Update, 4/5/2015: Apple has recently updated its Apple Watch Technology page, indicating that the Apple Watch will have VoiceOver, Zoom, and Dynamic Type support built-in.
Update, 3/15/2015: Following the release of the Watch Companion app in iOS 8.2, 9to5Mac has published a series of screenshots showing pages of that app which become visible only after an Apple Watch has been paired. One of these shows a Settings page titled General, on which is an item labeled Accessibility. Unfortunately, a screenshot is not available for the Accessibility page itself.
Original Post: Today, Apple announced the release of its highly-anticipated wearable, the Apple Watch.
While today’s Apple event answered many questions about the Apple Watch's final feature set, pricing and availability, one of the issues yet to receive much attention - and yet one which is vitally important to users of assistive technology - is what, if any, accessibility features the watch will have.
Before getting into the details we are aware of thus far, we must stress that much of the information in this post is purely speculation. Apple has not as of yet provided us with any details as to what, if any, accessibility features Apple Watch will have. However, given that a plethora of information about Apple Watch is now freely and widely available, and given that the presence or lack of accessibility features will most certainly influence the purchasing decisions of blind and low vision users, we thought it both timely and appropriate to report on the information that other sources are providing. As with all rumors, however, we cannot emphasize enough that the details are yet to be announced by Apple and thus should not be taken as fact.
With this disclaimer out of the way, here is what the rumor sites are reporting:
Apple Watch May Include Accessibility Features for Blind and Low Vision Users
According to a 9to5Mac article detailing the leaked Apple Watch companion app, Apple Watch is rumored to include a certain level of VoiceOver support, as well as a number of other accessibility features:
- Like Apple’s other products, Apple Watch will have a series of key accessibility features.
- The Apple Watch will have a VoiceOver feature that can speak text that is displayed on the screen. Users will be able to scroll through text to be spoken using two fingers. VoiceOver can be enabled either by merely raising a wrist or by double tapping the display.
- Users will also be able to zoom on the Apple Watch’s screen: double tap with two fingers to zoom, use two fingers to pan around, and double tap while dragging to adjust the zoom.
- There will also be accessibility settings to reduce motion, control stereo audio balance, reduce transparency, switch to grayscale mode, disable system animations, and enable bold text.
While 9to5Mac’s information is most definitely leaked and thus should be taken as unofficial at best, 9to5Mac published a more recent article in which Tim Cook is said to have indicated that the Apple Watch would contain accessibility features:
Yes is the short answer. In every product we do, we want it to be accessible for everyone. This is not something that we sit around and figure out what the ROI is. I can give a rats what the ROI is. It’s one of those things that goes in the just and right column. So we want all of our products to be accessible.
Here again, one should regard this statement with some level of skepticism -especially since it was allegedly made at a private meeting at the Berlin Apple Store during a recent visit by Cook.
Further corroborating the assertion that Apple Watch will include at least some level of accessibility support, iMore’s Steven Aquino noted that there is an accessibility framework built into Apple’s publicly-available WatchKit SDK:
I spent some time looking through the Apple Watch SDK, but I hadn't found any references to Accessibility. After asking around on Twitter, I was alerted to a WKInterfaceObject string of code that allows for Accessibility and localized text. I'm no computer programmer so I'm unable to fully understand what that means, but my low-level take is that, yes, Apple has baked in some Accessibility features into the Watch's operating system. What those features actually are remain to be seen, but it's comforting nonetheless to know that the Watch will be accessible, more or less.
While we had initially hoped that the iOS 8.2 Apple Watch companion app would provide some details as to what accessibility features the device will have, our testing has found that many of the settings (including where one would presumably find accessibility features) are not available without an Apple Watch being paired to the phone. We did note, however, that in the screen to pair the watch with an iPhone, the accessibility hint for the viewfinder image in the pairing screen directs VoiceOver users to "double tap the 'Pair Apple Watch Manually' button for an accessible alternative" to pairing the watch using the iPhone camera's viewfinder.
At this point, this is all we know about possible accessibility features of Apple Watch. As more information emerges in the coming weeks, we will update this post accordingly.