iPhone X, a blind person’s getting started guide

Background

Since iPhone X was released, I’ve received numerous emails asking me questions about what it’s like to use one, and especially how Face ID works. There’s still a lot of misunderstanding out there about Face ID and in particular the implications of disabling the require attention function.

While we offer one-on-one training and publish podcasts, it’s not possible for me to provide detailed answers to all the emails I’m receiving, or our paid customers wouldn’t get the work done that they’ve paid for. And remember, Apple pay people to answer your support questions. However, it’s my natural inclination to want to help people and share knowledge, so I’ve decided to write up an introductory quick-start guide for blind people who have, or are considering purchasing, an iPhone X.

It’s based on the material that will be in the second edition of “iOS 11 Without the Eye”. If you find this guide helpful and wish to support work like this, I’d be very grateful if you’d purchase a copy of “iOS 11 Without the Eye” or some other title that interests you from the Mosen Consulting Store.

I hope the below information is of use. I’ll update this post if I have additional information, or if I find ways of explaining concepts more clearly.

Introduction

iPhone X represents the most radical redesign of Apple’s flagship product since its introduction in 2007, and it works differently in several respects compared with other iPhones. It remains fully accessible to blind users, so you have the choice to purchase it just as anyone else does.

iPhone X is the most expensive iPhone in the range. You’re paying a premium for a lot of innovative technology that has just left Apple’s labs. So, it’s fair to ask, is it the device for you? Would you be missing out on something you wouldn’t want to live without once you used it?

I have an iPhone X which, I must admit, I bought with some reluctance. I bought it to aid me in completing “iOS 11 Without the Eye”, and because my work as a trainer meant that it was essential for me to be familiar with it. Now that I have it, I can honestly say I’m delighted with it. But it’s not for everyone. Here are a few things you might consider when making up your mind about what is a significant purchase.

With iPhone X, you’re getting the latest innovations from Apple, and you’re on the cutting edge in terms of where Apple’s technology is heading. Some analysts predict that, with the possible exception of an updated iPhone SE, Apple will produce no more iPhones with touch ID. You may be the kind of person who likes to embrace the future, or you may like others to find the bugs in such radical modern technology and let it mature for a generation or two before you jump on board. Both approaches have their pros and cons.

iPhone X has the same A11 Bionic processor found in iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. The RAM, which can impact performance in more intensive situations, is the same in iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, 3GB. There is only 2GB of RAM in iPhone 8.

All Apple’s 2017 iPhone line-up have a redesigned speaker system and sound similar.

As I’ll further discuss shortly, iPhone X does not have a Home button, so the phone is controlled completely through gestures on the large screen which covers the entire front of the device.

Note also that at this time, the new Face ID technology can only be set up for one person at a time, whereas Touch ID can store a maximum of five simultaneous fingerprints. If you and your significant other like to be able to unlock each other’s iPhone, then you may want to stick with an iPhone offering Touch ID until the number of users who can be enrolled in Face ID is increased.

Finally, depending on the specific circumstances surrounding your blindness, Face ID might be less secure than Touch ID. I’ll explore this critical consideration in the Face ID section of this post.

Because iPhone X is different from any iPhone before it, if you have any concerns or doubts, I’d encourage you to visit a store and see one in person. Read this chapter before you visit, so you have a thorough understanding of how the new gestures and button assignments work. Then, ask the sales person to enable VoiceOver for you and have a good play.

If you order from Apple directly, remember that they offer a “no questions asked” 14-day returns policy.

On the day my iPhone X arrived, Mosen Consulting produced episode 61 of The Blind Side Podcast, in which I unboxed and learned about iPhone X. You can subscribe to The Blind Side Podcast in all good podcast apps including Apple Podcasts. If you’d just like to hear that episode, listen online here.

Orientation

When you unbox your iPhone X, the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s unlike any iPhone you’ve owned before. The front of the device is made up almost entirely of touch screen. You have a phone fractionally bigger than an iPhone 6, 7 or 8, yet it has a bigger screen than the Plus models. It takes a little getting used to for a VoiceOver user, because even if you touch the extreme top or bottom corner of the phone, you will be interacting with the touch screen.

The one exception to this is that at the very top of the screen in the centre, you’ll find a small tactually identifiable slit. This is the one part of the phone that you can’t interact with, as it’s the place where the speaker, True-depth camera, and other technologies are located. This is known as the notch, and when the phone is on, it’s much more visually apparent than it is tactually. Visually, it makes the top of the phone look like it has ears or horns.

