Blind Bargains

Quick Take: Apple Watch Guideline May Have Unintended Consequences for Deaf-blind

A simple sentence added to Apple's App Store Review Guidelines may have unintended consequences for deaf-blind users. The one sentence section 10.7 reads "Watch Apps whose primary function is telling time will be rejected". There's a fringe use case that Apple may not have thought of however.

Currently, the only ways to figure out the current time from an Apple Watch are either visually or from spoken feedback from VoiceOver. Early on, some of us had discussed the real possibility of creating an app that provided vibration feedback to indicate the current time, similar to the Meteor Vibrating Pocket Watch. This watch uses bivration patterns to indicate each digit of the time, with short vibrations for 1 and a longer vibration for 5's. Those with hearing difficulties currently have either limited or no option for telling the current time with the watch, and this new App Store guideline, at least for the time being, eliminates what might have been the most viable solution.

The intent of the guideline makes sense from a branding perspective. Apple designers put hundreds of hours into the layout and aesthetics of the built-in watch faces. The little details, like having the Mickey Mouse watch face speak the time in a higher-pitched voice, is a nice touch. While I don't feel this new guideline was designed to exclude any group of people, it would be great if Apple could either make an exception for a competent developer to create a vibrating watch face or add one themselves in a future update. Given Apple's history when it comes to inclusiveness, I would expect nothing less. Let's just hope it happens sooner than later.

Category: Articles
Displaying 2 comments.
Scott Thursday, 30-Apr-2015 10:14 AM ET:

Great catch! I didn't see this. I knew there was no haptic feedback to give daf-blind users access to the time, but then again, there is also no braille support with the watch at all. The only way to use the watch is through the iOS app, which pretty much defeats the purpose of the Watch for braille users, and most likely, those who are deaf with low vision also. Even with magnification, a 3 inch screen can only do so much to address the needs of low vision users. As I've said in other forums and on email lists, the Apple Watch doesn't really appeal to me as someone who almost eexclusively uses braille on my iDevices. Though the health aspect of tracking would be nice, I can get many of those features from something like a fitbit or other tracking device for a much lower cost. The one thing the Apple Watch had going for it, for those of us who almost only use braille, is the potential for haptic feedback. Now with that being limited, my interest in the device has also become more limited. As far as whether Apple will permit some sort of access to a developer, I doubt it. iTunes has been around forever, and it's the only way to get content on your device that can be accessed in the native applications. True, you can export books from Dropbox to iBooks, but for the most part, the system is pretty locked down. This is where Apple has a major draw-back and where Android shines.

darknexus Friday, 01-May-2015 2:31 PM ET:

Given how haphazard Apple have been enforcing their own guidelines and the number of exceptions they seem willing to make, I doubt the deaf-blind have anything to worry about. See the recent case regarding apps mentioning the Pebble for example. I suspect, if an app like this were to be rejected and the author explains this particular use case, they'd go back on that decision right quick. Apple in particular are very responsive to anything that might give them a little bad PR, and excluding apps like this would certainly do that once the deaf-blind use case is brought to their attension.

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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.

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