A Christmas Gift To Myself: My Upgrade from iPhone 8 to 12 Pro

After listening to visionaries like Shelly Brisbin of the Parallel Podcast, and Blind Abilities, both of which have done extensive demos, I finally opted to acquire an iPhone 12 Pro. Ever since Apple began what is essentially its new presentation of iPhone form factors with the 10, I have both contemplated and rebelled against upgrading into this line. The mai reason is because I knew that, like the headphone jack before it with the 7 upgrade, I had to swallow the fact that Apple would take away another item that I loved: the home button. I’ve had my new piece of hardware for almost a week, and I have a few thoughts about what it does, and doesn’t, do the way I want it.

First, there is the loss of that blasted home button, and perhaps more importantly the loss of Touch ID. I used to love being able to just place my fingers on the phone and launching the unlock screen from my pocket, and thus being able to hop onto my Braille display without even having to remove the phone. Even more though, as a blind person who has little idea of how to have a camera “see” me, it took a few tries and some suggestions from my wife To figure out how to get the thing to work. And what I’ve learned is that the best way for me to open it is to place the phone on level with my nose and move it about a foot away before squeezing the side button to activate. If the Face ID works, I get less haptic feedback than if it doesn’t work. I assume there is also a sound that accompanies that, but I have that feature turned off because sound effects with my Braille display would not be convenient, to say the least.

That aggravation, the use and somewhat unreliable results of Face ID, is real but not a deal breaker. What I do like, love! about this phone is the much-improved battery life. By the time I ditched my 8, I was charging it nearly 3 times a day. Now of course that has a lot to do with how old the phone had become, but even at its newest, I only could get a good half a day with it if I wished to use it extensively. Now, I get home from work and still have nearly 75% left, meaning I can just plug it in prior to bed time, get it off right before going to sleep, and it’s ready for the next day.

Power is important, but processing capacity matters to me even more. I could read the tea leaves, and tell that pretty soon I would not be able to use the newest accessibility features on a phone that lacks “juice,” one might say. Already, some of the stuff available in the 12 line, such as photo and text recognition, are not fully available in anything lower than the 10. And the photo recognition is fantastic, as it can explain pictures on sites like Facebook with context that I have hardly ever seen anywhere else. I can truly understand for the first time what is actually intended by a person’s photo.

I know that many say that some of what the 12 Pro brings in particular with the Lidar, are largely not useful yet, but with apps like Microsoft’s Seeing AI And others are already lining up to take advantage of this technology in ways we cannot fully fathom. So from my point of view, I feel that the purchase was worth it.

Some General Observations

  • I can’t seem to get Face ID to work in-app, to enter passwords and such, so usually have to enter the passcode. Annoying, but again not the end of the world
  • This phone’s sound, especially when connected to my Bose speaker, is different. I’m no audiophile and am mostly deaf, so can’t say if it’s better or worse, but I did have to tinker to get it set so I could hear speech clearly
  • The added accessibility features won’t really work unless you turn VoiceOver Recognition on in the accessibility settings. So it could be a little confusing when using, say the Magnifier app, to identify what’s in one’s surroundings

So I guess my main hope is to get at least three years out of this thing, and that by such time I still feel like the decision was worth it. I do hope that they don’t leave those who with to maintain the use of Touch ID and perhaps even a home button out of further advancements, but I fear we may be headed in that direction. If I’m wrong and something comes out next year that still wraps all of this into one package, I won’t be mad! Till then though, I’ll enjoy and have fun exploring the world in new ways.

Eight Years of I: My Thoughts On Apple’s Recent Updates

On this day way back in 2012, I posted my first ever iPhone status to Facebook. It was error-riddled, but still I was proud to have mastered use of the touch screen enough to do so. Did auto-correct exist then? I don’t know, but perhaps even if it did I hadn’t learned to use it as I’d only owned the device for a couple of days.

Who could have known in those days that the iPhone, and really all aspects of Apple would take me in as they have. As an aside: what does the letter “i” even stand for as Apple uses it? Internet? Information? In any event, they seem to be deprecating it as time goes on, which makes sense as the company matures.

As I note eight years of Apple products, I thought it would be fun to look at my favorite and least favorite aspects of them. First, there’s my trusty iPhone (now I’m up to the 8 as I have been since this time in 2018). I upgraded it to iOS 14, and it’s still mostly working fine. On-screen typing seems a bit laggy, but I can still do it. This is not a huge deal anyway, since I now have the Mantis Display, which is also working considerably better under 14. So I do most of my typing on this keyboard anyway.

