[bactttoma] American Foundation for the Blind 24 hours with the ipad

  • From: taylor family <steven_taylor10@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: bactttoma@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 9 May 2010 11:54:20 +1000

American Foundation for the Blind.

Product Reviews

24 Hours with the iPad

Bradley Hodges

One of the more troublesome problems when managing a publication that addresses 
technology is the arrival of an important new product just a few days before 
deadline. The much-anticipated release of Apple's iPad is such an event. 
Because the iPad was going to be available shortly before AccessWorld's April 1 
deadline, the AFB TECH staff considered what approach to take. Would it be best 
to perform a comprehensive evaluation, knowing it wouldn't appear until the 
following issue? Or was a quick look and a report based on first reactions a 
useful contribution to our understanding of the device? After some thought, it 
was decided we would start with an article capturing some initial thoughts from 
24 hours with the iPad. In a future article, we plan to spend more time 
exploring the iPad and reporting on its low-vision features and the potential 
the larger screen provides for using the zoom features.

Technical Observations

AFB TECH preordered the iPad. On Monday morning at 10:00, the FedEx box arrived 
on my desk. Unpacking the box revealed that Apple has maintained its high level 
of attention to packaging and presentation. It is reassuring that the 
manufacturer of a product that can cost more than $600 cares enough to present 
the product beautifully. That package contained the iPad, a folder of print 
information, a power cord, and wall charger. No earphones were included.

As you already may have read, the iPad shares many technical and design 
characteristics with Apple's iPod Touch and iPhone. Of particular interest to 
AccessWorld readers will be the availability of VoiceOver, the built-in screen 
access program. Rest assured, Apple has not only included VoiceOver on the 
iPad, but has refined it as well. The iPad/iPhone family tree is very much in 
evidence during the setup and registration process. Other information and 
reviews are available online and in print that discuss this process in detail.

One potential roadblock did reveal itself during registration. When using 
iTunes version 9.1 on a Compaq PC running Windows XP and my customary screen 
reader, some important edit fields were unrecognized. The name and address 
portion of the registration screens could not be read with my screen reader, 
requiring the assistance of a sighted person. After consultation, it was 
determined the problem was with my particular setup, but it would have been a 
show stopper were it not for the immediate availability of sighted help.

By 10:30, the registration was successfully completed, and the iPad was ready 
to go. I am familiar with VoiceOver screen-reading technology, and out of the 
box, it worked smoothly and as I expected. As on the iPod/iPhone, the screen is 
divided into three regions: the status region at the very top, the application 
(app) icons, comprising the majority of the screen, and the four persistent 
icons (Safari, Mail, Photos, and iPod) found along the bottom-most row. Apple 
refers to this region as the "dock." VoiceOver announces "dock" whenever your 
focus moves from the last app icon to the bottom row. This is one of many 
refinements to VoiceOver for iPad.

For many of us who enjoy listening to streaming audio, an occasional 
frustration with VoiceOver for iPod/iPhone has been eliminated. The volume of 
the streaming program is reduced when VoiceOver is speaking. This is identical 
to the way in which VoiceOver has always behaved when using the "Music" app on 
the iPhone/iPod.

Another useful addition includes increased verbosity when using the on-screen 
keyboard. As a letter is focused upon, the letter is spoken immediately. If 
focus remains, the letter is announced using the phonetic alphabet (n for 
November or v for Victor). Similarly, when reviewing any text letter by letter, 
allowing VoiceOver to remain focused on a letter will announce the phonetic 
value. When navigating into or out of the keyboard, VoiceOver announces 
"keyboard." I found this particularly helpful as the size of the screen 
invites, and in some instances requires, direct interaction.

