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Jonathan Mosen: I’m Jonathan Mosen. This is Mosen At Large, the show that’s got the blind community talking. Today, iOS 15 is out, listeners tell us what they think. Ed Green from the Blind Android Users Podcast joins me to discuss all things android and listeners have their say about Google’s mobile operating system.
Speaker 2: Mosen At Large Podcast.
Jonathan: Wow, episode 150. 150. Thank you so much if you’ve listened to all 150, or you’ve just joined us. It’s a pleasure to have you along for Mosen At Large today in another very techy episode for those who like that side of things. Let me just first say a couple of things. First, a vote of thanks. Big thanks to the wonderful people at the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind.
They were so kind and welcoming to me last week when virtually, I joined them for their convention and was their keynote speaker at the banquet. I believe that it is archived somewhere if you want to go back and listen to my speech on Strengthening Community Through Unity. It was a great bunch of people to be a part of. Thank you so much for your warmth and your hospitality and your generosity. I was rendered speechless. I have to tell you that doesn’t happen often in my life.
[laughs] I was rendered speechless because they presented me to my great surprise with their champion of advocacy award. Apparently, that also means getting a lovely Braille plaque. Their comments in that presentation were just incredibly nice and generous. Thank you. It’s a night I will not forget. I will cherish that plaque and put it up here in the studio, and think of the wonderful people at the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind.
It’s a shame we couldn’t do it in person, but even while doing it virtually, I could certainly tell what a warm gathering it was, so very much appreciated. On a very different note, I did want to follow up on episode 146 of this podcast in which I spoke with the commissioner for the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care here in New Zealand, Paul Gibson. Today, as I put this podcast together, I spent about two and a quarter hours giving evidence to that commission with an interview that I did with a couple of their legal counsel.
I want to say to any New Zealanders who think that they would like to participate, please do so. I think it’s so important that our stories are heard. I found it a draining process. I actually slept for about three hours afterwards going through stories of abuse of all kinds, whether it be physical or psychological, or simply neglect that you weren’t given the assistance, the support, the tools you needed to thrive, anything like that is what the commission wants to hear about as Paul explained in episode 146.
To talk about these things, I found that actually quite cleansing that finally, an organization that was in authority was listening, genuinely listening, and following up with questions about the evidence that I was giving. It is not a very formal process and they are very kind, often making sure that it wasn’t necessary to stop and being very careful and gentle with the questioning.
It was not at all and never will be an adversarial kind of process. It is intended to be a very welcoming, supportive environment. I felt supported throughout every step of what was actually quite a difficult couple of hours. I hope New Zealanders will take advantage of this opportunity to tell their stories. You can find out more obviously by listening to episode 146. You can also visit the website at abuseincare.org.nz. That is all one word, abuseincare.org.nz
Speaker 2: Mosen At Large Podcast.
Gerardo: Jonathan, very, very good morning, afternoon, or evening, Jonathan. For you guys tuned into the Mosen At Large Podcast. Gerardo from Tampico Tamaulipas in Northeastern Mexico, and would like to comment on iOS 15 and two of the features. I have really been outstanding to me in the hours I have had with it. I updated, today is Tuesday. I updated early this month on my SE 2020.
The whole process took about 50 minutes, give or take, and very, very good. The phone is not slow at all, it’s even a little bit quicker than it used to be before. Especially when you unlock the phone, it’s so quick. It doesn’t have even a millisecond where you unlock it and it goes to the screen very, very quick. Speaking of which, Siri working offline is available here in Mexico with Siri Mexico and Spanish, of course.
You can definitely tell the increase some speed as you Jonathan demo it on the highlights of iOS 15. The feature that has really been a life-changer, for me, a game-changer, and since I started reading about it, and especially, when you demoed it way back in podcast episode 131, and when you covered it again in the previous episode, I think it was where you highlighted iOS 15, I thought, “Oh my, this feature is definitely a bit worse.”
I suspect it will definitely be a life-changer, a game-changer, more opportunity to be able to use the phone as an all-in-one device. Yes, I was able to have the opportunity to listen to a podcast without worrying about getting notifications, being interrupted, being able to really enjoy to the fullest. I’m looking forward a little bit later to see what I would watch on Netflix here on the phone using the same focus profile.
I set it up to open up when apps like Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime Video, all of the multimedia apps. The only notifications allowed are WhatsApp and Messenger, and those are the two notifications because they either send me WhatsApp or Messenger my family so it’s so amazing. You don’t even have to worry about opening up, even though you can from a control center, but you open up the app and it opens and you close the app and the focus closes.
Definitely, a game-changer. It will allow me definitely to get the most out of the phone as an all-in-one device. Another feature, I don’t know if you guys have noticed this, and for Jonathan, especially you who use your Braille input method a lot. The Braille input method you guys know how before the keyboard shortcuts. For example, if you assign a keyboard shortcut that could say HHU, and of course, when you would type it in the QWERTY keyboard, it would type “How are you.”
Now, when you use a Braille input keyboard, the Braille input on the phone, and you type HAU for example, and you space, you flip one finger right to space. If it writes out the shortcut, it expands it. Definitely, this was needed to get the most use and the full potential of Braille input. Definitely, I hope you guys have the opportunity to try this feature.
Jonathan: The things you learn from the Mosen At Large community. Thank you very much for this. I did not know this. I did not try this until you mentioned it, but it does indeed work. This is very cool because I have quite a few Uber-related shortcuts. I have one when I’m outside my office building, telling people to look for me because I’m normally dressed in a certain way, in a suit and stuff, and I say, look for a blind guy with a suit and a cane, and I’m at this point in the building.
Then I have a general one saying, “Look for me, I’m a blind guy.” Various things relating to Uber when Bonnie and I are traveling, I have another one, and they were all shortcuts like UBX for a standard UberX. UBW when I’m catching an Uber from work, all that kind of stuff. Now, you are right, they work with the Braille screen input. Genius.
Graeme: Hi, Jonathan, love the podcast. I noticed in iOS 15 that the Westminster Chimes app no longer seems to work. I’ve tried going into the app and turning it on and off, and closing the app, and reopening it, but it doesn’t seem to work with iOS 15. I use the chimes every quarter-hour to regulate my day and get me to meetings on time, and make sure that I complete meetings in a timely manner.
I’m wondering if there’s anywhere on the phone itself where I can set a signal for every 15 minutes. I’ve looked in the date and time settings and I can’t see anything there so I thought you might be able to help. Thanks very much for any assistance you can provide.
Jonathan: Good to hear from you, Graeme. That is, of course, the famous Graeme Innes in sunny Australia. I’ve seen others talking about this on social media, Graeme. It appears not just to be an issue with the Westminster Chimes app, but with certain apps that emit notifications sound. I don’t use any of these hourly chime-type apps, but I have seen it on some news applications that I have that play their own custom sounds. Sometimes, they don’t play. It appears there’s some issue. I presume it is specifically voice-over-related. May be related to when voice-over is on, that is doing this. I’d be interested to know whether when you turn voice-over off, does the app then behave normally? It’s definitely not app-specific. It appears to be something that only Apple can fix.
Because I don’t use any of these hourly chimes apps, I can’t tell you if there are signs of hope in the 15.1 beta, but you may like to try putting it on the phone, if the app is that important to you, and it sounds like it is, to see if that makes a difference. That would also allow you to use the feedback app as part of Apple’s beta process, and submit a feedback report on this. I don’t have a solution for you that involves anything built into the iPhone, I’m afraid. I’m not aware that there’s any such function on the iPhone.
You know you want a new gadget, Graeme, right? You know you do. The Apple Watch does have this built-in. You can set up a schedule of chimes going as frequently as the quarter-hour if you want. I can just see you working out there, with the Apple Watch, living the dream. Joe Quinn is writing in and says, “Hey, Jonathan. We currently have iPhone 11s. I am trying to entice the wife to upgrade to iPhone 13 Pro, even though she doesn’t know it yet. The main reason I would be doing this is LiDAR capability. What would be a good use case scenario for LiDAR?
I know it can do people detection, and it can help you find your lost stuff. What else, if anything? We don’t really travel that often, and we don’t have things that we need to find very often. If we do, it’s finding our devices, which will ping at us anyway. Can LiDAR be used to help find those more precisely? I don’t know that I want to spend the extra $300 on a device that I may not use the functionality for which I bought it. Since I will be upgrading from an 11, would I really notice a speed increase? Why else would I need the Pro other than LiDAR?”
Thank you for writing in, Joe. First of all, LiDAR isn’t really going to help you find objects. To find objects, you can use AirTags for precision finding. The U1 Ultra Wideband chip in an iPhone will do this. An iPhone 11 does have that chip and that means that you could purchase AirTags and attach them in some way to things you want to find and still have the benefit of that. Of course, if you upgrade it to a 13 rather than the 13 Pro, you would have that chip, you would have all the benefits of precision finding. LiDAR is really about people detection, I think, in a blindness context right now.
