The Awesomeness That Is VoiceOver

We started work on version 3 of powerOne for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch this past week. While I am not ready to announce what made the cut and what didn’t, we do hope to ship it to Apple in about a month. It will be a free upgrade to current customers.

One of the requests we got was to enhance our support for Apple’s accessibility feature called VoiceOver. Our customer said, “This app isn’t perfectly compatible with VoiceOver, Apple’s built-in text-to-speech technology, but it is the best I’ve found so far.” I’m really glad she wrote because powerOne is perfectly geared toward the sight-impaired and with version 3 it will be even better.

How does VoiceOver work? There is a setting in the Settings app (General then Accessibility) that when turned on lets you tap a button, label, or control once to hear what it is and then double-tap anywhere on the screen to activate the button or flick to move the slider. It is a little arduous but I can only imagine how hard these devices are to use for the visually impaired without it.

For the most part the iPhone and iPad is really smart. It does things like read the contents of table cells and labels. Today the templates work quite well as Apple reads the label and value in each cell when tapped. But the calculator and number editors are filled with buttons with graphics and it reads the name of the graphic used on the button. Other problems include the fact that it doesn’t tell you the settings correctly and it didn’t read the result of a calculation.

We went through and spent the better part of a day assigning all those details. For instance choosing the decimal precision now tells you the current setting and as you move the slider it reads it to you: “0”, “float”, “1”. Every calculator button now says what it does, every toolbar and navigation bar buttons says what it does, it even reads the help to you. And now when you complete a math problem, algebraic or RPN mode, it reads you the result.

This was one of those features that would have been easy to justify away. After all, how many sight-impaired customers could we possibly have? But it is rare that we get a chance to implement a feature that truly helps people better themselves, to help those who would otherwise need help do for themselves. In some ways the time spent enhancing powerOne for VoiceOver felt like no time at all!


5 thoughts on “The Awesomeness That Is VoiceOver

  1. Great work guys. I’m an VI iPhone user as well, and use VoiceOver as my main way to access the device. Making these fixes to your app helps spread a message of accessibility and lets developers know how easy it was to do. 🙂

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