A couple of weeks ago (16th May) Apple issued a press release on some new accessibility features coming to their products (iOS, iPadOS and MacOS mainly). You can access the press release here in Apple Newsroom.
What was originally intended to be a single post highlighting some of these upcoming features has expanded into three separate posts. The reason for this is because these new features are worth both your attention and consideration and deserve a closer look. Below will be linked when live.
The upcoming Assistive Access feature, in Apple’s own words “distil(s) apps and experiences to their essential features in order to lighten cognitive load”. In practice Assistive Access appears to be a simplified launcher like the ones that have been available to Android users for many years. By saying this I don’t mean to belittle Assistive Access, this is a hugely important feature. The fact that it is long overdue doesn’t change that at all. The third principle of Universal Design tells us that eliminating unnecessary complexity is the key to making devices simple and intuitive to use. The ability to hide or remove features that are not required has been the main reason for recommending Android devices to certain users in the past. The existence of Assistive Access will mean iOS/iPadOS will now be the preferred choice in most, but not all cases. Below we can see how Assistive Access will look on an iPad and an iPhone 14 Pro Max (photos courtesy of Apple).
The reason why Android will still be preferable in some cases is because of the level of control available to third party developers. Apple have always jealously guarded their user interface (UI) whereas Android have left it open to developers. While both approaches have advantages and disadvantages, the Android approach lends itself better to dedicating a device to a specific or limited functions.
With Assistive Access Apple have compromised their aesthetics in the name of accessibility without relinquishing control. Through research they identified the key features people want or need from a mobile device and made these features available through Assistive Access. Music, Calls, Messages, Photos and Camera. They then took it a step further and created simplified interfaces for each of these features. See the screen shots below.
All feature large high contrast buttons and labels. Apple also mention that the apps can be customised to some extent but don’t give any details. The Calls app combines both the Phone and Facetime to provide a one stop shop for communications. The Messages app offers a nice emoji keyboard which you can see in the screen shot above. All in all, Assistive Access seems to be another well considered and impeccably executed Accessibility feature from Apple. We’re looking forward to testing it out and seeing how well it works alongside existing features like Switch Control, Assistive Touch, Touch Accommodations and VoiceOver.