You’ve got to hold your phone out in front of you, and you will get information about when there are people in front of you when people are coming close to you. That can be handy in a social distancing environment, but I don’t think it’s essential. It’s a really fun thing to play with. I think, at the moment, I would describe LiDAR as a proof of concept. Right now I am personally finding it really useful for my own unique circumstances, trying to follow people or to social distance. I love it, but I don’t think that it would necessarily be a killer feature or a showstopper for many people.
Regarding other differences, it sounds like you are not considering the 13 Pro Max, which of course has phenomenal battery life and has lots of screen real estate for comfortable Braille screen input. I’m going to confine my comments to looking at differences between the iPhone 13 and the 13 Pro. The 13 Pro has a better camera system. You distinctly feel this on the back. Three lenses on the 13 Pro, two on the 13. Is it going to make a massive difference when you are using Aira or seeing AI or one of those services? Probably not. Possibly in low difficult lighting conditions.
If you keep the lights on, you’ve got a really good camera in the iPhone 13. I think it would be perfectly adequate for most blindness-related tasks. If you care about colors, then the color options of the 13 are different from the 13 Pro. That may or may not matter to you. Similarly, on the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max, you’ve got the ProMotion display, with the variable refresh rate, which we talked about in episode 148. If you’re totally blind, that may matter not a jot other than the fact that it’s probably going to make for better battery conservation, better energy consumption.
You’re going to get a bit more juice out of it, I would say. Also, of course, on the 13 Pro Max, you’ve got battery life to burn, but that ProMotion display, it looks great apparently, and it will conserve energy. Whether that’s worth the price increase, that’s a debatable point. You will notice, even if you upgrade from the 11, when it was brand new, to a 13 that’s brand new, you’ll notice a big battery life improvement, and I think you will notice a bit of a speed improvement. Batteries deteriorate over time, of course.
If you’ve got an iPhone 11, it is now two years old, so you would probably expect a little bit of degradation. You can check that by going into Settings, and then into the battery settings, and look at what Apple is telling you about the capacity of your battery. You’ll definitely see an improvement going just from a standard iPhone 11 to a standard iPhone 13. The battery life will be a little bit better on the 13 Pro, for sure, and a lot better on the 13 Pro Max. Good luck with your decision.
My feeling about this is if you can point to something and say, “Yes, this is going to change my life. I will regret it if I don’t get the Pro.” I think you’d be okay with the 13. You’ll save a bit of money. When you do, just remember that my birthday is on April 24th. Thanks.
[unintelligible [00:16:30] writes, “Thank you for the very informative podcast on iOS 15. The beta team is aware of the app switching glitch. I have found a painful workaround, and that is to reset all settings. Also, on my SE 2020, using an app to trigger a focus does not work. It will be interesting to know if any of these are fixed in 15.1 because I can’t reproduce either of them, so I’m unable to check or verify that.”
Kathy Blackburn is back in touch and says, “I am running an iPhone 8 with iOS 14.8.” Audley, that’s Kathy’s husband, has an SE 2020. “We won’t be updating just yet. There’s a bug that affects the SE in particular, and I just don’t see any need to jump on the update just yet for either of us. Usually, I update pretty soon after release, unless I have heard that there’s a deal-breaker bug. We await further developments,” says Kathy.
Thank you for taking the time to write in, Pranav. I really appreciate that. You are definitely going to get better battery life on the iPhone 13 than the iPhone 13 Mini. It’s a pure matter of physics. It’s a bigger phone, it can accommodate a bigger battery. We can see for example on the specs that an iPhone 13 is expected to last for 19 hours of video playback, and an iPhone 13 Mini 17 hours. Then, if you go up to the Pro models, the Pro you get 22 hours of video playback, and the iPhone Pro Max, 28 hours.
That is a massive difference, isn’t it, of video playback time between the Mini, at 17 hours, and the Max, at 28 hours. You can do some extrapolation, I suppose, and see that there is a fairly big increase there. Two hours of video playback, that’s quite a long time in the real world. You’ll just have to decide how important that is to you and how often you won’t be close to a charger. Is it more important to you to have a small phone or to have a phone that lasts as long as possible?
Because there is an appreciable difference and then again, that’s the tradeoff that you’re going to have to make. Best of luck, and when you’ve made your choice, let us know what you decided and what you think of it. Bear in mind too that, if you get the big charging brick that Apple’s offering, the 20 Watts power brick, these things charge really quickly.
John: Hi Jonathan. It’s John Lipsey. I think just thought I’d check in with you. I have not finished listening to last week’s podcast, so one of these items may be redundant. The first thing I wanted to say is just a slight correction to something you said in your podcast about the eSIM. I also thought the eSIM stood for electronic and then I was doing some training for work because we’re going to start activating eSIMs only when we sell the iPhones now instead of activating physical Sims. It turns out the E in eSIM actually stands for embedded SIM rather than electronic.
Now we know, now we’ve learned.
In a follow-up to something that I said to you a while ago, the update tvOS 15 has fixed my Bluetooth issue. I can now watch something on my Apple TV while it’s paired to my Echo Studio. If I back out of whatever I’m watching, I have instant voiceover feedback, I can resume navigation and find something else to watch, or just exit the App completely, whatever I need to do, I don’t have to wait that 5 to 10 seconds to get voiceover back.
Whatever the issue was, it appears to have been an Apple TV issue, and I’m glad they fixed it. I wish it didn’t take a major 14 to 15 update to fix it, but it’s fixed now, so I can’t complain too much. I could but what good would it do me?
The other thing I wanted to mention is a question I had for you just seeking an opinion, I have an Apple time capsule, I love my apple time capsule, it just works as a router, the hard drive in it, however, is failed. I’m now having to just plug in a hard drive to my computer and do Time Machine backups that way on my Mac, which is fine. I’m sure at some point in time, the Wi-Fi components of my time capsule will fail as well.
I’m really sad that Apple no longer makes router solution. I’m curious what you would recommend, I don’t need something to cover a huge area, what I really want is something that’s just super intuitive to set up. I’m using a custom DNS so that I can get around geo-blocking for Australia and UK television content.
I just need something because my router from my ISP will not let me edit those DNS settings in the way that I need to get that content. Something that’s relatively easy to set up, has an accessible either iOS App, or if I have to do it through like a Safari-style interface on my Mac, that’s fine, but just something that I can easily go in and create a network and get all of my DNS settings configured the way that the DNS provider needs me to so that I can still enjoy my streaming content from additional countries. If you have any thoughts on that, that would be great.
I am going to resume listening to your podcast tonight. Then tomorrow, I’m going to be super busy because iPhone 13 launch day, I don’t think I’m getting one I think I’m keeping my iPhone 11 there’s not enough new for me. I do love the square form factor.
I know you were saying that you feel like the more squared form factor makes it feel a little bit chunkier, but I actually really liked the square form factor. I just don’t know that there’s enough other new stuff to justify me going from an 11 to a 13. I have a smart battery case on my 11, and I get plenty of battery life out of it. For now, sticking with my 11.
Jonathan: Thank you very much, John Lipsey. If you’re wondering why iPhone 13 would be a busy day for him because John Lipsey works at an Apple Store. He’s right in the thick of it and good on you for making a difference there John. Let’s deal with some of your things.
Thank you for the correction. It wasn’t even a castigation, it was just the gentlest of corrections. How polite is this about the eSIM? You’re absolutely right. I actually did know somewhere along the line that it was embedded and I don’t know why I thought it was electronic there. Thank you. Embedded is what eSIM stands for.
You asked about routers, it’s a shame that Apple got out of the router business because I agree with you, the time capsules, and also the airport extremes and airport expresses were very good. We use them exclusively for some time. Anyway, they don’t exist anymore. We need other options.
For the last couple of years or so, I have been using Ubiquiti equipment. We’ve been using the unify range, which is their higher-end range. We have a UniFi Dream Machine, which is powering everything. Then we have a couple of access points. They do have an App, it’s not too bad from an accessibility point of view.
Their website has become a little bit busier, they’ve got a new improved so-called interface on their website. I don’t think it’s as accessible as it used to be. I have had some issues sometimes getting to the classic interface mode, which was a little bit more accessible. You can do, I would say, most of the things that you need to do with the App, and it’s in reasonable shape, but I can’t put my hand on heart and say it’s 100% accessible.
Now there is also the home range for Ubiquiti which is called AmpliFi. This is also wireless mesh-based technology. It comes highly recommended by many people, I encouraged my nephew Anthony to set this up, he has had no complaints with his amplifier equipment. One Ubiquiti AmpliFi piece of equipment may be enough with the router and the wireless access point built-in.
They tend to be quite stable and perform well, there’s something that you might like to consider. Another one that I don’t know much about because they choose not to be available in my market here in New Zealand, but which I hear very good things about is the Eero range. I believe we have some people listening, who have talked about Eero in the past and how good they are.
Some people whose opinion I trust, tell me that Eero is really good, it’s reliable, again, it’s mesh-based. It sounds like the equipment where you can change your DNS. I know with the Ubiquiti stuff, you can most definitely change your DNS because I do this all the time. Most of the time, I like to keep my ISP DNS in action, but there are times where like you, I need to just break through on a system-wide basis, that geo-blocking, when there’s some major news issue in the UK usually.
