this to behave as expected. Your milage may vary, and you’ll probably have better luck than I did.
Third, there are some problems specific to Twitter usage within the app. There's no marker service support, meaning you always begin from the top of your timeline and proceed to older tweets. Tweet Marker or another service would be good to see here. Next, quoted tweets aren't supported at all. Instead of the entire thing, you hear only the quoter's comment. Third, I haven't yet figured out how to act on tweets. Since there's no read later support, I'd like to at least "like" tweets so I can return to them later in another app. I'd also like to retweet them. However, I haven't found a way to bring up any kind of options menu. By the way, this also affects iOS notifications, as you can't dismiss them using the O6. Speaking of notifications, I often run into ones from days or weeks ago, for some reason.
Finally, the app struggles if your internet connection is poor. Instead of telling you that it's loading content or offering some other kind of progress update, it makes a sound to tell you that it entered the channel you selected, then says nothing at all, as though the channel were empty.
All these problems overshadow any advantage that this app might provide, and I found myself using it quite rarely. Of course, the company can easily update the app in the future, and I imagine they will do so frequently. Plus, as I said, this app is really more for sighted users not used to operating a phone without looking at it. VO users will find little benefit here, and will probably want to use the O6 to control VoiceOver or media directly. You still need the app to update your O6’s firmware, contact the company, and so on, but using it to browse information sources isn’t likely to have much point for those who already rely on VO.
The question is: should you spend the money to get your own O6? At the time of this writing, I’d hesitate to give a whole-hearted yes for every user, but only because the O6 may not provide enough advantage to make it worth your money. That’s something only you can decide, and I hope reading this has helped you in that decision.
The idea of having a tiny device that lets you give VoiceOver commands without having to touch the screen is good for most anyone. The open SDK that lets apps take advantage of O6 is also great to have—imagine a GPS app offering a wide array of commands without you having to pull out your phone at all. But is it worth $99? I don’t know. Having one, I find it helpful at times. I’m also a bit of an edge case, since I constantly have a headset with playback controls, and can pair a braille display with my iPhone for more advanced control. If I had AirPods or other headphones without controls, the O6’s Basic Mode would be a life-saver. I also enjoy the remote control of VoiceOver without the need for a keyboard, if my phone isn’t within easy reach.
If I’m not shouting at every iOS user in the world to go grab an O6 right now, why my five-star rating? While this device may not be for everyone, that’s not its fault. People who do use it will have a great experience, and the company behind it is updating it frequently. The O6 gets top marks for construction, packaging quality, ease of charging/mounting, and software. It presents as many controls as it can in a tiny, well-made package that its manufacturer enthusiastically supports, and I can’t think of any description that better outlines a top-notch product.
No, you may not need or want one, and I’m not saying you will, at least today. However, you may soon find yourself reading about a new set of features that makes the O6 a good fit for you. When I talked to P.K., he listed a number of improvements his company plans to make within the year: a new O6 that will do what the current one does but feel different, dedicated HomeKit control, using multiple O6 devices at once, and more.
I’m excited to see where the O6 goes, especially after watching it grow and improve dramatically in the last couple months. I will keep this review as updated as I can to make sure you have good information as you consider whether to invest in one. If you have questions, you can leave a comment below, but you’ll probably have more luck getting a solid answer if you contact the company directly.
Devices Accessory Was Used With
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I am a professional musician, a drummer and, I need a hardware solution to toggle through set lists on a metronome using my iPhone! I don't have an issue creating set lists and advance but, I have to get my bass player to switch tracks from song to song. Wouldn't it be cool if this device could do that for me?
Hello. Just wanted to drop in to say that we are now a dealer for the O6. Alex did a very fair job of describing the unit's strengths and areas to improve, and we love the care and enthusiasm that Fingertips Lab is putting into this product. The new VoiceOver layout is going to be a vast improvement and the company is very open to ideas and feedback.
I've tagged this thread so if people have questions, I'll do my best to respond. And if you're going to one of the summer shows, we'll have these in our booth to play with.
thanks for a great review. While I understand the beauty of O6 lies in its simplicity, I would like to point out that it might be interesting to compare O6 to the RiVO remote, which offers a fully fledged control for an iOS device featuring a small tactile old phone style keyboard for typing, and which is similarly priced.
There is also a new version of RiVO being developed which has already been showcased on some exhibitions that includes a built-in speaker, headphone jack and microphone all in a size of a thick credit card. Such a device can really completely substitute for ever touching your iOS device.
Hello, The two devices (O6 and RIVO) do fill similar roles. in my mind, though, they do so in very different ways. O6 is, as you said, simple. It's not meant to let you type, or to replace every gesture VoiceOver supports. You can clip it anywhere and quickly control media and apps. You don't need to memorize dozens of commands or feel precisely where you're pressing. RIVO is more complex, and offers more controls, than O6.
For those interested, I've already reviewed the RIVO here, so I can speak with a fair degree of confidence on the topic.