Shortly after a quick lunch, some of the differences between my iPod Touch and 
iPad revealed themselves. It is the ability and necessity of interacting 
directly with the screen that separates some tasks on the iPad from those on 
the iPhone/iPod. An example is found in "Settings." When the settings menu is 
opened, two columns appear. Choices familiar to iPod/iPhone users are found in 
the left-hand column. I selected the AOL Radio app to set my preferences. I 
immediately observed that selecting an app on the left changes the content of 
the right-hand column to reflect the available options for that app. When 
encountering this layout, I tried two navigation methods. The first was to 
swipe in the usual manner. The second was to touch the screen in the middle 
along the right-hand edge. When swiping, it took quite a while to move beyond 
all the app choices and finally get to my destination. However, touching within 
the column appeared to focus VoiceOver at the top of the right-hand column, 
making swiping among the AOL Radio settings much faster.

As I explored iPad's Calendar, several intriguing screen layouts revealed 
themselves. For the first time, I found it most convenient to use a calendar's 
"month view" as I could easily run my finger up and down or across the rows of 
dates. Again, a refinement of VoiceOver makes rapid navigation convenient. A 
date with an event is announced in a lower pitch than dates with no 
appointments.

Using the "search" function of several apps brought me into contact with 
another new, and occasionally frustrating, object: the "pop up." In their most 
basic form, pop ups appear above the keyboard on the screen and display choices 
that result from the text entered into the edit field. A sound alerted me to 
the appearance of the pop up on the screen. A "dismiss pop up" button is found 
by navigating up or swiping to the left of the keyboard. Once dismissed, the 
more familiar edit field configuration used on iPod/iPhone remains, including 
the "clear all" object.

Over the next several hours, I observed that pop ups changed depending on the 
apps that used them. A particularly frustrating example appeared when I 
searched for NPR's Fresh Air using iTunes. It may be lack of experience or the 
wrong conclusion on my part, but I did not notice any method of knowing a pop 
up had appeared or that I was navigating within a pop up. The difficulty is 
that if I swiped among objects and did not touch the screen elsewhere, I 
concluded I had looked at all available options. This was not the case; rather 
I was repeatedly moving among only those items in the pop up. If you're 
confused reading that, imagine how I felt while looking for the program.

Pop up issues appear to be more significant in those apps that resemble a 
webpage than in apps such as the iBook Store. After work, I took the iPad home 
and began to explore the iBook Store. Installing and setting up the iBook app 
was as flawless as the process for other apps I have downloaded. A free book 
was offered, which I soon realized was chosen for me. At the age of 52, 
Winnie-the-Pooh introduced me to the iBook.

The main iBook screen is very straightforward and includes "Store," "iBooks," 
"Grid View," "List View," "Edit," and the list of available titles. The default 
grid view arranges thumbnails of book covers in rows on the screen. Swiping 
among objects and from title to title worked well. Both title and author are 
announced as each thumbnail is focused on. Searching for books by following the 
store button was a bit more of a challenge, but I suspect that as I become 
familiar with the store layout, finding what I am looking for will become more 
convenient.

Double tapping titles opens books immediately. Focus moves to the last page you 
were reading, or in the case of opening a new title, is placed at the beginning 
of the book. Each page of the books I tested included several recurring sets of 
buttons and controls at the top and bottom of the screen. These included (at 
the upper left) "Library," "Table of Contents," "Brightness," "Fonts," 
"Search," and the book title. Another group of objects appeared consistently at 
the bottom of each page and included "Page Chooser," followed by "Page X of Y," 
where X was the current page and Y was the total number of pages in the e-book. 
In the lower right-hand corner, chapter information was given as "X Pages Left 
in This Chapter."

The page chooser is an interesting control. VoiceOver instructed me to "Double 
tap, then hold; drag left or right to change page. Adjustable; swipe up or 
down." Following these instructions resulted in an opportunity to slide my 
finger back and forth along a kind of virtual number line. Lifting my finger 
after hearing a page number opened that page immediately. After working with 
the chooser for a while, I realized it is potentially a very useful method of 
navigation, especially for large books. I also realized that subtle movements 
are critical to success.