I will set the router up, the Ubiquiti gear does allow you to set your DNS, which is obviously a critical system requirement. I don’t know if the Eero stuff will let you change the DNS, but it sounds geeky enough that I think it would be possible. If you have a router-type setup that you can recommend to John, remember that it’s critical for his use case that he change his DNS, his domain name server so that he’s not necessarily using the DNS that his internet provider provides.
Maryanne: Hello, Jonathan. It’s Maryanne Migliorelli in Boulder, Colorado, in the United States. Paul and I have very much been enjoying your podcast. I have a question for you and the rest of the podcast listeners. I turned my iPhone on, on Monday, before all the upgrades happened, and all of a sudden, my phone is reading every blessed piece of punctuation that it can.
No matter how I’ve tweaked the punctuation settings and grouped it all to no punctuation and all kinds of things, it is reading everything. I have asked accessibility folks around here and the Apple accessibility team about it, and nobody seems to know what to do. If you’ve heard of this, or any of your listeners have, I very much appreciate any of the help you can give. I have upgraded already to iOS 15, but the problem is still going on. Very, very sad emoji.
Jonathan: Oh yes, I’ll send you an emoji back there Maryann, smiling pile of poo or something like that. That must be annoying and nice to hear your voice. I’ve had emails from you for years and years. I can’t remember how many years ago I would have got a first email from you, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard your voice before.
The things that happen when you’ve got an apple crisis, lovely to hear from you. Hope you and Paul are both Well. I don’t have an immediate answer to this, I’m thinking about it here. A couple of things come to mind to try. Have you tried changing language, install another language into your rotor, and switch from your default voice, your default language either to another language or another text to speech engine to see if the punctuation persists.
If you’ve gone and turn punctuation off, and it’s still speaking every single punctuation mark. Maybe somebody seen this and got a magic fix, but I would try at this point, if you’ve tried all the obvious things, erasing all settings. You have various erase options under the general settings. One is to erase all content and settings, that’s a complete wipe of your phone. That’s definitely a last resort right there.
There is also a reset to factory settings option, which keeps your content in place, but just means you would have to set all your settings up again. It would be interesting to see whether wiping out your settings would fix it. If anyone’s seen this and found the magic fix, please share with Maryanne, and then we will have happy face with smiling eyes emoji.
Another tale of woe, well, maybe a potential tale of woe. It’s Abby Taylor, and she says hello Jonathan, someone posted on an iDevice mailing list that he wouldn’t upgrade to iOS 14. I think she may mean to say iOS 15 until bugs that might affect his HumanWare Brailliant BI 40 were fixed.
I believe I’ve read all the material on possible bugs, but other than a minor annoyance with a mail app, I haven’t read about any serious bugs that might affect the HumanWare Brailliant devices. I have a BI 40 so I am wondering if you’ve heard of any bugs that might affect these devices in iOS 15. Thanks, Abby, good to hear from you. Yes, these devices are human interface device displays. This is a new way. It’s a universal way of devices talking to Braille displays. In theory, it should make supporting new Braille displays much easier if everybody plays by the rules and follows this standard because it’ll be like plug and play. There will be no need to develop specific drivers for a specific Braille display. It is still a little bit cutting edge though. It seems that at iOS 15, there are a few things probably the most serious of which is that if you lock your screen of an iPhone, when a Braille input device is connected using HID, apparently it affects the Braille input of the device. You also don’t get confirmation. I don’t think that the device is connected. There are a couple of issues, but I don’t know whether they are fixed in 15.1, which is already in test.
I have a mantis, which is also a HID device and everything’s going okay for me. I haven’t really noticed any issues that I would say, this is a show stopper. I absolutely have to downgrade, but it might be more severe for devices that have brail input rather than QWERTY input Like I do. So effectively. The mantis is a hybrid device because it’s relying on HID for Braille output, but it’s a Bluetooth keyboard. It’s likely that I’m just not seeing some of the more egregious issues that some people are reporting with HID Braille displays because I’m not using Braille input.
to sunny France we go and hear from Claire page. She says, hi Jonathan, thank you for your demonstrations of various iOS 15 features just before it was released. In spite of reports of various bugs in the new iOS, such as the share sheet and the apps, which are not always working correctly, I decided to install iOS 15 the day after its release. For me using iOS 15 has been a relatively bug-free experience. My iPhone SE 2020 even seems faster, especially when opening apps using Braille screen input, which is my preferred method. I haven’t experienced any bugs with the share sheet or the app switcher nor the OS in general so far. I have noticed that one of the games I have won’t open properly, even though it still shows up in the app switcher, but this is a problem that the developer knows about. Hopefully, it can soon be solved. As I predicted, I am very pleased with the new focus modes in iOS 15, and I have set up three already for reading, recording, and gaming. The gaming one took the longest to set up as I have quite a lot of games, which I wanted to turn on the focus automatically for, but it was all worth it in the end.
Another favorite new feature of mine is voiceover quick settings, which has allowed me to declutter my rotor to a certain extent. At first, I thought the gesture for this didn’t work, but then I realized I was getting mixed up between voiceover help, four-finger double-tap, and voiceover quick settings, two-finger quadruple tap. It can be a bit of a brain breaker, Claire. I agree. That was just a temporary problem. I found quick settings useful already, when my voice-over sounds randomly stopped working, I have noticed something interesting when looking for the option to move the address bar to the top of the screen in safari, namely that this seems impossible on my iPhone. However, I have a theory as to why this is the case for me. In your demo, the option to choose mentioned landscape, and my iPhone is locked in portrait mode.
That option didn’t show up in my safari settings. I’ll just stop reading Claire’s email to say, I don’t think that’s it, Claire, because mine is also locked into portrait mode, but I think the issue could be the size of the phone that that landscape option isn’t showing up because of the smaller size. However, there is another way to get the address bar back at the top without going into safari settings. That is to go to the show page options button, wherever it is currently located. That’s the button which reveals things like reader mode and request desktop site, I think is there various things like that at the bot for me at the moment, it says show bottom tab bar because I’ve got the address bar at the top. If you’ve got the address bar at the bottom, it’ll say something else and you’ll be able to flip it to the top from that option.
That is within safari itself. If you choose the page settings button and speaking of page, let’s go back to Claire page’s email. In spite of one missing option and one game so far that won’t yet open properly. I personally feel that my update to iOS 15 has been a positive experience. Of course, each person has to make their own decision as to whether to upgrade, and those who don’t want to do so have the option of sticking with iOS 14. But I personally have no regrets about biting the iOS 15 bullets. I look forward not only to others’ impressions of iOS 15 but to everything else on your podcast, which I always find interesting. Keep up the good work. Thank you so much, Claire, glad iOS fifteens by and large OK for you.
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Jonathan: Previously on Mosen At Large, you will have heard my segment. Adventures in Android where I talked about how I ended up with a Samsung Galaxy S 21. since then, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with the device and I have to tell you, I am much more impressed than I expected to be. on past occasions when I’ve given Android a try, I’ve struggled to be scrupulously fair and tried to find nice things to say. Now at least for a speech-only user. I can honestly say that there’s a lot to like whether it be the Braille keyboard now built in to TalkBack or the TalkBack voice commands, some terrific blindness-specific third-party apps that are Android exclusive. The apparent increase in robustness of accessibility technology for third-party apps. And of course the multi-finger gestures if you have the right device more on that and a little bit, some apps are just plain easier to use on the platform. The most striking example of this in my limited explorations so far is LinkedIn. On iOS. One post takes several annoying time-consuming swipes to navigate. Those time-consuming swipes are confine to a simple actions menu in Android. Now I’m not going as far as saying that Android is better than iOS because that’s going to be a matter of opinion, depending on what you use your device for and use a preference. But the fact that we are now at the point where it is definitely viable for a greater number of blind people is exciting. Blind people should have as much user choice as cited people do. Well, following my adventures in Android segment last week, I received quite a few emails. One of which was very helpful from ed green, from the blind Android users podcast. Ed was an iPhone user for many years, but now he’s gone Android and he appears to have no regrets. I thought we’ll bring Ed on the show and have a good chinwag about Android. Ed it’s really great to have you here. Thank you so much.
Ed: Thanks very much for the invite, Jonathan. Hello everyone.
Jonathan: Why did you switch?
Ed: As you say, I’d used Android for a decade. Pretty much. I got, sorry. I’d use iOS for a decade. I got the iPhone three GS as my first device in 2010. I owned pretty much all the iPhones up to the iPhone 10 with the exception of the6s, , the four and the 8. I switched shortly after we entered lockdown in the UK. 5g coverage in London had started to get viable. Apple didn’t have a 5g phone at the time. They weren’t going to have one until September this year. This was March time. I was thinking about it back in 2020. I thought, well, when they did come out with a 5g phone, will I want to pay the price of what I anticipated the iPhone 12 would cost. I found myself having fewer things to do in my leisure time as well during the lockdown.
