Is the iPad the ultimate accessible electronic accessory? Of course not, but it has some serious potential. Right away, iPad 1.0 already wins the accessible tech toy race hands down. With a few small changes, next year’s iPad 2.0 could begin to render many low vision aids obsolete.
Out of the gate, the iPad is sleek, light and simple with a large, color screen. Apple appears to have left all the accessibility features of the iPhone in the iPad operating system, as has been documented elsewhere (see Accessibility and the iPad: First Impressions and Hey Apple, What About iPad’s Accessibility?). So the iPad starts out with full zoom, high-contrast mode and VoiceOver. But what more could it offer visually-impaired users?
With its large LCD, Apple could raise the maximum zoom and font sizes. The iPhone has limits on how far it’s pinch zoom will go. The ‘Giant’ font size on the iPhone does not live up to it’s name. Readers have commented on earlier posts with similar concerns on iPhone app font sizes. Apple has a chance to improve readability here with no cost to users or to themselves.
iBooks looks beautiful, so the iPad will be a big player in the eBook reader market. On the accessibility front, the iBooks app appears to have limited font selection and no alternate color scheme, a limitation shared by Amazon’s Kindle. The app store may come in handy here as the Kindle app for the iPhone, as well as third party eBook apps, like Sranza, offer these features. With the forthcoming Blio reader app, eBooks on the iPad could become a richer audio and visual experience. One last question outstanding for iBooks is the availability of a text-to-speech function. Amazon took a lot of heat for offering this feature on its Kindle II. Whether Apple is willing to enter the fray is an open question. The app store could, potentially, ride to the rescue here if other eReader apps are ready to step up.
The reason that I cannot use a laptop is that the keyboard gets in the way when I try to see the screen. The iPad does not have this problem. With it’s virtual keyboard (and light weight), I could easily hold it up to my eyes for reasonable periods of time. Apple offers a physical keyboard for sale, but the iPad needs to connect physically as the keyboard is also a stand and a charger. With a Bluetooth keyboard (and a very tall stand), the iPad approaches my ideal of an accessible laptop. According to Apple, the “iPad also comes with Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR technology, letting you connect to devices like wireless headphones or the Apple Wireless Keyboard.“ This iPad device is solving yet another problem I have with mobile computing.
iWorks will expand the iPad past the iPkone’s functionality further into that of computers. These apps are Apple’s version of MS Office. As iWorks is a native iPad app, it should be fully integrated into VoiceOver, the screen reader. Hopefully, iWorks can also be integrated with the Dragon Dictation app. There is potential here for a portable accessible laptop.
A few hardware features are missing from iPad 1.0, I would not be surprised to see them in future iterations. The fist is a camera (An iPad Camera?). Besides the door an iPad camera could open for visually impaired photographers , it could have a wide range of implications for accessibility. With the right app, a camera would make the iPad an excellent electronic magnifier. An electronic magnifiers currently cost more than an iPad and are cumbersome devices with only one use. With one stroke, Apple could make that market niche obsolete. With the appropriate stand, the iPad could replace the CCTV magnifiers many visually people use to read, saving us from yet another expensive, single-function and aesthetically-challenged low vision aid.
A second useful hardware addition (if it is not already built in) would be GPS. There are many possible accessibility uses for GPS. The first is replacing handheld navigation aids. While iPhone turn-by-turn directions app have not replaced the GPS devices on car dashboards, visually impaired pedestrians could make great use of this. Beyond directions, descriptions would be great (see my post: GPS vs. Talking Lamp-Posts. Why we need a WikiAudioEyesGuide.Org). Apps like Hearplanet offer location-based Wikipedia guides of nearby attractions. With a more exhaustive database, visually impaired pedestrians could easily call up both descriptions of what is nearby and directions to them.
Besides all that Apple could do to make the iPad accessible, the apps is be where the iPad’s accessibility has the most potential. What can the developer community come up with? How can it pick up the ball where Apple drips it? The iPhone already offers great accessible apps. There is the BigNames contacts manager. Nuance offers several dictation apps. There are multiple accessible eBook apps. The list goes on.
The iPad certainly has the potential to become the indispensable low vision aid. it could replace several clunky and expensive aids currently in use from magnifiers to handheld GPS to DAISY book readers. It could bring eBook readers and laptops to the low vision market in one device. Let’s just see if Apple can realize at least some of this potential.If you find this post useful or interesting, please consider buying me a cup of coffee.