This has two implications for the status bar. First, it’s divided in two, on either side of the notch. Second, the notch means that there is a little less room than there used to be on the status bar. As a result, the name of your cellular carrier is no longer displayed there when the phone is unlocked.

New VoiceOver gestures

Since the iPhone X is all screen, there is no Home button on this device. Even to get iPhone X set up, you’ll need to understand some of these gestures.

When I describe swiping from the top or bottom of iPhone X, remember that this phone has no bezels at all, so the bottom of the touch screen extends all the way to the bottom of the front surface.

Swipe up to go home

Blind and sighted people both use the same new gesture to go home, the equivalent of pressing the Home button once in previous iPhones. Locate the bottom of the screen and touch it for a very short time so you hear a quiet tone and feel a haptic vibration. Immediately swipe up a short distance with one finger, releasing your finger after you feel a haptic vibration and hear a second, slightly higher tone. Writing it out makes it sound far more complex than it is. Once you’ve got the gesture right, it will feel like second nature in no time. Remember, under VoiceOver Settings, there is a feature allowing you to practice gestures, so you may wish to visit the practice area and try out the new home gesture until you feel comfortable.

To begin with, you may find it easiest to touch the bottom of the phone where the lightning port is located and swipe up from there.

If you rest your finger too long before making a short swipe up, the Home gesture will time out, and VoiceOver will speak what is under your finger, usually the dock.

App Switcher

In older iPhones, you could invoke the App Switcher by double-clicking the Home button. So, it makes sense that invoking the App Switcher on iPhone X is based on swiping up to go home. The only difference is that you swipe up a little further from the bottom of the screen, until you feel a second vibration and hear an even higher tone.

On 3D touch-capable devices, you can invoke the App Switcher by firmly pressing the extreme left of the screen. This is also an option in iPhone X, and while it wasn’t a function I used in my previous iPhones, I’m using it regularly with iPhone X.

Control Centre and Notifications

It’s still possible to invoke Control Centre and Notifications using the gestures you’re used to. However, with the status bar now a tiny strip at the very top of the screen, divided in half, you may find it less convenient. If you prefer, you can give the fancy new iPhone X method a try.

To invoke Control Centre, you can use the skills you’ve learned from the new swipe up to go home method, just in reverse. Briefly touch the top edge of the phone, then swipe down with one finger until you hear a tone and feel a vibration.

Performing the same action but swiping down for longer, until you hear a second tone and feel a second vibration, will show your notifications.

Button reassignments

If you’re familiar with the layout of Apple devices since the iPhone 6, where the power button has been placed on the right-hand side of the device, the button on iPhone X is in the same position, but it is longer, so it is easier to press.

The side button performs the following functions.

  • Tap it to lock and unlock your screen. Note that it is also possible to wake your iPhone X by tapping reasonably firmly on any part of its screen. This latter option can be disabled in Accessibility Settings if you don’t like it.
  • You can use “Hey Siri” with your iPhone X after you’ve set that feature up, but to talk to Siri at any time, hold the side button down.
  • Apple Pay. Double-tap the side button when you have Apple Pay configured to indicate that you wish to make a transaction. It is also necessary to double-tap the side button to proceed with a purchase in Apple’s stores such as the App Store and iBook’s Store, to prevent Face ID from inadvertently spending all your money.
  • Accessibility settings. Triple-click the side button to invoke any accessibility settings you’ve configured, and to cause VoiceOver to speak during set-up.
  • Emergency SOS. When configured, press the side button five times to trigger the emergency SOS feature.

Use the side button in conjunction with the volume up and down buttons to perform the following functions.

  • Hold with either volume up or down to invoke the power off and SOS functions
  • Press and release with volume up to take a screen shot.

Finally, should you need to reset your iPhone in situations where it stops responding properly and you’re unable to shut it down, press the following sequence quickly.

  • Volume up
  • Volume Down
  • Hold the side button.

The phone will restart.

Setting up your iPhone X

When you get your shiny new iPhone X out of its box, power it on by pressing the side button for a couple of seconds. Wait for the phone to boot. In case the phone has gone into stand-by mode, tap the screen once, then triple-click the side button. If all has gone well, VoiceOver should say “VoiceOver on”, and guide you through the set-up process.