It’s like, why don’t I give Android another crack? I’d had a couple of bites before, I’d had a Google nexus 4, the phone LG made for them back in 2012, didn’t really get on with it. Some of the gestures were a bit odd. Having menu options displayed in a clock face was a bit strange. I didn’t really use it. Five years later, I got, I got a Sony Xteria. That was a nicer experience. I still Didn’t quite take the plunge, but I thought there are good 5g, reasonably priced, Android phones. I’ve got slightly more leisure time cause I can’t go to the pub anymore. Why don’t I get a new phone and have a bit of a play with the new operating system?
Jonathan: I had forgotten about those clock-type gestures where you had to rotate your finger. I mean, people complained about the iOS rotor, but they were peculiar weren’t they, the little menu of clock gestures.
Ed: You’re running your finger around the clock face from 12 to wherever your menu went to. I never quite, I never quite got to grips with that. That was back in 2012, but there were increasing posts about people using Android and getting on well with it. I thought, I thought, why not.
Jonathan: As a diehard iPhone user for that long, you’ve committed a lot to muscle memory. You’d have had to go cold turkey. Just totally use that lockdown time to immerse yourself in something new. I guess there must be a mindset thing there because you’ve got to think this isn’t necessarily wrong just because it’s not being done in the way that it was done on the iPhone. It’s just different. I have to give this a chance.
Ed: You have to be outcomes-focused. You need to set your mind on what it is you want to achieve, not the input method you adopt to use it. If you want a phone to look exactly like an iPhone, to have the home screen of an iPhone and all the gestures of an iPhone, guess what? You probably want an iPhone. If you focus on the things you want, and you are happy that you might achieve those in different ways. Be that gesture sets, be the apps, be that whatever. If you approach it on that basis, take it on its own terms, and respect the operating system for what it does then I think it’s fine, but I literally did go cold turkey.
It wasn’t as hard as when I went from windows to Mac, which I did for a little while. That was quite difficult to not pick up my windows PC. Once I got to grips with the Android phone, I have an iPhone knocking around, but literally, every time I take it out, it’s flat because I’ve used it that infrequently. It wasn’t hard to go cold turkey this time around, back in 2020, when I switched to Android.
Jonathan: Is there anything that you miss about the iPhone?
Ed: Braille support on Android is not what it could be. Braille support on iOS is better. Let’s just pause to think about how bad that must mean BrailleBack is if iOS Braille support is better than something. The iOS Braille support, let’s face it, it’s not stellar, is it?
Jonathan: No, it’s not.
Ed: BrailleBack really really isn’t. The most annoying thing possibly is, it’s difficult to change pages in something like a Kindle book from a Braille display, without having to touch a screen. Some displays, you appear to be able to do, some you don’t. The one thing, and we’ll talk about what I made out, what’s good about Android in a minute. There is choice. BrailleBack isn’t the only game in town. BRLTTY is on Android and it’s now in the Play Store.
It’s lightly easier to get hold of it. It’s being actively developed. If you want Braille improvements on Android, I suspect BRLTTY might be the more ready source of Braille improvements than BrailleBack but I guess time will tell. The other thing I do find a bit frustrating is the fragmentation of updates on Android. Not all Android devices are created equal when it comes to software updates and that’s even within a manufacturer’s given stable of phones.
Your Samsung S21 will get security updates on a monthly basis quicker, almost in some months then Pixel as well. A Samsung A Series device may not get security patches more frequently than quarterly. Operating system updates, Samsung has got a lot better. They used to be very slow, their flagships will probably now get them quickly.
There is fragmentation on the Android side. If being up to date on the latest software is important to you, then you have to do a little bit of research about which phones will get updated, but those are the main things. I’m not a heavy Braille on Android so I’m happy to take the hit.
I am a heavy phone user though, so I do pretty much all my email on my phone. I do most of my web surfing on my phone. The only thing I don’t really do on my phone is stuff like this and our own podcast show notes. I use a computer for content creation because it’s just a bit quicker but most of my browsing, most of my email, all of my social media is done on my phone. I’m hitting the Android device hard when it comes to functionality
Jonathan: Let’s explore BrailleBack a little bit. Obviously, the differences between BrailleBack and BRLTTY. What are the key differences there?
Ed: I think the nice thing about BRLTTY is that it seems to support more displays and the fact that it is actively being developed. We have the guy from BRLTTY on the podcast a little while ago, and he was very up for taking feature requests, interested in improving the service. It’s the fact, it’s an active development plus I think the range of displays it supports, which makes it worth the look. Arguably, BrailleBack is slightly more user-friendly. Maybe that’s because of BRLTTY’s prominence as a Linux application.
It’s possibly slightly easier to configure BrailleBack, but if BrailleBack isn’t doing what you want and isn’t supporting your display, then I’d definitely say BRLTTY is worth a look. They will take feature requests and are updating it. Whereas I don’t know when the last time BrailleBack and got an update was, but I don’t think it was recent.
Jonathan: How do you work as a Braille-only user. With TalkBack there doesn’t appear to be a way to mute speech because TalkBack technically is a speech-only product, and then you install another service for Braille. When I last looked at this, you had to turn the volume down. Is that the workaround?
Ed: I think in Android 11, you can now go in and assign the gesture to mute TalkBack. You don’t have to worry about turning the accessibility volume down on some handsets that has limited application, anyway, it will only go down so quietly and on Samsungs, Android 11, if you don’t have a TTS with independent volume control that minimum accessibility volume actually sounds quite loud. There is now a gesture you can assign to suspend TalkBack speech without actually unloading the whole shebang.
That might be an option, if it works on your particular handset. It doesn’t seem to work across all handsets, but certainly, on a Google and or Samsung phone, I’d go in and assign that to a gesture and then execute it and see if it will mute TalkBack speech. It doesn’t on my phones.
Jonathan: What about the TTS options that are out there now. A few weeks ago we had a listener who said that they really were interested in switching to Android because they would be able to use Eloquence on Android. My understanding is that has been pulled now, is that correct? That newer phones may not run it.
Ed: Yes and no. If you bought Eloquence before, let’s say you had an Android phone in 2012, you paid your however many dollars what it costs for Eloquence, and you put that phone in a drawer, and then you bought a new Android phone, you can pull your version of Eloquence out of the deep freeze and it will run. Eloquence is though no longer able to buy, if you haven’t previously bought it. Every time when the new Android version comes out, people go, “Oh, will Eloquence work, it’s a 32-bit application and they’re meant to stop working. Yet Eloquence for those who bought it continues to subsist. I don’t have a phone that runs the beta of Android 12. Eloquence is working in Android 12. I assume it all works when the release comes out.
If you bought Eloquence, then you’re golden. If you didn’t, then it’s no longer available for purchase. You have a wide range of text-to-speech options, though. Most obviously you have Google. If you have a Samsung phone, they have a TTS Acapella, Vocalizer, and CereProc, all exist on Android. The other nice thing about Android applications, and I’m not quite sure what the state of this is now on iOS. If you’ve bought a text-to-speech engine, buy it once, use it many times, any app on your phone that uses it, you can take advantage of the one common text-to-speech engine. You don’t have to have different versions of the same text-to-speech engine to have a voice text-to-speech if that makes sense.
Jonathan: Yes. I believe that there was an attempt to get there with iOS. It was pulled, I believe that was in the iOS 14 cycle and it’s never come back. That is really wasteful because if you have a voice that you like, you have to potentially even not just install it, but buy it for every app that you want to use it with if that voice isn’t built into the operating system build. It can be a time-consuming and quite complex business.
Let’s talk about the multi-finger gestures versus the angular gestures. This is something that has really bugged me. I think if I look back, it is that combination of the angular gestures and those old clock-based menus that you have to navigate. It was just a horrible user experience for me. What is the deal? I think the word deal is the objective term here, literally, with multi-finger gestures on Android at the moment.
Ed: I should endeavor not to give myself a coronary when I answer this question, because I find it incredibly infuriating. Let me start by angular gestures. I put this in one of my emails, I think when we had an exchange setting this up. Angular gestures on Android are a little bit of amyth. I don’t say that they’re easy for everyone to execute, whether they are or not depends on the user. There were only ever six of them. Now four of those angular gestures could be performed by other system gestures and/or by putting some buttons on your screen. The angular gestures that used to exist, were to enter the two TalkBack menus, the local menu, and the global menu, to bring up notifications, to go home, to go back and to bring up your list of recent apps, the recent or the overview button. Now, home, back, and recent have system gestures that sighted people accomplished with one finger. and if there’s an Android gesture that can be accomplished with one finger by a sighted user, all a TalkBack user has to do is add a second finger. If you are seeking help of a sighted person to use your Android phone, then they can actually help you. The iOS, nothing wrong with it, but all of their gestures are VoiceOver gestures.
Some of them are similar to what a sighted person would do, but as long as your gesture isn’t TalkBack related so to bring down the notification, a sighted person would do a one-finger swipe down from the top of the screen.
