Another season, another release candidate for NVDA. The 4th version for 2017 includes a variety of improvements and also drops Windows XP and Vista support.
The following is a guest opinion post from Alex Hall. We thank him for sending in the below article.
Earlier this week, I saw a
from Joe regarding Apple, usability, iPhone X, etc. Rather than engage over Twitter, I thought I'd write an article in response. Twitter may have recently doubled its character limit, but it is still quite a limited forum for long-form thoughts and discussions.
First, here is the text of both tweets. I've put it into a single paragraph for convenience.
I’m tired of Apple, and their loyalist brethren, telling me I’m a Luddite for not excepting change. Touch Bar, headphone jack home button. And all the changes have been added to pad apples production cost. Not because the change is benefiting the user.
The gist of Joe's opinion seems to be that Apple is making devices less usable, introducing features that aren't necessary and that serve mostly to make money. Remove the headphone jack, and suddenly, those AirPods are way more appealing. Furthermore, Apple doesn't make devices as usable as they used to (the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar and the missing home button on iPhone X being two prime examples).
My basic point boils down to this. The way I see things, Apple isn't interested in making devices that are the best to use for every single customer. Rather, they make devices that are best to use for the majority, then they try to make that design accessible to the rest. A prime example is the iPhone. Physical buttons are objectively easier to use by visually impaired people than flat, featureless touch surfaces, as evidenced by every blind person who has cursed their iPhone while trying to use an automated menu while on a call. But Apple didn't include a physical keypad around which was worked a touch screen because that wasn't the vision they had for the majority of their users. Instead, they added VoiceOver, to make the touch screen as accessible as possible to those who would be less able to use an iPhone. Other accessibility efforts have emerged since, from VoiceOver improvements to low vision and touch accommodations and beyond. However, Apple didn't set out to make a phone that was optimized for the deaf, or blind, or paralyzed, they made the phone they thought the world wanted, then made that design as accessible as they could.
The Touch Bar is a more recent example, and as a user of a MacBook equipped with such a bar, I can speak from personal experience. For blind users, the bar is a poor replacement for physical keys in many situations. It has some advantages, such as sliders for fine-grained control, or offering buttons at one's fingertips instead of the user having to remember keystrokes. But there are plenty of times I miss physical keys, and that's just in macOS; running Windows on this computer is even more of a challenge. Yet, for sighted users, the concept makes a lot of sense. A strip of seldom-used keys is replaced by a touch screen, letting developers put whatever they want on there. Sliders, emoji, typing suggestions, oft-used commands, macros, the list goes on. Is it the best for blind users? No. Is it the best for a certain kind of power user? No. For touch typists who rarely even look down at their hands? No. But for the majority of users, the idea makes sense. Apple then added great VoiceOver support to the Touch Bar, made the function key with numbers emulate f-keys, and took other steps to help blind users get the most from the bar. Those efforts, combined with key remapping in VMWare (which I use to run Windows) mean that my Touch Bar is fully accessible. To Joe's point, no, it's not as efficient or usable, and I'll be the first to admit that. I think about him saying that every time I have to tap the escape key, then double tap it to activate it. What I'm getting at is that Apple never intended this MacBook to be made for my specific needs or what I would find to be most usable. They made it for the masses, then made it so I could use it if I chose to.
There's also Apple's vision to consider. I'm not saying this vision is right, or even preferable, but the fact is, it's there. Apple has the vision, and they have the talent and the hardware and the developers and the money. Apple will follow their vision, and if the market hates it enough to not buy it, they'll adjust. But much of the time, the market is on board once they get ahold of the new device/design. I'm thinking of the iPhone here. The chief designer of the iPhone line has
said that the ultimate goal for iPhone is a single slab of glass.
No holes, no buttons, no nothing, just a glass-encased device driven entirely by voice, touch, and wireless. That vision is the goal, and iPhone X is the first step toward it. Is having no home button better or worse than having one? Depends, but the sighted reviewers I've read seem to not care about its removal at all. Will blind users? Yes, of course, but I've not heard much negativity toward the idea even from that group. Admittedly, though, the intersection of blind people I know/read, and the population that has the new iPhone, is very small, so time will tell on that point. Still, Apple did its best to make the new design accessible, with tactile feedback as the user's finger moves indicating where to start, and when to stop, moving. Is the new model the best for every user? No, but that's never been Apple's way. They do what they think is best, and then make it as usable as is practical.
