Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Year That Was In A.T. 2013 Part 4

Before you go on to read what I had to say about 2013, you can hear what this year’s panel had to say about it by listening to the SeroSpectives archive of the Top Ten list at…
And remember to visit Blind Bargains to read any comments posted there about the list. Or, if you would like, leave SeroTalk an iReport in iBlink Radio or drop a line to with your feedback about the panel’s list. Now, back to the countdown!
6. Amazon Kindle HDX has accessibility built in, Kindle iOS and Android Apps also accessible
Tee hee, my Top 10 is actually 11. Tied for number 6 was this neat new spiffy update from Amazon. The unit not only sported some iPad Mini weaponry with the higher pixel count screen, lighter design and of course the age old chestnut of all iPad competetors… price, Amazon also went stark raving mad telling us all just how fantastic the new HDX was in every conceivable way and through every media outlet possible. Attack ads and a no interest payment plan for the unit during the Holiday season demonstrated just how bad Amazon wants you to have the new Kindle. The cool thing is that the access to it is improved over last year’s first attempt at a talking Kindle Fire. This is partly thanks to google’s improved Talkback, (see my thoughts on Android access circa 2012.) The modified Android v4.2 uses the basic Google framework but then goes off into some interesting directions. Oh, and the iOS and Android Kindle apps got speech friendly as well. They have come late to the party, however Amazon did a lot in 2013 to shed their anti-blind tag and its enough of an effort to garner my tie for the 6th story of 2013.
Check out SPN’s own Buddy Brannan’s take on the HDX here…
And hear his thoughts in an interview with Jamie Pauls on SeroTalk….
5. iPhone 5S and 5C released with iOS 7
There are a few things of note here beyond the general “Apple does it again’ remarks. Firstly, no one say a thing ever again to me ever about iOS nonfragmentation… ever! in one fell swoop, Apple not only fragmented the ecosystem more between iPad, iPad Mini, and iPhone, they went on to break the iPhone model of distribution too. The 5c seems, on paper, to be a good idea for those people [like me] who don’t want their biometric data in the hands of any large monolithic companies. The hardware changes from it to the 5s, namely 64 bit support and the motion chips, due mean that we once again have a performance difference along the various devices that can run iOS. So, when you think about say iOS 7 testing you have to think along the lines of, ahem…
iPod testing
iPad 2 testing
iPad 3 Collector’s Edition testing
iPad 4 testing
iPad Air testing
iPad Mini first gen testing
iPad mini with Retina testing
iPhone 4, 4s, 5, 5c and 5s performance testing
mind you its still not as crazy as the average year of Samsung devices in Android, but still, the idea some clung to out there that Apple had no fragmented experience for users rates right up there with the classic denial of “security through obscurity”, given that most of the world’s malware comes from Adobe via both Windows and mac. Besides, those people end up putting Windows on the mac anyway making the hole “macs don’t get viruses’ thing kind of moot.
As a whole, and you will be shocked, this doesn’t really bother me. No really, my recommendation has always been to buy the Apple product you think you can afford then choose the next model up to avoid compatibility or memory issues later on when Apple votes your device off the “models we Support in version x” island. Long time watchers of Apple, and I do consider myself one of those, have known this for years. However, apple has many new devotees coming on board and to watch them all struggle with confusing messaging and multiple models was somewhat funny to see in what used to be a “pick up and go” purchase philosophy under Steve jobs.
These days, if you aren’t low vision, talking Apple got just a little more complicated as to what device would fit a person’s needs. But if you are low vision, iOS7 did one heck of a number on you between the color scheme and the icon/motion in iOS 7. I have not been asked for Android tablet and phone recommendations more in any year than in 2013 due to many in the low vision Community having general frustration with what came about in the latest version of the Apple Mobile OS. The lure of larger screens, more customization and things like nova Launcher did much to sway some out of the land of the Genius Bar. And this upheaval, along with several new flavors of iDevice, was enough for me to toss this one in at number 5 of 2013.
Here is an interesting article about Tech as a Religion that echoes that “Screen Reader as a Religion” post from 2011. Always neat when we hear about something we think is Blindness specific but is actually just run of the mill human behavior.