TalkBack, touch the top of the screen, the status bar to gain focus, swipe down with two fingers. You just add a finger. Four of the angular gestures, notifications, home, back and recent, they’ve assisted in gestures four, and for home, back, and recent, you can put some software buttons on your screen if you want.
You’re not even performing any gestures aside from double-tapping. Then you had the global menu and the local menu that got merged in Android 11. There’s really only one that requires an angular gesture. As I say, not saying they’re easy for everyone, but the extent to which you have to rely on them, I think is overstated, including by Google by the way.
It’s a bit like using VoiceOver on the Mac where they try and get you to do these horrendous VoiceOver interaction things. Actually, the Mac has a perfectly good set of built-in operating system keyboard shortcuts, and it’ll be way quicker if you just learn those. Anyway, they push the screen reader ways of doing things for reasons best known to themselves.
Multi-finger gestures in Android 11 is a bit of a tale of woe I think. When Android 11 came out, it shipped with TalkBack 9.0. All the phones running Android 11 and TalkBack 9.0 had multi-finger gestures as an option available in developer settings in TalkBack. They seemed to work variably on Android devices.
On my OnePlus 8 5G, they worked pretty flawlessly. Others didn’t quite have the same experience. Just before TalkBack 9.1 was released, Samsung announced a tie-up with Google. That said that Samsung and Google phones would be the first to benefit from accessibility features. TalkBack 9.1 that hit non-Pixel, non-Samsung devices, and everybody’s multi-finger gesture went away.
There were all sorts of rumors as to why this might have been. The March security patch 2021 was meant to fix it. Developers were supposed to update the framework that would fix it. What I did because 9.1 for an English-speaking user only really added voice commands. For me, it was a straight shoot out, do I want multi-finger gestures, Do I want voice commands. I elected for multi-finger gestures. I downgraded my TalkBack. I stopped it updating and life was well. No good deed goes unpunished though, because in the summer someone wanted me to record a demo of downgrading TalkBack.
You did that by going to its Play Store entry and hitting the uninstall button. They were worried that it might take it off their phone and they, not unreasonably, didn’t want to jump off this particular building with me reassuring them that the carabiner was attached. They actually wanted me to show it.
I upgraded to 9.1, I hit the uninstalled button expecting the 9.0 downgrade to happen, which it had perfectly, reliably, and it didn’t, it wouldn’t downgrade anymore. That was as a result of the May 2021 security patch. At that point, non-Pixel, non-Samsung phones were left in May, well, whenever they got the May security patch, only being able to run 9.1 if that was what they were on. They couldn’t be downgraded, and the functionality that existed in 9.0, but didn’t exist in 9.1 was no longer available.
We got the product manager of TalkBack onto the show back in the summer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the recording, but I did have Warren Carr, the main guy who runs our podcast ask my question. Probably a good job I wasn’t on the recording, I probably would’ve got sacked and not invited back because I might have proceeded. Their answer was, “Well, all the other phones will get it when we release Android 12, but we wanted Google and Samsung to test that the functionality was working,” kind of glossing over the fact that all the other phones had it in 9.0, but not in 9.1.
The only people that have multi-finger gestures right now are those Pixel and Samsung phones able to run Android 11 and even though not all Pixels– I think Google Pixel 2 has them, but pretty much all the other Pixel and Samsung phones on Android 11 have multi-finger gestures, no other phone does.
Jonathan: You can understand why people who had the gestures and then lost them would be pretty annoyed about this. Have we come to the conclusion that this was a commercial decision and not a technical one?
Ed: I think it must have been. They were working. They were certainly working on my OnePlus, and the Google Samsung tie-up was a thing. I still don’t think there’s been a clear and transparent communication about it. We got TalkBack product manager to sheepishly admit that this had happened, but if you ring Google disability supports, I think you did, there’s no clear answer which says, “Yes, you know what folks, sorry, Pixels and Samsungs only, wait for Android 12.”
Jonathan: When I called Google disability support, I got a really friendly person on the other end who couldn’t be more helpful. When I asked the question, “What is it that determines whether the multi-finger gestures are available or not? What do I shop for?”
He said, “That’s a really good question and I’ll come back to you with the answer. Then he wrote back to me a few days later and thanks to your email, I wrote back to him and said, “I already got my answer and the answer is that you guys and Samsung have stitched up a bit of a dirty deal here that locks out other devices from these multi-finger gestures.”
What I find quite offensive about this is that one of the big advantages of Android for blind people who may have limited income is that you can get some really good quality devices at a very low price. I always thought it was going to be a long shot starting with this Oppo phone, but man, when you look at that, I don’t know if you’ve had a look at the specs of the Oppo A94? When you look at the specs of it and the price you pay for it, it’s incredibly good value for money. Now it seems that for commercial reasons, those gestures don’t work on those devices, even Nokia.
Ed: Elitist and wrong were the words I used in my email to Google, back whenever it was that my gesture just disappeared. The Chinese phones offer amazing value. Oppo is good. OnePlus, they’re starting to charge a little bit more now, but they offered amazing value. Xiaomi, if you are happy to tame the dragon and spend half an hour killing all its ads.
Again, amazing hardware for the money. There’s no technical limitation to why this shouldn’t work. Nokia, yes, good workhorse phone, a little bit overpriced, but it gets security updates more frequently and for longer than any other phone. Samsung will drop you onto quarterly updates in year three and four, Nokia won’t. Operating system updates are a bit slow, but, yes, it’s annoying. As a non-Samsung, non-Pixel user, I was quite annoyed about it. Some of the cheaper Samsungs would do it though. It’s not a flagship thing.
If you got an A series Samsung running Android 11, then you would find that you had multi-finger gestures. I started out with an A95 G when I switched back in 2020, I don’t know what that would be, $ 400 or $500 probably, before I sold it to my parents, that got multi-finger gestures.
Jonathan: I do concede the point by the way on the S21 by default, in fact, you’ve got the home and the back and the recent button at the bottom of the screen similarly to the way you might use an iPhone, but a bit different, because you’ve got to find the home button and double-tap it if you don’t want to use the multi-finger or the angular gestures that are built into the screen reader, but there are alternative ways to get at those. Then you’re limited, I think to the TalkBack menu primarily with the multi-finger gesture, which I suppose you might be able to reassign. Even if you don’t have multi-finger gestures, there might be somewhere else you can assign it to.
Ed: Yes. Especially if you’ve got a hardware fingerprint sensor, you’ll get used to in display, fingerprint sensors with muscle memory if you want to use them. A lot of the Samsungs have them on the back. Sony has it on the power button, there are options there. If you were to turn off those home button, back, overview by default, you would still have system gestures to go home. You wouldn’t have to use the angular gestures. That would be much more like the iPhone. I think for the home gesture, you push up from the bottom of the screen. It might even be the same. I don’t use the system gestures for that. I have them on, but the overview might even be pushing up a little bit further.
Even if you turn those off, you’ve still got an Android system gesture to which you add a second finger that would use those. You never need the angular gestures for those. I don’t know why they exist.
Jonathan: Yes. I raised this because it is important I think when people on a budget are thinking about what should I buy? Where do you think that a new Android user should start? Is it safer to go with devices like Pixel? Obviously, with Pixel you’ll get everything Google, you will get the multi-finger gestures now. If you go with a Nokia device, you get Stock Android. Is stock Android always best, do you think or doesn’t it matter so much now?
Ed: It doesn’t matter so much in terms of accessibility. You’re not going to get a phone now where there’s a skin, you’re going to turn it on and go, “Oh, shucks, I’ve no idea what’s going on here.” There aren’t accessibility issues in terms of phones not being stock. Some manufacturers will put bloatware on and spam me with ads. I mentioned Xioami. You can do stuff about than. You can go and disable all the ads and the bloatware you don’t want, but you do have to do that. There are reasons you might not want to go to Pixel. Your Samsung, for instance, I’m sure you know this, but you can answer a call with a button if you want to, no flicking or tapping. Your volume up will answer a call. That’s a Samsung thing.
The OnePlus that I was using until I got magpie bamboozled by a lovely shiny Sony phone, it had a switch on the side which I really liked. It was a three-position switch. I had ring, vibrate, and do not disturb. I just slid it in my pocket. Amazing thing, only available on OnePluses. Sony have amazing audio. They have a thing where lossy music is supposed to sound lossless if you sign up to Tidal. Each of them will have their own things. If you want stock Android, the quickest updates for longest, then you probably want a Pixel. I think they’re boring, underwhelming phones, to be honest.
I don’t think Google is a hardware company, but they’re optimized incredibly well. I always wind up Warren on the podcast by abusing his choice of Pixel. I’m a hardware guy. I make hardware decisions, so I have the Sony Xperia 1 III because it’s a lovely shiny phone. It’ll only get software updates for two years, but I don’t tend to keep a phone for longer than two years anyway so I don’t care. [chuckles] The Pixel 6 will get software updates for significantly longer than that.