This may also involve a shift in usage patterns. I've had my own iPad now for only a day or so, but I find myself rarely pressing the home button. Instead, I bring up the dock, and find the app I want there. Between apps I've placed there, and suggested apps, I almost never have to go to the home screen. A two-finger swipe from the bottom edge feels completely natural to me, after very little use; I don't doubt that many iPhone X users will experience something similar. They may not miss the home button because the way they interact with the device has changed. Even if they use the home command a lot, it could be a quick adaptation that seems quite normal after relatively little adjustment.
Joe's other point was that much of the design changes are to make money. First off, I agree. Since Apple is still a publicly traded company, it has to make money. The job of any CEO is, ultimately, to turn a profit with his or her business. Apple has always been expensive, and iPhone X is no different. But it's also no different from other Apple firsts. The company seems to do this quite often: make a new product category, or a radical redesign of an existing one, and charge more than expected. Then, as that new thing evolves and matures, the price will stabilize. MacBooks weren't always $999, and Minis weren't always $499. When prices do remain the same, the specs generally get better. See iOS device storage changes, or the bump in MacBook base model storage, or the increasing power of Apple Watch, for more instances of better value for the same cost.
Yes, iPhone X is super expensive. But that's normal for a new product like this. Apple has never gone bezel-less, never used Face ID sensors, never not had a home button, and never, to my knowledge, used a new alloy of stainless steel in any iPhone. Besides, they didn't drop all other options; they still offer the SE, 6s, 7, and the all-new 8, which was unveiled right next to the X. Eventually, I don't doubt the X form factor will be the only one around, but that's very likely years away. For now, everyone has options, and with the 8, users aren't even giving up performance or storage if they want the classic iPhone style.
As someone who does occasional device training, I know exactly where Joe is coming from when he talks about the difficulty of training someone on a gesture-centric device like iPhone X. Believe me, I had to suffer through the iOS 11 mail rotor bugs with someone who'd only just started to grasp using mail, and I've had to talk people through enough broken websites or random screen reader failures to know that pain all too well. If someone won't do well with no "get me outta here" button, though, they can pick up an older iPhone, or an 8. There are still options, and those who don't want to pay the early adopter/beta tester tax don't have to.
To sum up, I think Joe's points are that Apple is making changes just to make them, and that making new interfaces usable doesn't mean they're efficient to use. I'd say that they have to keep changing things, or they don't make as much money, and making money is why any for-profit exists. Besides, remember all the people saying how boring the old phone design was, when it didn't change in three years? As to usability, being a Touch Bar user, I absolutely agree. But what I've come to think is that Apple makes products for the majority, and in line with what they see as the future. Then, they make those as usable as they can. Sometimes, that's an ultra-efficient experience, like the actions rotor or braille screen input. Sometimes, it's less than great, like the Touch Bar. But just as visually impaired people don't always get the best experience, neither do sighted people. Is everyone happy with the notch in iPhone X, or the fact that MacBook Airs still lack retina displays? Not at all. Taking the good with the bad is part of owning any product, though, whether one is sighted or blind.
I'm not trying to change anyone's mind or start an argument. I just wanted to offer my own thoughts on this, providing some possible rationality for what I took to be somewhat undeserved criticism of Apple. I'm not saying, and will never say, that Apple is perfect or that everyone should use their products. I've tried to talk people into going with Apple, but just as often, I've told them Windows, or Android, or Roku would be their best choice. I've never suggested someone buy an Airport router, and I don't go out and buy the latest shinies just because they exist. I want to sometimes, but I don't. I'm also happy to criticize Apple when they deserve it, such as their not including USB-C adapters with the 2016 or 2017 MacBook Pro, or the release of past iOS versions with important accessibility bugs not yet fixed. I'm not a fanboy (at least I hope I'm not) despite how my Twitter feed may slant. But I wanted to respond to these tweets, so there we go. I know plenty of people will probably disagree, and that's great. These are important discussions to have, especially as we're in the early days of what is likely to be a new iPhone paradigm. Just remember that Apple is a business, and not one whose aim is to produce accessibility-specific technology.