Oh, and be sure to listen to some very knowledgeable Apple Acolytes over at Triple click Home for the latest in Apple news and opinions…
4. Windows 8.1 Released with a Start Button Again
Sure, sure Microsoft did a lot of giving in and giving up in 2013. Backtracks on Skype, Xbox One and “here’s your freaking Start button back you whiners” were newsworthy. But, for those of us using Assistive Technology, the issues with Windows are bigger than a button or a bread box. For the first time ever, we had two Windows releases in two years with a third coming in 2014 plus a revamped version altogether in 2015. Conceivably, if MS holds to prior behaviors, we could be looking at an early Developer Preview of the next major version of Windows [not sure if that would be called Windows 9 or not] in 2014 at the same time development is going for what could be considered Windows 8.2.
Taking XP off the table, starting this April, that means you have the zillion flavors of 7, Windows 8, 8.1 and 8.2 [in 32 and 64 bit configurations] in active support. Along with IE 9 through 11 or even 12 if released in 2014. While Google has killed support for lots of Googly things for IE 9, several major banks have not, and they look at IE 11 as an extraterrestrial First contact opportunity. In other words, its alien to them.
Now if you think about the number of Firefox versions released in a year, the fact mark wants Facebook to always evolve and the other things that come along with the rapid release mentality of “drop the code and fix later’, things like User interface standards and Web Standards seem more like an afterthought than ever before.
VoiceOver already sees changes, both good and bad, in each version that comes along. And the support for various basic navigation and reading can change dramaticly from version to version. Windows, however, had the corner on solid and relatively boring safe old dependable trusty dusty Windows going for it. Well minus those who were in the “when it has SP1, we’ll test” aditudes. For good or bad, you kind of knew what you got with Windows and the various Windows based Screen Readers. That floor dropped out in October with the release of Windows 8.1.
Now Windows is going toe to toe with Mac OS with yearly updates. Technologies, like Skype, get leveraged into the Windows OS making access something more than a “nice-to-have” and more of a “want” on the wish list of access. And if employed, here is where it gets really interesting, legacy operating systems and Screen reader support is just the tip of the iceberg of what you have to be aware of when it comes to obtaining or maintaining your level of access on the job. Naturally there is the classic need for MS Office access, gulp Sharepoint, but then there are more and more “off-the-shelf” sales and HR packages driving many parts of both big and small business. And those things usually work better in newer environments. Which then begins the “battle of IT” for legacy versus the BYOD (bring your own device) needs of the modern users which require that newer and newer tech be introduced which may or may not just be Screen Reader friendly. Throw that in with the tons of people who want the latest shiny Facebook thingy to work on day one of its release, sigh, and something has to give.
Earlier this year there was a discussion about Screen Reader innovation that I found to be interesting. The concept was centered around features and stagnation. The problem is that ten years ago the scope of support was basicly Internet Explorer, Microsoft office and Windows. Anything else, Quick Books ha ha, was a nice bonus. Now all bets are off. Look at how Twitter peeps moved from FlipZu, to HeyTell, to Zello and now to AudioBoo all within a span of three years. The good news is that most people access those services via mobile apps. But each one has, or in some cases had, a web interface and in each case users said it should work with a Screen Reader. Well, there is a finite amount of time, resources, testing resources and effort you can spend on a project. With yearly updates to Windows now a rule rather than the exception, development time will go there first. Meaning more things will have to move from the obscure to the mainstream in order to gain direct first level support.
About two years ago I apologized to Eric Damery for being kind of a jerk about scope of product support when I was a Government Agent. Now that I’m on the outside, footloose and fancy free, I told him that it was like moving from being a Food Critic to the role of Chef. I get it in so many more ways than I did as a well-educated user and beta tester. And just when I think I do have a handle on it, something like yearly releases of Windows comes along and resets the compass to a new true north. And its why I think this is a huge story for 2013 and beyond.
3. Unified English Braille to become official code in 2016
I don’t have much to say on this other than it seemed to be a big discussion point during the summer of 2013. I saw this in lists, social media, Summer Convention events and more. Personally, I don’t have a dog in this hunt. But I did see that many did and I was fascinated to hear the wild debate on this from those inside the United States versus those from other parts of the world. The tons of talking about Braille, which is always a great thing, meant that this was a big story for 2013 in my opinion. Let’s see where these changes take us in the new year.