The set-up process is like other iDevices you will have used, and it will speed the process up considerably if you have the iPhone you’re upgrading from nearby. One significant difference in the set-up process will be the configuration of face ID. There is an opportunity to skip the step, so if you’d rather get your iPhone X up and running before tackling this challenge, there’s no problem at all with this approach.

Face ID

What it is, and how it works

When running an iPhone X, iOS 11 offers features supporting Apple’s new Face ID feature. Face ID replaces touch ID and works everywhere in your iPhone X where Touch ID worked in earlier models. You can use it to unlock your phone, make an Apple Pay transaction, and unlock a protected app such as PayPal, a banking app, or a password app.

Touch ID supported the adding of multiple fingerprints. This allowed one user to authenticate with multiple fingers, or a spouse to be given access to the device. However, Face ID only works with one person at a time. If you want someone else to have access to your iPhone X, sadly, the only option is to give them your passcode or password.

Face ID is unlike any facial recognition system previously available to consumers. While other systems have been fooled by pictures and masks, that’s highly unlikely with Face ID due to the multiple methods used to authenticate someone. The technology Apple is using to verify your identity is complex and multi-faceted. Apple claims that the chances of another person fooling the technology and passing themselves off as you are one in a million. If you have an identical twin, Apple’s not there yet and your twin may be able to unlock your phone. It uses multiple neural networks built into the A11 bionic neural engine on the iPhone X to process the facial recognition data. The processing takes place entirely in the secure enclave of your phone, so rest assured that Apple isn’t building up some sort of scary database of its users’ faces.

While there is a lot going on behind the scenes with face ID, the component we as end-users engage with to make its magic do its thing is called the TrueDepth camera. Apple says that this camera uses depth mapping made possible by eight separate components in the system, to get an intricate picture of your face, so your iPhone X can be sure it’s really you. At its keynote in September, Apple described all the components. They are:

  • 7-megapixel camera
  • Infrared camera
  • Flood illuminator
  • Front camera dot projector (30K dots)
  • Proximity sensor
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Speaker
  • Microphone

This technology is far beyond anything we’ve seen before, including the facial recognition technology Apple is using in the photos app and for some of the new VoiceOver functions I’ll describe in Chapter Three. The infra-red technology means that the scan goes far beyond what you look like to a regular camera or a naked eye. Therefore, if you start wearing glasses, grow a beard, gain or lose weight, forget to put makeup on or put on a lot more, your iPhone X will still know it’s you. It keeps learning over time, so as you grow greyer because of having to fund the cost of an iPhone X, it will still recognise you.

Attention

Face ID offers two attention-related settings that do quite different things.

Attention awareness, which is on by default even when VoiceOver is enabled, will detect if you’re looking at your phone while it is unlocked and in use. When you’re not, the display will be dimmed, which could save battery life. I routinely have my display brightness set to 0% already, since I don’t need to see it, so battery life is not a consideration for me, nor for many other blind people who use their phones in this way.

If attention aware features are enabled, the volume of alerts will be lowered when you are looking at your phone, the logic being that since you’re right by your phone, you don’t need alerts to be loud.

If you prefer to have full manual control of these features, you can turn off attention aware features in Face ID and passcode settings.

The second, and most important attention-related feature from a blindness perspective, is that for sighted users, Face ID requires your attention before its authentication functions will work. This means that the iPhone X won’t unlock or let you into a protected app unless it can determine that you’re intentionally looking at the camera, with your eyes open. People with various conditions and disabilities will not be able to provide Face ID with the attention required to satisfy it. For this reason, it’s possible to stop Face ID requiring attention by double-tapping Settings, General, Accessibility, Face ID, and then toggling “require attention for Face ID” to off.

When VoiceOver is running during the iPhone X set-up process, require attention is disabled by default, and it will stay disabled unless and until you enable it.

It is imperative that you understand the security implications of having require attention turned off. When iPhone X is in this state, it is possible for someone to snatch your phone from you, wave it in front of your face, and unlock your phone. With require attention on, you could prevent this from happening by closing your eyes and not giving it your full attention. So, this is one example where accessibility has come at the price of compromised security.

There is a lot of confusion about the consequences of disabling the require attention for Face ID function, so let me make it clear that disabling require attention does not make it more likely that someone else can unlock your phone. It only makes it easier for you to unlock it, and therefore easier for someone to take your phone and use your face to unlock it.

If you believe you might be able to give Face ID the attention it is looking for, you can enable require attention again in accessibility settings and try your luck. Remember, you can’t lock yourself out of your iPhone if you know your passcode or password.