If you want the optimum sweet spot between nice hardware and software updates, you’re probably looking Samsung flagship, but be careful not all Samsung phones are created equal. You can get a Xiaomi, an Oppo, a OnePlus. There are so many choices out there that offer you quite nice Android experiences. As long as you get a phone with decent specs, you should be fine. Do you think about the specs though? I’ve heard people say, “Well, I was using an iPhone. I spent $150 on an Android phone, and it’s really slow.”
It’s like, wow, not a great surprise, is it? It’s a tenth of the price of the phone you have. If you bought a Windows PC with an i3 processor, 4 gigs of ram, and a spinny happy hard drive, so all is going to work probably not very well. It’s the same with TalkBack. There’s absolutely value to be had in the market, but do you look at the specs of the phone and see if especially the RAM looks vaguely sensible?
Jonathan: This is a very geeky discussion and it’s a good one, but it does prompt the question for me, do you think you have to be a bit more of a geek to make the most of what Android has to offer?
Ed: I don’t think you have to be a geek to have a perfectly good Android experience. If you are happy to take a phone on its terms, you can go and get a mid-of-the-road phone and it’ll work great. You turn it on and if you have no particular operating system expectations, you’re happy to take it on its merits, then your Android is going to be absolutely fine as it is. You don’t have to be a geek to be able to use that phone, pick it up and do what you want it to do.
If you have very definitive views of how you want your phone to feel, especially if you’ve come from somewhere and you want to make it customized like the place you’ve come from, then you probably do have to be a little bit geeky. On Android, you can change literally anything. If you don’t like it, change it. That even comes down to the screen reader. Don’t like TalkBack, use Commentary. Don’t like the phone app, get another phone app. If you don’t like the keyboard, get another keyboard. You can change almost anything. If you don’t like the home screen, get another launcher.
If you have strong views about how you want that phone to operate, Android will let you get there. You will find yourself having to customize it quite a lot.
Jonathan: What do you think the implications will be of people being able to run Android apps in some way in Windows 11. The details even at this late stage are still a bit vague on this, but do you think that will cause even more blind people to take an interest?
Ed: I hope so. I’d like to see Microsoft take a little bit of an interest in Android as well. I don’t feel strongly about this myself because there are other apps that do the same thing, but there are people that spit feathers because seeing AI and soundscape aren’t on Android. I’d even hear words like discrimination bandied about. I wasn’t aware that you can be discriminated on the grounds of operating system choice, but there we are. [chuckles]
Jonathan: It’s a business decision, but I’ll tell you what, I have been playing with Google Lookout. I never thought that I would say this, but in terms of reading things in short text, that kind of thing, it is kicking the butt of anything I have found on iOS. I, for example, use as a pretty standard test these meals that we get from Muscle Fuel, the low-carb meals, and I was absolutely staggered when I read this with Google Lookout the other day. I got information that no iOS app has ever given me, the fact that the meals are certified organic. I had no idea about that.
It gave all sorts of other information that I don’t know whether the print was too fine or I don’t know, the font, whatever it was, but the iOS apps were not reading this, and Google Lookout read them effortlessly. I was bowled over by this.
Ed: This is what I mean, it’s brilliant if all apps are on each operating system, more choice. You’ve got perfectly capable alternatives on Android anyway without an iOS app needing to come over. Lookout, we did a battle of the OCR apps a few podcast episodes ago. We used the standard tests. We turned on airplane mode to see which ones are being naughty and pinging the cloud without telling us. Lookout came out best.
Jonathan: There are people who say though, “Look, it’s great that Android is getting–” In fact, somebody said this to me the other day, “It’s great that Android is becoming more viable, but if money’s no object, iOS in terms of accessibility is the gold standard.” Agree or not?
Ed: No, unless you’re a prior user, I don’t think. I’m not picking up my Android phone going, “Oh, I miss that. I miss being able to do that.” I use my phone for most things. You’ve mentioned the couple of apps that seem to work better on the Android side. Also, some of them seem to be a little bit more stable even though the apps aren’t necessarily better. You talked about LinkedIn being really annoying on iOS.
Jonathan: Yes, it is because I tell a lot of colleagues and people like that, “Look, I just cannot bear to use LinkedIn.” The frustrating thing is, I blogged about this a couple of years ago, and I said, “Microsoft gets accessibility. What Microsoft does not get is efficiency.” They simply do not. They’re getting worse in Windows in this regard. LinkedIn is a classic example of how no one can argue about the accessibility of LinkedIn, but it’s a pain in the butt to use. It’s just awful. With Android, it’s the way every other social network is. One swipe gets you between posts.
Ed: The semi-reverse of that on Android is Facebook, where instead of double-tapping and holding to bring up an actions menu, there’s an actions menu button associated with each post, which basically means it’s more swipes. The thing about the Android Facebook app though is that it works. I don’t know how many times I have to visit a technology group, it must be twice a week and something’s broken with Facebook in iOS and VoiceOver. Check-in venues aren’t labeled. Questions in groups aren’t being read when they’re questions. Something else goes wrong with it.
I think I’ve had one problem in 18 months. It’s not a particularly efficient app, but at least I can rely on it for what I need it to do. I wish it worked a bit better. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are examples where it’s the reverse. I do find that things seem to break less often on Android or, at least, things that I use anyway. It seems as though from the rest of the blindness community, they seem to break on VoiceOver. I do think that it is a genuine lifestyle choice now. If you are a speech user in particular, I don’t think iOS is more accessible.
I think if you like the openness, the flexibility of Android, then you’ll have a great experience. I don’t think you’ll have accessibility issues.
Jonathan: I think with Braille and also for those people who use Made for iPhone hearing aids and, of course, if you’re really gotten into the Apple ecosystem and you’ve got an Apple Watch, it might be a slightly more complex thing to switch, but if you’re primarily a speech-only user and you don’t have those ties, it really is very compelling. What do you use for email?
Jonathan: That’s still the flavor of the month. I remember it used to be as well.
Ed: I think so. You do have to configure it, otherwise, you’ll have two swipings because ironically, it has an accessibility feature that I think to make it easier, I don’t know if it’s dexterity or low vision to select a message, but you swipe past the message and it’ll say selector. You just go and turn it off, but once you’ve done that, it’s a great app. Another app that rather like Lazarus rose from the dead couple of months ago was K-9 Mail, which is the original granddaddy of Android email apps even before Google put one on inbox, I think the first Google one was–
K-9 Mail was an open-source thing that had been dead for years, and all of a sudden, it got revived a couple of months ago. Outlook exists on Android, a little bit limited, I think. Gmail exists on Android, a little bit limited. I think AquaMail is my client of choice, although it’s not unanimous among our little podcast gang. I think I might have been the only AquaMail proponent, actually. It’s very powerful. They have fallen into that trap of, “We’ll implement a feature with a setting.” It does have about 300 plus settings in it, so it can be a bit overwhelming, but I think it’s the best one.
It’s free if you don’t have any more than two email addresses. It’s not free if you have more.
Jonathan: Yes. I had a go at setting up a number of third-party email accounts on the Gmail app and it wasn’t a good experience. I guess if you’re immersed in the Google ecosystem and you have a Gmail account, which I will never do, then you’d be all right, but if you use your own servers, it was just a little bit clunky for me. I do remember from my previous experiences with Android having Aqua mail.
Ed: The Gmail, you set it up, then you have to go back into its settings to set it up properly. Then all of a sudden there’s a bunch of things you can’t change. I’m not a huge fan of the Gmail App.
Jonathan: I just want to come back to efficiency again, because I love talking about efficiency. It’s interesting to see that Android or TalkBack specifically has embraced the concept of the actions menu which is great because I think having contextual actions was a very good addition to iOS and now it’s come to Android, but it’s a little bit varied, isn’t it? Because first, you’ve got to go into the TalkBack menu, and then you’ve got to choose actions, and then your actions are there. It’s a slightly less efficient experience.
Ed: You can set a gesture to open the actions menu directly if you want to.
Jonathan: Okay. Good. All right.
Ed: You can go in TalkBack and do that. The thing about TalkBack action is, I guess it must be the same on iOS, that the developer has to implement them so Launchers, which are either things on Android you will never care about or you chase that part of gold at the end of the rainbow looking for the ideal one and use about a billion of them. TalkBack actions are particularly useful for moving apps. If you don’t want to double-tap and hold and swipe it around the screen, not all launchers will support TalkBack actions.
Jonathan: Tell me about what a launcher is for those who aren’t familiar with the Android world.
Ed: When you get your phone and turn it on, you have a home screen a little bit like on iOS. You will have various things on that home screen. You can customize the look and feel of that home screen a bit like customizing your desktop. I think of a launcher as not so much customizing the desktop as changing the desk.
If you want a launcher that has different features, maybe the one that comes with your phone doesn’t support TalkBack actions, there are third-party launchers, effectively drives your phone. It’s the home screen, it’s the apps list, it controls all of that.
I have a launcher for instance, which lets me have a home screen 12 apps high. They’re quite close together, but I have a big phone and I quite like having apps. I have a two column home screen with my apps on the left and right-hand side, nothing in the middle so I can hit an app with reasonable precision. To do that, I want the launch screen to support me having a 12 app high home screen. I found a launcher that did that. Sighted users quite like them because they offer different looks and feels, more that you could customize. It may be, if you like the way your phone runs, you don’t need to care about launchers at all.
