While the big news for Apple TV fans today was the updated Apple TV 4K, with HDR support, it looks like the Siri Remote also got a few small updates. How will these updates help or hinder the blind and the visually impaired as well as the physically disabled, however?
Over the weekend TV OS was leaked to the frantic public posting and blogging and tweeting about what they saw in the firmware code. The code showed a lot of things but the bit I was curious about was the part that didn't really have to deal with the operating system. I wanted to learn about the new remote features. After many moons digging and poking and prodding I found the part of the leak that talked about hardware and haptic feedback for the new Siri remote. I began sniffing and digging and abusing search engines to finally get a concrete answer. Brazilian developer Guilherme Rambo found references to "actuator calibration" and "force calibration" in the firmware that indicate haptic feedback. Also, there's evidence in the tvOS 11 firmware that the Siri Remote model number has jumped from "B239" to "B429", indicating an imminent refresh. He tweeted a picture highlighting the exact bit where it talks about haptic feedback.
While I don't have a model to verify, I'm sure he's right. First, it looks like the menu button has changed. It is no longer a physical button, but instead part of the glass touch surface. It has a white ring around it, so sighted people and people with low vision can easily see where to press.
Apple has said, publicly, repeatedly, that the accessibility principle is not going to go away anytime soon. The haptic feedback would be a way for visually impaired users to know if their actions were processed. It would also be useful for deaf users of the new Apple 4K TV as well.
The only accessibility withdraws, that I can see, is that the menu button has been integrated into the touch surface. Physically disabled users may need to start using keyboards more, which will become easier to do because in TV OPERATING SYSTEM 11 various input devices will work better. A few enhancements are,
- Support for Braille Displays: Connected Braille displays deliver text of what's on screen (button labels, movie titles, etc.) that you are currently hovering over. As you move focus, VoiceOver speaks and Braille displays print the text. In addition, Braille display buttons map to VoiceOver commands and support basic navigation around the Apple TV UI.
- Support for VoiceOver keyboard commands: Bluetooth connected keyboards will allow you to issue VoiceOver commands for more efficient browsing/navigation.
- Switch Control Menu for Media Playback: Switch Control users now have access to a playback control panel to pause, play, fast forward, rewind, and skip while media is playing.
In addition, the below features, compiled from various other media outlets, are coming to the new Siri remote as well.
- Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology
- IR transmitter
- Accelerometer and three-axis gyro
- Lightning connector for charging
- Rechargeable battery providing months of battery life on a single charge (with typical daily usage)
At the time of this writing the new apple TV is available to preorder from September 15 for $179, and will be released on September 22nd.
The new Siri remote can also be bought separately for $59; $20 cheaper than the previous generation.