Apple’s focus on iPhone accessibility features take a step forward with iOS 16

When we talk about software and major smartphone OS updates, most of us refuse to look beyond the visual side of things. A lot of new features. And the inevitable comparisons, with a generation earlier and the current alternatives. But dig a little deeper and the often overlooked accessibility features are crucial for many users. Especially those who may be otherwise skilled. Their ability to use a smartphone depends on these functionalities.

It’s a good time to talk about accessibility features Apple has included in iOS for iPhone as we usher in the annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3. The suite currently available on iPhone (and most of it in iPadOS as well, with Apple Watch also getting expanded functionality) will be further enhanced with a “Custom Accessibility Mode”, which is expected to be released with iOS 16.2 sometime in the next few months. weeks on iPhones.

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“However, when accessibility is built into devices, apps, and systems that exist for the entire population, it can add value to everyone involved,” emphasizes the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 2019 study, titled “Navigating the 21st century without vision.” .

The ever-expanding range of accessibility

This is not a one-off for Apple. Over time, 2021 has been a pivotal year in expanding useful features for users with mobility, vision, hearing, and cognitive disabilities. At that time, Apple added Assistive Touch to the Apple Watch, eye-tracking support for third-party apps on the iPad, and expanded on-device object detection assistance for VoiceOver screen readers.

“At Apple, we’ve long believed that the world’s best technology should meet everyone’s needs, and our teams work tirelessly to build accessibility into everything we make,” said Sarah Herrlinger, senior director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives for Apple, at the time. In 2022 and heading into 2023 with iOS 16, functionality will continue to evolve.

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Recognizing different sounds (such as that of a crying baby or the doorbell), using voice control to interact with apps and functions on the iPhone (your voice commands are a direct substitute for touch), and even door detection using the Magnifier app . some of the newer features.

The spectrum now largely extends beyond the available options: larger text, less transparency, more contrast, and the VoiceOver screen reader. On an Apple iPhone, you’ll find most options in Settings > Accessibility.

Identify and place you in a real environment

Sound Recognition has been around since iOS 14, but has been improved with each generational update, up to the current iOS 16 iteration. The iPhone can be configured to listen for and alert you to as many as 15 different sounds. These include alarms (fire, siren, and smoke), animals (cats and dogs for now), household noises (such as doorbells, knocks, running water, or even a horn nearby), and sounds people make (such as a baby crying or someone coughing).

Mind you, if you have an Apple Watch, the notifications will also arrive seamlessly there.

We’ve found that while the sound recognition generally works quite well, there can often be issues separating out a particular sound in a noisy environment. For example, our iPhone sometimes failed to detect the doorbell if there was enough traffic noise coming through from outside.

Apple warns against this, saying that the functionality should not be your only guide “in high-risk or emergency situations, or for navigation”.

Find your way, with Magnifying Glass

The current iOS 16 update gave the Magnifier tool more features to work with. While its core business is letting users zoom in on objects through the iPhone’s camera (to see clearly), there’s also advanced door and people recognition to consider.

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After opening the Magnifier app, you need to select the detection icon at the bottom right of the tabbed options. Here the camera interface shows the possibilities of door detection and person identification. If you select the door option, the iPhone camera will try to detect if there is a door in the direction the camera is facing. And how far is it approximately.

We’ve found that this feature detects most doors seamlessly, but it often takes a while to respond to a glass door that’s somewhere in an all-glass partition (or wall, if you want to define it that way) and a clear line of sight from a door needs. doorknob or handle to give a confirmed answer.

Expanding Magnifier’s functionality eliminated the need to use third-party apps that used the iPhone’s camera to detect and navigate physical environments. Mind you, Magnifier can detect objects at a large scale – in fact, it will speak out what it sees since the iPhone’s camera is pointed nearby. Unlike Google’s separate Lookout app, the Magnifier app is (rather useful) baked into iOS for iPhones.

Use your voice instead of touch

“Open again, swipe left”. That’s just one of the things the voice control option lets you do on an iPhone.

This is different from Siri voice commands. Enabling voice control on iPhone allows you to do this, as the name suggests. Think of it as a direct replacement for the need to interact with the touchscreen. It’s really easy to say your way around iOS 16’s apps: set alarms, play music, send messages, and more.

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“Whether or not it was so easy for Apple, today it’s hard to see why it isn’t so easy for everyone. The technology is there, but the mindset isn’t there,” the MIT study further points to devices such as microwave ovens and washing machines, websites that use animations instead of coded buttons or captcha tests that make it impossible for people with visual disabilities, of access to features.

New Home Screen: A major update, ahead

Apple is expected to roll out “Custom Accessibility Mode” for iOS, with an upcoming iOS update. That is expected to be iOS 16.2 (iOS 16.1.2 rolled out earlier this week), sometime in the next few weeks.

It is expected to enable a simpler and larger home screen for iPhone, replacing the default iPhone home screen layout. Something similar to the “simple home screen” mode we’ve seen on many Android phones, including Samsung Galaxy phones.

What’s not clear is the size and scope of customization options, but larger-than-usual icons for phone, messages, camera, and music are expected. That’s in addition to much larger interface navigation guides (such as the back button) within each app available in this easy-to-use home screen.

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