The Samsung launcher people quite like, people don’t always change their Pixel launcher. I think I would because it has a little Google feed on it, which I wouldn’t want. Not that I want a Pixel phone, but if I had to have one for some reason then I think I would bin the pixel launcher fairly early on. You can do it to give you that extra customization for the way your phone looks and feels. Back when you had third-party phones that weren’t so accessible because of the funny things they did to Android, then changing out the launcher was probably the first thing you did to try and go and fix that.
Jonathan: Is there a launcher that seems to have favor in the blind community?
Ed: No various ones. Ruthless Launcher is one a lot of people like. Hyperion is the one I use. Nova is a very popular launcher, but up until recently didn’t support TalkBack actions. It does now. Apex is another. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. One of the things that baffled me for ages on Android was I didn’t seem to be getting an unread notification count.
When you hit your messages out, I want it to say three new messages or three unread messages or something that indicates I might have some messages to read and lots of them didn’t seem to do it. I had to go delving into some settings and find a launcher that would do that in the first place. Samsung does it by default. I imagine the Pixel did, my OnePlus didn’t. I had to change out that launcher and go and get a third-party one which did.
Jonathan: The Braille input keyboard is pretty nice in Android. I think initially it may not have supported the tabletop mode, but now it does.
Ed: I love the responsiveness of the Talkback Braille keyboard though. This is a bit arcane, but I love the fact it supports six fingers.
Ed: If you ever wanted to Braille the FOR sign on iOS, it’s like I’ll swap one finger out for another finger. Keep the other four down. The only thing is I’m like a marginally Braille snob. I don’t like the fact it only supports useless English Braille rather than our legacy Braille tables [crosstalk] are lovely, UK literary English Braille, which iOS would still let me use.
Jonathan: Embrace the future of UEB, Ed. the future is here.
Ed: I know. I get cold dead fingers running down my spine every time though. The amount of exclamation marks I’ve got before words because the “to” symbol is no longer there, have to go back and it’s like, “Come on”. No, I don’t think they will. Why would you bother introducing support for deprecated Braille tables, but I can dream, can’t I?
Jonathan: Well, what’s interesting about the Braille keyboard implementation on Android is that as I understand it, you can also still navigate around the screen using the up and down volume keys, right?
Ed: You can, yes.
Jonathan: Yes. You can’t do that on iOS. You’ve got to rotor yourself out of the Braille screen input to navigate what you’ve just written, but you don’t have to do that on Android.
Ed: Correct. It’s good. It would be nice if Android had the ability to force a keyboard where there isn’t one. I think on iOS, you can Braille on your home screen, can’t you? If I remember rightly-
Ed: -to open an app. You can only input keyboard with TalkBack anyway where there’s a keyboard. There has to be some edit field. I think the Commentary screen reader will let you force an onscreen keyboard, but they don’t have a Braille keyboard. That would be quite interesting if they would allow a keyboard where edit field there is none.
Jonathan: Have I missed the fact that there is no calibration feature in the Braille keyboard on Android or does a calibration feature exist?
Ed: I thought it did. I thought you had to do that when you set it up.
Jonathan: Right. But then sometimes your fingers are just slightly differently positioned each time you use the phone. With iOS, you can do your 4, 5, 6 1, 2, 3 or [crosstalk] you can do your 4 signs and then it knows where your fingers are, but I haven’t found a way to do that on Android yet.
Ed: No, I don’t think that you can, although, listeners, do correct me if I’m wrong. I do just tend to adjust my fingers though and it tends to work. If I haven’t got it quite right I just–If it said I’ve pressed dots 5, 6, and I think I should have pressed 4 or 5. I’ll just move my right hand until it thinks I’ve pressed 4 or 5 and then we’re all hunky-dory again.
Jonathan: It’s very good. No, I’m really impressed with the Braille keyboard. Do you use RSS at all? I’m interested to find out what RSS clients people are using on Android.
Ed: I use podcast clients. I don’t use an RSS. I know there are some because there are people that do, but I’m afraid RSS is not something I’m familiar with.
Jonathan: What’s your favorite podcast client?
Ed: Podcast Addict. Its big drawback, and it is a big drawback depending on how you listen to podcasts, is that it won’t sync. I only ever listen into podcasts on my phone though so I’m not that bothered, but again, it’s a super-powerful client, syncing aside. For someone who listens to podcasts over a range of devices, it’s not going to cut it.
Pocket Casts, a little bit like on iOS is a popular one on Android. That’s what a lot of people use. I don’t think we have something like a Castro, but there are other options too. It’s a little bit like AquaMail Podcast really. They implement features with settings.
Again, it’s got a huge number of different settings that you can configure, you know, what it downloads, what it keeps, when it deletes things, what you want it to you with playlists, you can genrefy it, but yes, it’s not syncing it’s probably a deal-breaker for those that listen to podcasts on more than one device.
Jonathan: Yes. My son uses this. He’s the Android user in our family and he tells me, “get Podcast Addict Dad” although he doesn’t talk like that anymore. [laughs] It sounds like a good one. Does it have chapter support?
Ed: Yes it does.
Jonathan: You can’t pre-select chapters though. You can’t go, “Well, I’ll listen to 1, 7, 11. Skip that, they’re talking about Android, that’s boring, we won’t do that.” You can pre-select what you want to skip, but it does have chapters and it has playback speed, sleep timers, all the rest of it.
Jonathan: I’m really intrigued by some of the blindness-specific third-party apps in the space. Actually, I got my son Richard to help me with a demo of Louie Voice Control a wee while ago. That worked surprisingly well. I’ve installed that on my Samsung phone.
For those who didn’t hear that episode, essentially, it’s like a Google assistant on steroids and it goes deep into an app. You can tell it, for example, to go to the Play Store. It tells you what are you searching for? You tell it what you want. Its recognition is amazingly good. It works with WhatsApp and YouTube, and it’s fun to just keep the phone in your pocket, maybe with headphones on and just talk to these various apps. That’s really working well. Have you had a play with that?
Ed: A little bit. We interviewed the developer and he’s on our email list. I tend to use the touchscreen predominantly but like you said it offers the Google Assistant but on steroids, superpowered Google Assistant. The other thing about Android as well is it will support super, super accessible environments for novices. There’s a team in Estonia, and it’s quite a touching backstory really the co-founder’s dad lost his sight, they gave him an iPhone, didn’t really get on with it, gave him an Android phone with TalkBack didn’t really get on with it.
They’ve built a platform with little applets, and all you really do is swipe up, down, left, and right. You can set it to take over your phones, you can set it as a launcher, so you never really need to see TalkBack on the operating system. One thing led to another and they’ve made it available for the blindness community. You get these specialist devices as well whether that’s, I don’t know, a blind Shell or a Braille sense six or seven with BrailleNote touch glass driven by Android.
I’d like one of them to see an operating system update once. Well, Android will support those sorts of devices if you do need to tailor a super accessible experience for someone who might not be touchscreen confident, or if they’ve got a touchscreen might not want to get into all the gestures.
Jonathan: That app from Estonia is called Voxmate and they’ve been in touch, and actually it was Voxmate that finally, I was going to get Richard to help me with that demo as well because Gleb from Voxmate wrote to me and said, “Can you feature it on the show?” We were going to get Richard over with his– he’s running an LG phone now. As soon as he bought an LG phone they stopped making them I guess they felt their work was done once he had one. Then I said, “Oh, it’s about time I dabbled in this myself.” I have to say Voxmate is amazing.
Voxmate reminds me a little bit of the Leasey basic for Windows that Hartgen Consultancy have done because it’s this very friendly walled garden environment, but the amount of information you can access through Voxmate is super impressive. It’s intuitive to use and then they have these forums so users can communicate with one another in audio. Very, very well done.
Ed: Telegram works better on Android anyway, but even that can be daunting. They’ve produced a beautiful environment for Telegram if that’s your thing, and for Reddit. I think they pick them because Telegram and Reddit have nice APIs for third-party developers, but it’s a really good experience. It’s well worth checking out.
Jonathan: It’s taken Android a while to get to this point though, hasn’t it? How much of a head start did iOS have about three years I think before Android came along? Maybe less, and it’s really taken Google a very, very long time to spin up to the level that they are now. Why has it taken so long and what does that say about Google’s commitment to the space?
Ed: Well, iOS hasn’t stood still either. The iOS, what was it? 3GS the first phone in 2009. What you get, I imagine, on the 3GS will be very different to the iPhone 13 Pro which my wifey is picking up from the Apple Store on Friday. Not that I shall be using it. Accessibility hasn’t stood still on that side either. I think we are where we are, aren’t we? It’s a good operating system, as I say you can bend use TalkBack if you want, use commentary, that does have multi-finger gestures on any phone. So you have options.