The real meat and potatoes, however, aren't the controls. It is the ability of 
iPad and iBook to read the page contents aloud. Flicking three fingers right to 
left turned the pages in my virtual book. Each page was read automatically as I 
turned it. Within iBook, one may move line by line, but not by heading, 
sentence, or word. A fairly significant bug that needs to be addressed is 
iBook's inability to determine the spelling or pronunciation of proper nouns or 
words that may be confusing. In addition, some early reviews reported that the 
utility to open individual words in a dictionary/thesaurus was not working with 
VoiceOver.AccessWorld will follow up and report on any changes and patches to 
this first-generation app. On the other hand, the iBook's font button does 
allow one to change the appearance of fonts. One may choose a sans-serif font 
as well as increase the font size significantly.

The Pooh book includes delightful illustrations that have been enjoyed by 
generations of children. The iBook version includes well-written descriptions 
of every illustration, helping to make the Pooh experience quite extraordinary. 
I have not evaluated the labeling of illustrations, photographs, and other 
graphic elements in other books.

Back at my desk on Tuesday morning, I noted a few other technical points worth 
mentioning. The first of these is the availability of video controls whenever 
video content is presented. Double tapping the screen brings up the controls 
and the usual navigation moves focus. This worked well with both YouTube and 
Netflix.

The iPad's audio quality is substantially better than that of the much smaller 
iPod/iPhone. At its loudest setting, the quality of VoiceOver speech reminded 
me of a typical netbook. Stereo sound is only available through the headphone 
connecter.

The iPad's size results in a device that is considerably heavier than 
iPod/iPhone--think of holding onto a notebook screen in one hand. I found it 
convenient to set the iPad on my lap or a flat surface. I also found myself 
tilting the iPad to a 45-degree angle. This resulted in my left-right swipes 
moving at a diagonal and producing inconsistent movement of focus. This was 
fixed by paying closer attention to my hand position.

Finally I should mention running my iPhone/iPod apps on the iPad. It was very 
easy (and free) to download my purchased apps from the App Store to my iPad. 
They all ran very well and with the stability I have come to rely on when using 
my iPod Touch.

Using the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard

After seeing the iPad for the first time, it was immediately apparent that word 
processing was a viable option. For this reason, I purchased an iPad-compatible 
Bluetooth keyboard from my local Best Buy.

Connecting the device was both simple and accessible. In settings, I turned 
Bluetooth on. The Apple keyboard appeared on the right-hand column as an 
option. Selecting it brought me to a dialog box with two options. I had to 
enter a short series of numbers on the keyboard, as the instructions clearly 
stated, and then press the return key on the keyboard.

More information about the use of the keyboard is available elsewhere. Although 
its use is confined to edit fields, it is a very convenient and invaluable 
accessory for anyone planning to use iWork for the iPad. Managing the keyboard 
and iPad took a bit of juggling when browsing apps and iBooks from my easy 
chair. Placing both devices on my desk at the office turned out to be more 
convenient and efficient

The More Personal Experience

There have been two transformative moments in my professional career that I 
associate with gaining equal access to the printed word. The first was in the 
mid-'90s, when, as a university researcher, my department obtained a braille 
embosser and access to the fledgling Internet. One afternoon, a graduate 
assistant who worked with me casually dropped a braille copy of the cover 
article from that week's Time magazine on my desk. For the first time, I could 
read the same text as my sighted colleagues at the same time they did.

The second transformative moment took place Monday evening, April 5, 2010. On 
that night, I purchased a book from a book store, exactly as my sighted 
neighbors and colleagues would. I then sat in my den and read that book on the 
same device as my sighted counterparts.

Just as the introduction of VoiceOver for the Mac and iPhone suddenly and 
dramatically changed our expectations for ourselves and for those who provide 
access technology to our community, I believe the advent of accessible iBooks 
will be viewed by future generations as one of the landmark events in the lives 
of the blind.

In the next several months, technology companies will file written comments to 
the U.S. Access Board responding to proposed changes in federal standards for 
technology and information accessibility. It is safe to say that these 
companies will assert that providing equal access to e-publications is 
expensive, overly complicated, and generally unworkable. On April 3, Apple 
wrote a new iBook on accessibility, and thanks to the company's example, all 
the other commentaries justifying inaccessibility can now be placed in the 
fiction collection, where they belong.


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