From stone tablet to a bite of the Apple


If you are among those who follow me on Twitter, you are likely already well acquainted with my recent changeover from one mobile phone platform to another. My intention to do this, as well as my reluctance, has long been a topic of discussion among my friends and fellow geeks. I’ve taken quite a bit of good-natured ribbing from people who, for nearly two years, have wondered how on Earth I can claim any expertise in accessibility, when clearly I am using technology from the Jurassic period. What follows is a short exposition on my long-overdue transition from the Windows Smartphone-based Motorola Q to the Apple iPhone 5.

The Moto Q, which my friends have dubbed The Stone Tablet, has been my only mobile device since 2007. To the dubiously named “Smartphone” operating system, I added Mobile Speak, a text-to-speech program by Code Factory. One feature I really liked about the Moto Q was the tactile qwerty keyboard, which made text entry easy. It seemed that most of the new devices were making use of touch screen technology. How could text entry be easy with a touch screen? I wondered. It’s not that I was unaware of the tidal wave of Apple products sweeping over the globe, it’s that I didn’t care. One could hardly avoid the constant din of Apple zealots, though, especially those for whom accessibility is a priority. But my setup served the purpose, it worked for me, and I had no real desire to give it up…that is, until the phone began to suffer from the ravages of old age, and yes, obsolescence.

For a variety of reasons, one of which was the necessity of accepting credit card payments when exhibiting my Elegant Insights Braille Creations jewelry at conferences and trade shows, I decided to at least entertain the possibility of switching to an Apple device, although I had no idea which one. My first foray into an Apple store was over a year ago at holiday time, when I stopped into my local Apple Store to buy a loved one a gift card. While there, I decided to ask the Apple associate to show me an iPad, which seemed like the best option for me at the time, and maybe get a demonstration of Voice Over, the text-to-speech feature built into Apple devices that makes using a touch screen possible for users who are blind.

Upon explaining my request to the associate, I was greeted by an awkward silence, and, according to my companion, a blank stare. “I don’t know what that voice thing is,” the young employee said, “I don’t think an iPad does that.”

“All of your products have Voice Over,” I declared, as confidently as I could, not entirely sure if that was true. “It’s built into the iPad, and if I knew how to bring it up, I’d show you.” Okay, now that was a bald-faced lie, I had never so much as held an iPad or IPhone in my hands, and I just really wanted to see one. But he never so much as let me touch one, since he began to back away, realizing that he would be unable to assist me, and the store was packed with people whom he could assist. I left the store empty-handed, except for the aforementioned gift card.

My interest was more recently piqued, though, when a friend showed me a variety of tablet sizes and models at a recent conference. I marveled at the full-size tablet, which seemed to be nothing more than a wafer-thin sheet of glass, reminiscent of a tray on which I’d served cheese at a dinner party.

After polling some tweeps and conducting a bit of my own research, I decided that in fact the device that would be best for me was the iPhone. While I had really enjoyed paying only $40 a month for my ancient cell service plan, I realized that having the phone combined with the iPad features would solve the most of my problems and meet the most of my needs. So, for my birthday, I decided to buy myself the gift of an iPhone 5.

Before it arrived in the mail, I gathered as many articles, podcasts, and user’s guides as I could get my hands on, and began to prepare for what I was sure would be a steep learning curve. Between the new operating system, the touch screen gestures, and a new speech interface to learn, the entire Apple IOS lexicon loomed large and intimidating before me.

Cutting to the chase, it took only a few days, once I got up and running, to master the device. Now, I can confidently claim fluency. However, it was the part of the process that occurred prior to the ‘after I got up and running,” part that I want to make note of here, simply as a way to help others who may be considering a similar switch. There are a few things you ought to know, and these things can make the difference between delight and utter frustration when it’s time to pull the device out of the packaging.

The first thing you ought to know is, people who know nothing about Apple devices really do know absolutely nothing. There isn’t much that can compare the Apple user experience to other devices that are made by other manufacturers, so do not under any circumstances listen to anyone who does not actually use an Apple product. This may include, but may not be limited to, cellular service providers.

Just to give you one example of what I mean by this, realize that there is a difference between activating the new cellular phone service plan, and activating the device. You may think this point to be obvious, but one hapless Sprint customer service associate who was unlucky enough to answer my call did not. Further, I was told, in response to my question about where I might find the serial number that is required to complete the setup process, I was told that it is located inside the phone. I was told to remove the back panel of the battery compartment, and enter into the phone the numbers printed on the decal.

In case you don’t know, you cannot remove the back of the iPhone. There is no battery compartment from which to remove the back panel, the serial number is either printed somewhere on the packaging, or it is on file with the cellular service provider from which you ordered the phone.

You should also know that it is possible to set up the device yourself, right out of the box, without sighted assistance. However, if you are a person who is easily frustrated, know that there is an easy way to accomplish this, and a hard way. I was determined to get my phone working on my own, but if you know you have a short fuse, just do it the easy way…take the device to an Apple store or the store that supports the cellular service provider, and have them set it up for you. At the time, I had no access to a nearby store, so unless I wanted to wait for someone who was available and willing to drive me some distance, I had few options. I was impatient to get going. Ultimately, though, doing it my way may have actually taken longer than waiting for four wheels and a couple of eyeballs.

Setting up the phone requires quite a bit of data entry, and if you are unfamiliar with how text entry is achieved on an Apple device, it also requires quite a bit of patience. Text entry was a matter of some concern to me, but as it turned out, I caught on quickly, and was able to enter the required information easily enough. What I found frustrating was that I wasn’t always entirely sure I understood what the phone was asking me to do. To express this idea in terms of the English language, the Apple dialect is a bit unfamiliar, word choice, usage, and syntax is different than what I had been accustomed to when using the “stone tablet.”

If you have not yet decided to change your outdated technology to an Apple device, are reluctant, or maybe just reject all things Apple out of hand, one reason you may feel this way could be due to your concerns about privacy. If you are among those still clinging fast to the illusion of privacy, I’m sympathetic. You should know that the moment you complete the setup process of the new Apple device, you have slipped from the edge and are now freefalling into the Apple abyss. You should carefully and thoroughly read the terms and conditions of use, as well as the Apple Corporation privacy policy, and that of the “artificial intelligence” assistant, Siri. Furthermore, you should scrutinize the TOS and privacy policies of any apps you download, whether free or paid. Frankly, I had to delete a number of apps, simply because their privacy policy, a misnomer if I ever heard one, made my skin crawl. If you have not already done so, and you are a blind user who has downloaded some of those object identification apps, you should take the time to learn what happens to the images of the items you photograph. It’s a little disturbing. If you are taking pictures of documents and mail for text recognition,place or object identification purposes, don’t think for a minute that you are the only one privy to the contents of that photo. Same goes for your use of the voice dictation features. There’s more, but I’ll let you make that horrifying discovery on your own.

I’ll say this for my new iPhone: Since it arrived, it has seldom left my side. I have never been one to keep my cell phone strapped to my person, I have never enjoyed using a cell phone, I dislike talking on one, I don’t like the way it makes voices sound, it’s harder to hear, it gets hot in your hand, and other than the few times it has been extremely convenient that I’ve had one, I find the overall experience of using a cell phone to be mostly dissatisfying. Since I’ve loaded up my IPhone 5, however, I’ve come to think of it as simply a hand-held computer that happens to sport a phone. I can easily see a day when I will, as eagerly as everyone else, anticipate the latest release of IOS, the newest app to drop, or the sleekest, lightest, most feature-rich iteration of the device itself. So…What’s next?

LL