I will be receiving my O6 later this week, and from all I've read, I'm sure I will really enjoy this unit. Two things I wanted to point out that I hadn't seen mentioned: One is that the software has been updated, according to the main web page, with new dial interractions. You can read about them in the guide pages. Also, a big use for this unit I can see is if you're doing a lot of waiting in public areas, such as bus stops. If you would prefer not to have your phone out while using it, you can control it with the O6, along with using a Bluetooth earpiece. Since the O6 is using standard gesture mimicking, you should have no problem unlocking your phone, albeit with your passcode, again while not having to remove your phone from its place in your bag.
I went to the website listed as an external link on this post. I cannot find what I should click in order to buy it and have it ordered. It's probably really obvious. Anyway thank you for the help.
Sometimes all the 1 finger flicking can cause my hands to hurt, would using this dial be a possible solution? Like does simply turning it flick through items?
That's exactly how it works. Turning the dial clockwise or counter-clockwise will move forward or backward through the icons on your screen. If you turn it quickly, it will go to the first or last icon.
Alex, The RiVO from 2014 is quite different from the RiVO from now. I do think an updated comparison would be quite interesting. I also believe the price of the new one is a bit higher. It's an intriguing product and one we would consider selling if there was enough interest.
Ordered one of these for a client, and didn't realize how small it was. For this client I actually may not end up using because of this fact.
As for performance, sometimes, when I press the center button it does not perform the double tap so it almost feels as if the whole ring pushed rather than just the button that I wish to press. Also, when turning to the right to simulate a flick forward this seems to work consistently one click one flick if you will. However, when I turn counter clockwise, quickly one click doesn't always equate to a flick to the left. Two complaints if you will a triple click of the ring essentially simulates a three finger flick left, why no three finger flick right. Apps like weather require me to touch the device to move back two previously past over cities. I know I can go all the way to the bottom and go to the page chooser, but then what... Lastly,what's the real advantage of having control to adjust the roter, with no ability to flick down to actually take advantage of the roter.
Again just my first observations. Used the device for all of a day thus far and I70% like it.
Hi, You are correct that pressing the dial and turning adjusts the chosen rotor item, but you can also press the center button while turning, which is the equivalent of the 2 finger rotor gesture. A bit awkward at first, but you get used to it.
My review was written while using the original release version of the firmware. As some of you know, significant updates have been made since then, particularly in the area of VoiceOver control. The rotor is fully usable, you can issue media commands without leaving Advanced Mode, the keyboard no longer disappears, and so on. I had a problem with my unit that meant I had to get a new one, so there was a delay there. I've received the fresh O6 now, and hope to update this review soon.
I am very interested in learning more about how this product has evolved. It sounded so tempting in the initial release, but just was not compelling enough. I am hopeful that it has become a worthy and useful product to own. Count this note as friendly encouragement to share your latest thoughts.
Hello. I've been using the O6 for over a month after reading the above review. For my needs it's very good, and smaller than I expected. I just use it to control the volume, back and forward when listening to audio books at home with a Bluetooth speaker. Works perfectly fine. But my only issue is the battery life. It was fully charged, I switched it off, left it for a few days, and when trying to turn it on again, the battery seemd to of drained and needs to be recharged again. Not sure if it's a firmware issue or a fulty unit. I purchased it via a reseller here in the UK. Suppose I should get in touch with O6 directly and find out if it's a faulty unit I have.
hi all, after reading comments that ios 11 will have a revamped notifications view, can the o6 get to, and interact with this? also, can a 3d touch equivalent be used to say, bring up a reply option to say, an sms? finally, if one is replying to an sms and the phone is in a pocket or bag, can the o6 show preset responses like phedictive messaging that you see on the actual screen?
There are no commands to get to notifications or 3d touch at this point. If you tripple click the center button in VO mode, the keyboard will show up. At that point you can turn to each keyboard key, including the on-screen predictions. It's slow, but you can do this if you want to.
I bought one of these units and was hopeful that I could make it a part of my daily routine.
Two things that were difficult to ignore
* Battery life was shorter than I had hoped and I also experienced a drain on battery when it was not in active use.
* The biggest downside for me was not being able to tell VoiceOver, through my O6, that I wanted it to reade the entire page . I really wanted to be able to do a two-finger up or down swipe on the screen. I just want to control reading everything on the iPhone screen through the O6. A great use case is when reading the NY Times or Washington Post through Safari.
Oh, well. I took a chance and am willing to wait and see how much more the O6 matures.
I have been working through the O documentation. I am very confused by advanced mode. How do I get into and out of it? 6
Generally, if you have VoiceOver enabled, you will be in advanced mode. I find it's best to open the app first and then turn on the O6. There you can see what mode the unit is in. Also, if you have not updated the firmware in the past month or so, be sure to do this as the advanced mode has changed quite a bit.
Agreed that a read all command would be good. Would you think that read all or read from current location is more important? Also, if you have a suggestion for a gesture to use that would be great. This goes for other commands as well. If people could suggest the command and perhaps a suggested gesture/command for the O6, I'll do what I can to relay this info on. No promises of course but we want to work to make the O6 as versatile as possible.