I am totally blind, and do not have prosthetic eyes. My eye condition is genetic, and it is easy to tell visually that I am blind. Because I have congenital cataracts, it can look like my eyes are closed a lot of the time. I was therefore not expecting to be able to satisfy Face ID’s attention requirements. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I in fact can. I fail to unlock the phone a few times, whereas with attention disabled I am almost at 100% success, but I’ll take a few failures when out and about for the added security. It has given me peace of mind about using Face ID daily. Just be sure that you’re looking directly into the camera, eyes open.

Setting up Face ID

You are prompted to set up Face ID when you get your iPhone X out of the box and power it up. If you prefer, you can skip configuring Face ID during set-up and come back to it later. You can complete the process at any time under Settings, Face ID and Passcode.

Once you tap the “get started” button, VoiceOver will prompt you through the process of setting up Face ID, in which iPhone X needs to take two comprehensive scans of your face. You must give the phone the data it needs by moving your head in a circle.

If you have a disability that prevents you from moving your head in a circle, an Accessibility Options button appears when Face ID has your face in the frame. Double-tap this, and enable the partial circle feature. This is likely to weaken security, but it makes the scan considerably easier.

Ensure that iPhone has an unobstructed view of your face. Face ID is very tolerant of poor lighting when in regular use, but I’ve found having good light when you set it up can help the process run more smoothly. If you’re used to FaceTime or similar video apps that make use of the front-facing camera, you’ll want to be a similar distance away from the camera when you get started. Apple says that Face ID works best when it is between 10 and 20 inches, 25 to 50 CM from your face. Get used to this, as this is the kind of distance you’ll need to be from your phone to unlock it, once Face ID is configured. If you’re too close, you’ll likely not be as successful. In the brief time I have been training people to use Face ID, most problems are caused by people being far too close to the camera.

VoiceOver will tell you when your head is positioned correctly. When you are advised of this, try to keep the phone still. Move your head, not the phone.

My daughter Heidi, who is sighted but has that rare gift of thinking about things from a blindness perspective, came up with an analogy that makes a lot of sense to me. Imagine that your nose is a hand of an analogue clock. Your nose needs to reach as many points on the clock as possible. So, after double-tapping the “get started” button, and waiting for confirmation that your head is positioned correctly, point your nose up to 12 o’clock, then move it around to 3 or 4. Point it down to six o’clock. Move your head in the opposite direction, so it reaches 9 or 8. Then conclude by moving it up to 12 again.

The entire process should only take a few seconds. There is no need to move especially slowly. The Face ID software is very tolerant, and will tell you to tilt your head in a specific direction if necessary. It will also start the scan from the beginning if it needs to, and stick with you until the process is complete.

If you’re having trouble, don’t worry. Perhaps set the rest of the phone up first and revisit it later, calling Apple Accessibility for support if needed.

Using Face ID

Once Face ID is set up, wake the phone up by raising it, tapping the screen, or pressing the side button. The first two wake methods can be disabled in settings if you prefer. Hold the phone at about arm’s length from your face, endeavouring to ensure that the front-facing camera has an unobstructed view of your face. If require attention is disabled, Face ID will be less strict about your eyes being open and looking directly at the camera.

You’ll hear a satisfying click sound, indicating that the phone is unlocked. If Face ID can’t authenticate you, you’ll hear a tone and be invited to try again.

The more you use Face ID, the more familiar it becomes with your facial features.

Once you hear that click sound, you can swipe up to go home.

If you have trouble authenticating with Face ID, you can unlock your iPhone X by swiping up to go home, then enter your passcode.

Notifications

By default, the contents of iPhone X notifications are hidden on the lock screen until you authenticate with Face ID. You’ll see that you have mail, tweets, Facebook activity etc, but you won’t know the specifics until you authenticate. If you wish to change this behaviour, visit Notification Settings and double-tap the “Show Previews” button, changing the setting to always.

New keyboard

On iPhone X, the virtual keyboard is positioned a little lower than on other devices. The buttons to switch keyboards and begin dictation have been moved off the keyboard, and are now at the bottom left and bottom right respectively.

Remember, when the virtual keyboard is active, you can use the magic tap gesture, a two-finger double-tap, to start and stop dictation.

Got an iPhone X?

If you have an iPhone X already, how’s it going for you? Are you finding Face ID easy to use or do you feel it’s a step backwards for blind users?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

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