This week, the newest version of the iPhone was released, as well as an update to the operating system for iPhone 3 and 3gs products. Anticipation has been high for several months and rumors circulating regarding just what the new version has in store for customers. Having recently converted to iPhoneism, I was amazed at the idea that the phone would do even more than I had discovered over the past 2 months. I could spend hours detailing the countless apps I have found that are accessible and fun to use. There are even applications such as the barcode reader Digit-Eyes which further the independence of blind people. To those who are reading who may be scared or skeptical of this product’s accessibility and ease of use, I am here to say you probably won’t be sorry or disappointed with the iPhone!
The new operating system has implemented several features that people seem to really like, from folder management, to the ability to play third party music apps while doing other things on the phone. But from my perspective, even more amazing are the lengths Apple has gone to in making this product accessible to people with disabilities. They had already made history by being the first company to release a fully accessible phone that did not require you to buy expensive external software. Now, they have gone even further, almost as if they read my mind in some ways and added accessibility features I had merely wished for inside.
A really fantastic new feature is the ability to use my iPhone with compatible Bluetooth Braille displays! In my experience, pairing the devices went very well. I am now able to read e-mail on my phone using my Brailliant 40, select messages, edit my typing, read books, etc. I will also most likely be able to mute speech and read quietly, though I have not tested that yet. I am so excited about this, partly because for several months, my Braille display has not been easily usable with JAWS 11 and I have been unable to get it working. What a fun thing it will be to demonstrate this feature while testing websites and such! I plan on having someone take a picture of me using these two devices together and posting it here, so watch for that.
Touch typing is another feature now built into the phone which I love and it makes keyboarding faster at least for me. Simply put, rather than double tapping or split typing to write, I can slide my finger along the screen and when I find the character I want, I just lift my finger and it is added. Also when typing, if you hold your finger on a letter and are not sure what it is, you are given a word beginning with that letter so that there is no mistaking a v for a b, n for an m, etc. The indicator when a character is typed is much more audible as well. You can also now use the phone with Bluetooth keyboards which I have not had a chance to test since I do not yet have one.
The iBooks application is another great feature that is also accessible. You don’t need a Kindle now, you just buy books directly from your phone and can read them on the screen. This works beautifully with Voice-over as well, I can have it read a page at a time, the entire screen and turn pages automatically, or of course with my Braille display. While I don’t see this quite taking the place of Bookshare, it is yet another very viable option for reading.
I am literally learning new things constantly and I know I have left some wonderful features out. There are a few places you can go for some great information. First is of course the Apple site itself. Next, there is an article from the Mac-cessibility Network that details the new accessibility features of iPhone iOS 4 and they also have a Mac-cessibility Podcast you can subscribe to for discussion and info. Lastly, if you are visually impaired and want to get lots of tips and discussion, you can join the Googlegroup for Visually Impaired iPhone users. I know that as I continue to discover accessible apps and features, I will have much more to write on this topic. Feel free to add your thoughts and comments; I look forward to learning from you all as well. If you are an iPhoner, happy playing! If you have not yet joined the masses, find a friend or neighbor and just play with it for awhile with Voice-over on, just be warned, you might like it a lot!