Is Apple Watch Accessible? Apple Isn’t Saying
Stream issues notwithstanding, Apple delivered a presentation today that would have met most people’s expectations.
When I look back at the blog post on my iPhone 6 wish list, I’m pretty pleased.
The big reveal of the day was Apple’s watch. A couple of the features caught my attention from a blindness perspective, including the ability to be alerted with subtle vibrations when to turn left or right while travelling, and receiving a discrete notification when you’re travelling and have reached your destination. For blind people who are concerned about having to listen to instructions while walking, this could be great.
Unfortunately, there is not yet any word on whether the Apple Watch is accessible. I sent a quick email to Apple Accessibility, and received the reply that information about Apple Watch is available on its web page. They went on to say they were not at liberty to comment on anything not contained on that page. And since there is no word about accessibility on that page, that means Apple just isn’t saying one way or the other.
Apple’s “need-to-know” culture is legendary, so it’s possible that those responding to all the accessibility queries about Apple Watch are only coming up to speed now. It’s also true that VoiceOver, on products where it exists, tends to be featured on the Apple site, so perhaps we may be sitting out at least the first cut of the software.
I’m confident that at this point, the product specification for the first iteration of the Apple Watch software will have been set. So it is disappointing that Apple wouldn’t have authorised an answer to the question many blind people are asking on social networks and email lists. Can we use it, or can’t we? It’s a really simple question, I’m sure by now there is an answer one way or the other, and I hope very much we will get that answer sooner rather than later.
I’m really hoping it is accessible. Seeing as Voiceover is integrated into the Apple TV, which isn’t considered a hero product like iPad, iPhone and mac to the best of my knowledge, not including it in something as popular as Apple Watch is sure to be seems like a rather large oversight. Plus, I have a feeling my job could be more than a bit more difficult if I ever have to demo the watch for customers, as i won’t simply be able to tell Siri to turn Voiceover on and then proceed with a demonstration or workshop. Only time will tell, I suppose.
If I was a betting man, I’d bet that the Apple Watch won’t be accessible. Mainly for the following reasons.
First of all, let’s look at the size. This thing is tiny. With small devices plus very powerful chips comes heat. A hot iPhone or iPad is one thing but I doubt anyone will tolerate the Apple watch reaching those temperatures. Therefore as chips need to be kept small, there’s no space for heat dissipation using heat syncs etc., I would logically conclude that the operating system running on the watch probably isn’t a particularly recognisable variant or fork of IOS. I say this because IOS has evolved to be a power hungry, processor and memory intensive and very versatile operating system. It’s completely unrecognisable from the operating system on the original iPhone. Because I can’t see how the watch could provide the required memory or processor power without having a serious overheating issue, I don’t think it’s running IOS.
If Apple have written an entirely new operating system for the apple watch, it’s quite possible and even likely that the time just hasn’t been there to enable them to build accessibility in so quickly from the ground up. They say they’ve been working on this for years but looking at the technologies in use in the Apple watch, I just don’t believe that. Look at the flexible display for example. That wasn’t around more than a year or two ago. The entire concept of the watch couldn’t have been dreamed of accurately before these technologies became available. I am of the opinion that they were very conscious that they were rapidly losing market share to Android and even Microsoft to a smaller extent. They were plummeting toward a single digit market share in the mobile phone market and they needed to play catch up. This is also quite obvious in the release of the iPhone 6 and 6+. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t provide a breakdown of sales to users who have switched from the Android platform but it’s not beyond the realm of reason that within the first weekend of the launch alone, they will likely hit double the sales of previous years in the same period simply by attracting people who are now switching from Android because they favour the larger screen. I must stress, it’s because of this that I have absolutely no intention of moving to an iPhone 6 or 6+. The last thing I want or need is a larger screen taking space in my pocket and draining my battery life.
I have no doubt that if the Apple watch is running a new operating system, a lot of components have been pillaged from IOS. Who knows, maybe the accessibility functionality has been ported across as well. I certainly hope so but for a new form factor, an entirely new chip, very limited battery life and no space for proper heat dissipation, I really question how viable it is to have a resource hungry screen reader running on this first generation hardware right from the starting gate.
If it happens, I’ll be one of the first in the queue to buy one of these because personally, I like wearing a watch and if it can allow me to more discretely use my phone by reading notifications etc., I’ll jump at it.
I think the Apple watch will be accessible with Voiceover. Why? Because it have a build in speaker.