2. NLS Bard App released for iPhone
The very definition of the Blind equivalent of the “white whale” when it came to mobile apps, hoo-freaking-ray, the Bard mobile app was released. No more “when’s the Bard app coming out?”, or “have you heard anything about the new Bard app?” And the always fun “I’d like to test the bard app, do you know anyone you can suggest I talk to about that?” questions at conventions, at chapter meetings, at parties, standing in line at the airport, direct messages in Twitter, from out of nowhere in Voice Chat rooms or when riding to a tour of Minnesota Talking Book in a chartered bus by someone who was sighted but had heard about the app from others who asked him and thought I might know. Its out, finally, and now what app could possibly take its place in the “please don’t ask me, go ask them’ camp for 2014? Honestly, I don’t know but am very relieved that this number two story came to pass in 2013.
1!!!! Tap Tap See changes their pricing model
There were a lot of good stories this year that showed much reflection of the “App Economy”. We managed to get a few of those Developers on “Triple Click Home” this year and I was astounded at just how open, frank and honest they were about what it costs and what it will continue to cost to develop their current and future apps. On SeroTalk, we said more than once that good code doesn’t grow on trees. And the freemium model can’t work for everyone. Now enter the gang at Tap Tap See.
The app is great. Many use it for a myriad of things. At the same time, due to the “no cost” nature of its initial release, I also know that some users just went plum crazy scanning things. So, as what I believe was a reasonable response, TTS introduced their new pricing model to the masses… I was shocked and dismayed to see the reactions that were beyond negative, and down right hateful, from our Community.
Moreover, although at their sanity’s expense, I was thankful for TTS taking this on, as it is a conversation with points we are going to really have to face moving forward. I’ve said this online a few times but I’ll say it again here. User expectations change dramaticly when evaluating software that costs money versus software that doesn’t. in my mind, and only talking from my standpoint, the value proposition and justification for what makes good from great, or bad, has a price Is Right rangefinder attached to it And I do admit to being guilty here in this sliding scale of warped value. I kick myself in the lower leg often when I do the deep sigh upon seeing an app I bought at full price go on sale or drop in price. At the same time, I do recognize that I was in on the ground floor and my contribution helped that app reach more people because I was a supporter of the developer in the beginning.
But the controversy in this case went beyond simple User revolt. There were out and out negative social attacks, 1 star review barrages and people doing some of the worst armchair quarterbacking on the subject than I’ve seen in a long time. Comments comparing Tap Tap See to Netflix only work for me when it comes to unlimited pricing. Problem was: many forgot that the price of the plans didn’t go directly to the company. No, 30% went to Apple and the rest went to them. However, to make the need for a cost based system easier for people, they took the hit and went the more VoiceOver friendly route. I thought that even more commendable of them.
Lastly, this story really did push the Community to look themselves in the mirror and realize what market forces really are when it comes to using technology to meet their daily needs. Its one thing to wish for the paradigm of traditional A T to be made irelevent and balk at the price of bananas, but it’s a whole new realm of concern when users debate the pricing of an app that is helpful to them and lets them break from that traditional A T delivery system. It’s disheartening to see these users spout such negativity at a developer who is clearly needing user support to keep the flags flying under the pressure of a very small, but demanding, market.
What I’m really afraid of in 2014 is the rise of the Grant-Funded app. That model doesn’t seem realistic at all with more budgets and services being cut, both private and public, plus the insane rate that all operating systems are being updated… if there isn’t money set aside for future development and upkeep,, what happened to Tap Tap See won’t be a “one off” situation. More ‘save this app’ campaigns could arise. Or more will go the paid route when the funding dries up. Or, even worse, some apps will just fall off the various App Stores, period. There are already some out there falling into the “abandonware’ status of those who were the early pioneers of the App Land rush of 2009. My hope is that Tap Tap See, a very worth while app, isn’t a casualty of “the new normal”. And congrats, I think?, for being my 2013 number one story of the year.
To hear an interview with the developer of Tap Tap See, from Triple click Home, visit…
As always, its been a pleasure to once again be able to spout off about what I think in regards to being an Assistive Technology user. I’ve been using Video magnifiers, talking computers of one kind or another since 1979. And, like I said before, this year was one of the strangest I’ve experienced. I’m not at the “Get off my lawn you lousy kids and your buttonless interfaces”.Bbut I can honestly understand why some do feel that way now more than ever. What it takes to be current, takes up more brain cells. That shows no sign of slowing in 2014 and beyond. Is traditional A T dying? Perhaps. Is traditional A T dead? Nope. However, with several years of VoiceOver and TalkBack under our belts, the traditional definition of A T is evolving. Today’s touch screens will be the old veterans sooner than you think. And they too, like all technology, will have to surrender to the next “new normal”. I just hope that future involves hoverboards… Thanks for reading and listening!

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