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CafePress offers Up to 50 percent off unique Mugs, perfect for Christmas gifts. Use coupon code "MUGS17" to get the deal that ends December 21.
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Dell Home & Home Office offers some serious Black Friday Doorbusters! Dell PCs are starting at $129.99. No coupon code is needed, just click the provided link to shop this sale. Deal ends November 24.
Humanware is offering discounts on a variety of their most popular products until Monday November 27. These discounts are only available online to residents of the United States. All discounts include free shipping.
Popular OCR app KNFB Reader is on sale half off until November 30. According to the company, KNFB Reader will be on sale from November 24-30, though some customers are reporting seeing the discount already.
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M_B_McCarty via eBay has the Hand Crafted Wooden Shutbox Game, with 9 Numbers, Dice Included for $29.95 with free shipping. This is the classic Shut The Box game, hand crafted by Roger Schaf of Louisville, Kentucky. Made of all natural wood with a felt playing area, this game will bring hours of fun to your entire family. See link for full description. A braille option is available, email seller for more information. Roger is a visually impaired woodworker and has sold his products at many conventions.
ThinkGeek offers a huge variety of Clearance items with savings Up to 75 percent off. No coupon code is needed and the list of items is always updating. Click the provided link to see everything currently on sale.
Welcome to our 3rd annual Blind Bargains Holiday Shopping Guide. This year, we've brought the deals straight to your audio feed. Sit back and relax as some of your favorite merchants, or perhaps some that are new to you, tell you about their latest products and services as well as some holiday deals. We'd like to sincerely thank all of the companies who were apart of this show. Below you'll find information about each company in the order they appear in the show.
Be sure to stay with Blind Bargains for lots of deals from Black Friday to Cyber Monday and beyond. We hope you have a safe and fulfilling Thanksgiving and we'll be back to our normal? format next week.
BrailleSense Polaris made its first appearance on Blind Bargains with Joe Steincamp and Dave Wilkinson hidden (for security reasons) in a tiny bunker far below the surface of the Earth. But now there's no need for secrecy as Polaris has been shipping since the end of June so everyone already knows that Polaris is a wicked awesome dude. Joe and Dave review just how far the unit has come since its release. Dave discusses some of the features in the latest firmware upgrade, and the unit does some cool math until Dave and Joe remember they're not so good with numbers. To compensate, they use Polaris and Google Assistant to do the work for them so that you see just how much money you can save with the HIMS-tacular Blind Friday deals on not only Polaris but all other HIMS products, such as the Smart Beetle, GoVision and the U2 Mini But wait! The deals get even better if you ask a friend to bundle. So sit back, relax, and let Joe and Dave get your Blind Friday shopping started.
We thank Hims for sponsoring this holiday podcast.
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A beloved member of just about every part of the Blindness Community passed away recently. Chris @toonhead Skarstad was one of those unique people you rarely encounter in life. He had the uncanny ability to provide a supportive comment, a kind message or a well thought out constructive remark for just about any situation. We will miss you greatly and so will others as demonstrated by this moving thread over at Apple Vis. RIP Toony...
Sad news to report
This is one of those times where we get to talk about actual new hardware with said hardware actually on hand. Joe has the new Google Home mini in the office and J.J. asks him questions about the little round Google Assistant. Jay Forry also returns to talk about the 5 films that turned out not to be good from the summer movie season. And then we get into the spirit of "All Hallow's Eve" in the "Last Word". So get that bowl of trick or treat candy, you know the good stuff you aren't giving out to the neighbors, as we will commune with the week's ghostly news and ghoulish access technology.
Blind Bargains Qast 119: The Nighttime, Sniffling, Sneezing, Stuffy-Head, Fever, so you can Rest Qast
J.J. reports from a remote location and Joe is on autopilot due to the first school year based family sickness. But that didn't stop either of them from bringing along some topical news, "Sound Off" and a few "Last Words". Jay Forry returns as well to talk about summer movies. Which it just so happens to be a great idea for our two hosts since J.J. is traveling and Joe can barely manage to find the remote option on his Apple Watch.
The fun of the hardware announcements has died down, for now, with J.J. and Joe finding themselves back with a full slate of news and a demonstration of YouTube TV. We also have a tip, "Sound Off" and a triumphant return of a long-time favorite subject to the "Last Word".
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