Putting your finger on the new iPhone

Recently, Apple came out with their newest version of the iPhone, called the iPhone 3GS.  I am sure there are many interesting new features of this product, but the one that is most fascinating to me is their built-in accessibility.  How do you make a phone with a touch screen accessible for people who cannot see?  No buttons?  Really?  I have to admit to being a bit skeptical, I can’t even use my microwave without putting some raised dots on the flat touch buttons.

So how does it work?  Apple provides a very detailed explanation of how you can operate the phone using the voiceover feature.  It describes how you tap, flick or roll your fingers to activate screen elements that are spoken to you.  For me it may take some getting used to, using finger gestures rather than pressing buttons.  Something very different from your traditional screen reader, you don’t simply hear text elements as you press arrow buttons, you actually touch the physical elements on the screen and are able to interact with them.  It sounds interesting, maybe this will change how screen readers are written someday?  I have a friend who just got this new iPhone and she has graciously offered to let me turn on voiceover and play around a bit.  Once I do that, I can write a more detailed post on my own experiences.  It sounds great, but does it really work?  Is it better than using a phone with Talks, Mobile Speak or any other phone screen reader?  I have to hand it to Apple, they have truly made some huge strides over the past year or so in terms of accessibility, first with the iPod nano (4th generation), then with their Mac OS X with voiceover and now the iPhone.  They have also incorporated other features such as zoom, white on black, and TTY capabilities to name a few.

If any of you have seen or own the new iPhone and have tried out these accessibility features, please chime in and tell the rest of us what you think.  I will play with it as soon as I can and report back.  I’m hoping to have my skepticism totally reversed!