I also notice cosmetic changes, like the fact that it describes Facebook photos better with VoiceOver on, although the 8 does not gain full access to the newest accessibility features like image and text recognition because of its slower processor. I have thus been bouncing back and forth on whether to acquire the iPhone SE 2020, as I suspect that whatever else comes the 8 will be just about unable to handle anyway. But I am glad I have held out now, as rumor has it that the new iPhone 12 might re-introduce some form of Touch ID. If they do, we’ll see how much the phone goes for and consider it.

The biggest, and happiest, change I’ve gotten from the Apple updates Has been to the Apple Watch. My issue with this watch has been the inconsistent vibration to check time that one initiates via a double tap. If your finger didn’t hit the watch quite right, or sometimes if the system just got confused as double tap is an extremely common gesture in VoiceOver anyway, the time would be spoken aloud. This meant that if, say, I opted to check time during a meeting, I was rolling the dice and might end up ruffling feathers, especially at work. So what they seem to have done to fix this, and it took me a while and a whole lot of frustration to figure it out at first, is to make it where you first activate the watch with a single tap, then perform whichever gesture you wish. This, along with speeding up the haptic output, has made the response a lot more consistent and thus has decreased the amount of aggravation I might give my coworkers as I keep needling that clock toward the end of the day. And even more than that, I now have access to Volume Control right from the VoiceOver Rotor, meaning that if I’m in a situation where I really don’t want it to speak I can easily turn the watch down without needing the phone as before.

And that’s about the heart of it, from my perspective. The major Mac update hasn’t launched yet, at least I don’t think it has as I rarely turn on that machine anymore these days other than to edit and post these entries. But I’m satisfied with the fairly small but important improvements I have noticed. The watch vibration thing is especially useful to me, as it even allows me to check the time without reinserting the hearing aids or disturbing my wife. Without knowledge of the time, the night can seem to drag and I feel uncertain as to whether I’ve overshot my wake time, even though she has the alarm there and will let me know.

Anyhow, Apple has continued to enhance the power and usefulness of these products to those with disabilities over these 8 years, and I look forward to however many more they have as a relevant tech company.

Bugging Out With the Mantis Q40: My Quick Take Review

Hey hey! Comin’ at ya from my new display. I have, after five years of great use with the Brailliant, acquired a Mantis Q40 from the American Printing House for the Blind. After all, technology marches on and this represents the potential fora significant upgrade. This machine has a full-sized laptop keyboard located above the row of Braille cells, which makes typing a lot easier and more intuitive.

I surprisingly received it yesterday. With APH’s ordering information, I had a hard time deducing when the device had actually shipped, and was thus kind of nervous and concerned until it finally arrived. After that, of course the rest of the day was spent playing with my new “toy”

So, first I had to familiarize myself with the display’s functioning by reading much of the user manual. It is relatively straightforward, but getting everything to work was… not. I would say the experience was similar to that when I first got my Brailliant five years ago, which is to say that a new device is going to have some issues. I think many of these are of Apple’s making, and I hope that they will be resolved sooon.

The primary issue I’m having, and just had as I typed this, is keeping the display connected to the phone via Bluetooth. It took four tries to even get some semblance of joining, and with each attempt after that the connection seemed to become more stable. Now, when it freezes periodically, I have only to go into the Bluetooth menu on my iPhone, disconnect and reconnect the display and it usually works. Obviously this would present long term challenges, but well we’ll see.

To find the positive: I love the machine’s size as they still manage to have a thin, very portable device with the full keyboard. The keys have nice spring and are just fun to type on, although the Braille bug that doesn’t let you type too fast, which has existed since iOS 11, is still a big nuisance. What was I saying about hope for a fix to these other problems soon? Yeah.

I also enjoy the crispness of the Braille, and find that I can now read at about 1.5 times the speed. Of what I used to manage. The thumb and panning buttons, while likely he Brailliant’s, are just a bi t smaller and perhaps more responsive in some way. So until the myriad writing stuff is reworked, I will likely most enjoy the reading experience.

So would I, in my short time having this device, recommend it? Well yes, and especially fort he educational//professional audience for whom it is most intended. As I mentioned before, typing is just easier than Braille in many respects, most notably when one must enter email and passwords, which even if I know the correct Braille symbols the translator just gets wrong. I would also recommend it for its charge, which seems lightning fast, and the replaceable batttery. This machine looks like it will hold up for at least another five years, and hopefully at some point I will be able to pound out my great American novel on it as well as to get back up to regular posting. There will be another probably in less than a wee k. Till then, have a good Fourth of July holiday.

