Apple has today made available a wealth of specific information regarding the implementation of accessibility features on Apple Watch. While it was recently announced that the watch would contain support for VoiceOver, Zoom, and Dynamic Type, there have—up until this point—still been many questions about how these features would be implemented. It is our hope that this information will be of some assistance to blind and low vision users thinking of purchasing the wearable. As more information becomes available in the coming days and weeks, we will do our best to update this post accordingly.
The Apple watch is rectangular in shape with rounded edges. With Watch on your left wrist, the layout is as follows:
- Front: The touch screen; the screen ends at the curved sides of the watch face.
- Right Edge: Digital Crown at the top; oval-shaped "Friends" button at the bottom.
- Back: Raised convex housing for the watch charger; watch sensors; two small holes where the two ends of the band connect with the watch.
- Left edge: The speaker is directly across from the Digital Crown, and the microphone is directly across from the "Friends" button.
Apple Watch includes a range of features to meet the needs of people with a wide variety of disabilities. Watch includes VoiceOver, Zoom, an extra large watch face, Bold Text, Grayscale, Reduce Motion, Reduce Transparency, On/Off Labels, Mono Audio, and a taptic engine with optional Prominent Haptic feedback. As with other Apple products, Watch is accessible right out of the box; simply tripple-click the Digital Crown to enable VoiceOver, or ask Siri to enable Zoom and then use the feature by double-tapping with two fingers. Following is a detailed look at each accessibility feature, based on the information provided to us:
VoiceOver is fully integrated into the Apple Watch OS, and all of the built-in apps are completely accessible. (David Woodbridge, member of the AppleVis Editorial Team, previewed the Apple Watch and noted, "this is not just text to speech on the watch, its VoiceOver.")
To enable VoiceOver during the set-up process, simply tripple-click the Digital Crown. Alternatively, you can ask Siri to enable VoiceOver, or you can enable it in the Watch app on your iPhone.
Once VoiceOver is enabled, below are some of the gestures you can use to interact with the Apple Watch:
- Navigate by Item: One-finger flick left or right
- Activate an item: One-finger double tap
- Go Back to the Previous Screen: Two-finger flick left
- Explore the Screen by Touch: Move one finger around the screen
- Adjust Volume: Two-finger double tap and hold, then drag up or down
- Adjust Options within an App: One-finger flick up or down
- Deep Press (brings up clock faces or additional app controls): One-finger tap and hold
- Access Notifications and Glances: (at the Clock screen) two finger flick down Notifications, two finger flick up Glances
As with iOS, third-party app accessibility will depend on individual app developers.
The Extra-Large Watch Face
Apple Watch comes with an extra-large watch face to make it easier for users with low vision to see the time. When the extra-large watch face is enabled, numbers take up the entirety of the screen.
Zoom is a built-in magnifier (which magnifies up to 15 times the native size) that works across the Watch OS. To use Zoom, use the Digital Crown to navigate across the screen by rows, or simply use two fingers to move around the screen. Zoom can be enabled on the watch itself, in the Watch iPhone app, or by using the Accessibility Shortcut.
Dynamic Type and Bold Text
When Dynamic Type is enabled, text in many apps such as Mail, Messages, and Settings is enlarged—thereby making it easier to read. Alternatively, one can also enable Bold Text to make the text heavier across all built-in apps.
Apple Watch includes a Grayscale feature; when enabled, the home screen, various apps, and more are shown in different shades of gray.
For features like alerts, Siri, and Glances, you can increase the contrast on Apple Watch screen by reducing the background transparency.
Reduce Motion limits the amount of movement of user interface elements. For example, the movement of icons on the Home screen will be simpler and more directly associated with your navigation gestures.
Apple Watch can show an on/off switch to make it easier for you to see whether a setting is enabled or disabled.
When using Bluetooth headphones, Apple Watch supports Mono Audio for those who have hearing impairments. Additionally, Apple Watch allows one to adjust the left/right stereo balance of audio.
The Taptic Engine is a linear actuator inside Apple Watch that produces haptic feedback. When a notification comes in, Apple Watch will gently tap you on the wrist; Prominent Haptic is also available to pre-announce some alerts.
Getting Started with Apple Watch Accessibility Features
- To enable VoiceOver during the Apple Watch setup process, tripple-click the Digital Crown.
- The following features can be enabled/disabled directly on Apple Watch: VoiceOver, Extra large watch face, Large Type, Bold Type, Zoom, Reduce Motion and On/Off Labels.
- All accessibility settings can also be controled through the Apple Watch iPhone app.
In addition to the information provided above, David Woodbridge, Senior Assistive Technology Consultant at Vision Australia and member of the AppleVis Editorial Team, had the opportunity to get some hands-on time with Apple Watch. If you haven't already, be sure to read David's notes on the experience here: http://www.applevis.com/blog/apple-watch-assistive-technology-news-opinion-reviews/hands-apple-watch. Also, be sure to check back on the AppleVis website in the coming weeks, as we plan to release a comprehensive set of materials dedicated to using the Apple Watch with VoiceOver.