To The Max: On HBO’s New App and Accessibility Challenges

Yay, Fresh Prince is finally available through streaming. This was my thought as soon as they rolled out HBO Max this past Wednesday, as I’d heard that this one of already so many streaming services would be the one to cary that show. So I knew I would immediately try to get it and see what, if anything, they have in the way of accessibility.

The short answer, at least at the time of this article’s writing as I know and hope that things can change quickly, is not a whole lot. The challenges began as soon as I downloaded and launched the HBO Max app. Fortunately you can connect the app to Apple TV and find shows that way, but in order to do that you must first subscribe.

At first, I swiped around on the screen and it just kept repeating the immediately viewable icon, until I had the bright idea of touching the screen in different places, a method called Explore by Touch. I eventually encountered a button labeled Subscribe Now and tapped it. I was able to enter my username, email and password, but when I tried to press “done” it wouldn’t take. I later deduced that this was because I had not checked the box accepting their terms, as I could not even find said box except on the HBO Max website. So I was forced to use that to sign up, after which I discovered that the web site worked little on the Mac and I could not actually sign in once the account had been created. So back to the phone, I guess somehow shutting and restarting the app made a usable sign-in button appear that I could press and enter my account info, and finally I was ready to go!

A subscription costs $14.95 a month, but it could be worth it as they have several good movies, documentaries, and series. In addition to the Fresh Prince, which I intend to watch in its entirety over the next few months because of the nostalgia (ah, simpler times, well not really but they always seem so when looking back right?) They have the series From the Earth to the Moon, which chronicles America’s Space race with the Soviets. I also saw The Big Bang Theory, which I didn’t watch when it initially came out but might catch now.

However, if the app does not make accessibility improvements in the coming months, honestly it boggles my mind that they would release it without these in the first place these days, then I probably will no longer fork over my dough. I am glad they have closed captioning for individuals who are deaf. I had hoped that, at least with HBO programming, they would include audio description for those of us who cannot see, but as far as I can tell this is not available. Also, because of the way one must interact with the screen, the app is completely inaccessible with a refreshable Braille display. If one could not connect it to Apple TV, then I would definitely have to hold out for some kind of improvements. Please take a look at your competitors, Amazon, Netflix and the like, and follow some of what they’ve done. After all there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. But we blind folks and others with disabilities want to be able to come along for the ride.

The short answer, at least at the time of this article’s writing as I know and hope that things can change quickly, is not a whole lot. The challenges began as soon as I downloaded and launched the HBO Max app. Fortunately you can connect the app to Apple TV and find shows that way, but in order to do that you must first subscribe.

At first, I swiped around on the screen and it just kept repeating the immediately viewable icon, until I had the bright idea of touching the screen in different places, a method called Explore by Touch. I eventually encountered a button labeled Subscribe Now and tapped it. I was able to enter my username, email and password, but when I tried to press “done” it wouldn’t take. I later deduced that this was because I had not checked the box accepting their terms, as I could not even find said box except on the HBO Max website. So I was forced to use that to sign up, after which I discovered that the web site worked little on the Mac and I could not actually sign in once the account had been created. So back to the phone, I guess somehow shutting and restarting the app made a usable sign-in button appear that I could press and enter my account info, and finally I was ready to go!

A subscription costs $14.95 a month, but it could be worth it as they have several good movies, documentaries, and series. In addition to the Fresh Prince, which I intend to watch in its entirety over the next few months because of the nostalgia (ah, simpler times, well not really but they always seem so when looking back right?) They have the series From the Earth to the Moon, which chronicles America’s Space race with the Soviets. I also saw The Big Bang Theory, which I didn’t watch when it initially came out but might catch now.

However, if the app does not make accessibility improvements in the coming months, honestly it boggles my mind that they would release it without these in the first place these days, then I probably will no longer fork over my dough. I am glad they have closed captioning for individuals who are deaf. I had hoped that, at least with HBO programming, they would include audio description for those of us who cannot see, but as far as I can tell this is not available. Also, because of the way one must interact with the screen, the app is completely inaccessible with a refreshable Braille display. If one could not connect it to Apple TV, then I would definitely have to hold out for some kind of improvements. Please take a look at your competitors, Amazon, Netflix, Apple, and the like, and follow some of what they’ve done. After all there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. But we blind folks and others with disabilities want to be able to come along for the ride.