Google, they seem to be relatively responsive, my multi-finger gestures issues aside. They will introduce TalkBack updates independent of operating system updates so we’ve got the Braille keyboard at some point in the Android 10 cycle just with an upgrade to TalkBack. As I’ve said, Google giveth and taketh away when it comes to multi-finger gestures. I don’t know why they took the development path that they did, I guess the thing is that we are here now, aren’t we? I think it’s a good thing.
Jonathan: What about learning Android? Obviously, there’s going to be a learning curve for somebody coming over from iOS if they want to do that. There’s clearly some similarities with the touchscreen now so you can certainly navigate without any effort at all, you can double-tap. I have to say, I don’t know whether it’s this phone, or what the deal is, but I find that sometimes my double taps don’t register on the S21 whereas they register every single time on the iPhone.
I’m not sure whether that’s because it’s a timing thing or a sensitivity of the screen thing, but you probably get that when you’re just using a different piece of hardware I suppose. Is there some sort of definitive repository that a blind person can go to who’s interested in dabbling in this and have a definitive place to learn the changes and how to make the most of their device?
Ed: We aspire to be that, blind Android users. We aren’t yet certainly in terms of written guides. What we’ve done on the podcast is we’ve tried to create segments that you can follow through so we have an Android basic section on every podcast, and we will take a different bit of the Android journey, whether that’s the Play Store, whether it’s settings, whether it’s notifications, whether it’s launchers, we’ve evolved that into the must-have apps we think blind people should have in certain categories.
Podcast-wise, you have that. National Braille Press have a couple of books. Ana Garza, Ana with one N has done a couple of books on Android which I certainly found very helpful back in my second dabble at Android back in 2017. I imagine they are still available and she’s just done a new one on going through in some detail of the Android settings. There isn’t quite the written repository that we aspire to be, but we’re trying to get there. I think you said yourself last week, when you Google TalkBack, most of the articles are about how to turn it off.
Jonathan: [laughs] How do you turn this bloody thing off?
Ed: Yes, exactly. It’s a bit like that, but we’ve got ways folks can submit guides because we’re a small team of volunteers, we’re not even that, community users really with no particular backing so we want to grow that. Google’s support pages are okay, they will get you up and running with TalkBack gestures as I say a little bit too screen reader gesture focused for my liking. I’d like them to focus a little bit more on systems. We have mailing lists, blindAndroidusersemail@example.comO. We have a Telegram channel and a few other social media folks.
Jonathan: Why did you create a blind Android users list when there was the Eyes-Free list?
Ed: Eyes-Free list, I think went announce-only.
Jonathan: Oh, really?
Ed: Yes. It went–
Jonathan: Well, I’m not sad about that because I have to say and I’m probably going to get all sorts of horrible mail, but one of the things that I found very frustrating was that in past occasions when I have tried Android, I would subscribe to the Eyes-Free list, and the amount of unpleasantness and nastiness on that list was just pandemic. People would try to say, “Look, here is a legitimate need that I have,” and the response you would get from some pretty horrible vitriolic people was, “Oh well, you’re just an Apple fanboy.”
You said, “No, no, hang on, this was actually a need I have to do in my job, it’s a want I have as a consumer,” is there a way to do this or not? The quality of the dialogue, the vitriol, the temperature of it was remarkable. You don’t see the violent criticism of Android among Apple users it seems to me. People sometimes shrug their shoulders and say, “I don’t think it’s there yet, I’m really worried about the Braille,” but it was just this really vitriolic venom to do with Apple things or anybody who used it or was identified with it. If you’ve been able to create a culture on your list that’s not like that and that’s actually welcoming of honest questions, good on you. That’s what I say.
Ed: Yes. It is a high-traffic list. We don’t hold people to topic so since it’s a community list really so people might want to chat about some other things and we do tolerate that. I hope it’s a welcoming list. Certainly, people seem to– you get people coming from all folks, you still got people giving up their symbians.
Jonathan: Yes, My gosh.
Ed: I know. People giving up their iPhones and as far as I can tell they’re getting questions without being abused. I’m sure every list has a blind Apple or two on it. I wasn’t on the Eyes-Free list because I don’t think I’m worth joining an email list on my other ventures into Android, but I hope people find that blind Android users are welcoming albeit high-traffic place.
Jonathan: It’s not for everyone. I have heard of people who’ve given Android a go and then gone back again.
Ed: Yes. What’s quite funny though is I know it happens less often because certainly in what we might think of as the English speaking Western world more people use iPhones, that’s absolutely not the case I don’t think in the blindness community globally because there is an affordability point at the end of the day, but you will get people that switch from Android and go back.
We have folks coming on another of our segments is the My Android Journey and so many of them are reverse of me. It’s like, “I used Android and I switched to Apple and I just couldn’t get on with it. I had to give the iPhone up because I couldn’t do all the things I used to like doing on my Android phone.” I think that they are less publicized because the sorts of forums we gravitate towards, as I say, as Western world English-speaking folks probably have more iPhone users on them than Android, but you will get the reverse.
Jonathan: I’m very interested I said to Bonnie, and by the way, when I was playing with Voxmate, Bonnie said, “I really want this Voxmate thing.” She was just impressed with how I was hooning around the news and doing different things like that. That was interesting. I said to her, “I may well try when the pressure’s not on,” because during the day the pressure really is on, but in the summertime, I usually take about three or four weeks off. I’m seriously thinking about putting my primary SIM from my usual phone number into the S21 and going all Android over the summer when I’ve got time to play and know that things will inevitably take longer.
I did the same thing when I switched to the Mac for a few years in 2012, but there are still a couple of things. One is that I’m running an APH Mantis, which I’m a big fan of. Actually, as long as the Braille output is okay, the Mantis may well deal with some of the concerns that some Braille users have because you’d be able to use qwerty input and have Braille output, but sadly, Android doesn’t yet support the HID standard for Braille displays. Do you know if that’s coming in Android 12?
Ed: I don’t I’m afraid. I’ll certainly find out, but no, I don’t know. I don’t have any devices that are running the beta.
Jonathan: One of the good things about Android in the Eyes-Free list was that despite all the signal-to-noise ratio issues I mentioned, you did actually have TalkBack developers on there. Sometimes when there was an honest question asked, the TalkBack developers would answer it. With the Eyes-Free list having disappeared, is there still that ability to have that dialogue because this is something you really struggle to do with Apple. They try to keep their developers at arm’s length.
Ed: No. I think they might watch the list. Certainly, a couple of manufacturers’ accessibility folks watch the list. I think we might have one or two former Googlers on it. They tend to channel or want us to channel their queries to the disability support desk which obviously isn’t getting straight to the developers. Messages might get passed on, but that’s the primary route rather than TalkBack developers chiming in every few minutes as I say, they may well watch the list, but not in a contributing regularly way.
Jonathan: We’ve talked a bit about some of the mainstream benefits of Android and a lot about accessibility, but of course, one of the big ones that people will appreciate mainstream benefits is that you can connect your device. It will pop up as a drive certainly in Windows, I’m not sure about whether that happens in Mac or not. If you want–
Ed: Yes, it does.
Jonathan: Right. Then having done that, forget about iTunes and any other third-party utility, just copy the music or media wherever you want it to be, and any app can then access that.
Ed: It’s really good for manipulating your storage. Cloud storage is fine and you can sync that way, but there are internet connectivity and metered connection issues if you’re on limited plans. Just being able to plug your phone in, manipulate it in that way, even transferring files using Bluetooth, fairly basic things that you used to be able to do and then aren’t supported or used to be in iOS. You can still do that. Google has its answer to the sharing over Wifi thing that Apple has.
Yes, the ability just to be able to do some of those things natively without the need for an iTunes or a WALTR is quite powerful. You can have all sorts of different file managers on Android with different capabilities as well for actually browsing your phone internally, your media apps can typically see your internal file structure so you can browse the content quite nicely.
Same with a lot of the e-book readers as well. It’s much more akin to using a computer in that regard or when it comes to manipulating your storage. The other thing about Android, of course, is that a lot of phones, although numbers arguably declining, they will support expandable storage, they’ll support SD cards. If you do have a lot of content you want, and it exceeds your phone capacity, then if you have the right device, just slap an SD card in it.
Jonathan: Isn’t it true to say though that with that additional openness comes potential additional risk?
Ed: Yes, I think so. All operating systems have their risks. All of the security apps exist for Android. Android will let you install apps that aren’t on the play store. It’s called sideloading in the Android world, which can create a degree of his hysteria though if you think about it on windows. If you’ve ever installed JAWS or NVDA, you’ve sideloaded, or sideloading means, is it something that’s not on the Google play store?
Absolutely. You need to make sure that you’re clicking on things that you trust. You should look at getting some security on your phone and that’s free or paid, as it is for your computer and you have choices there. It is more open. I don’t think any operating system is risk-free.
It’s about taking some of those responsible things that you probably think about when you’re using your computer and thinking about them when you’re using your phone. If you weren’t expecting an attachment, don’t open it. If you’re not sure what the link is, don’t click it. Make sure you know what you’re installing if it’s not on the play store and bear those good basic computer security principles in mind.
Jonathan: Tell me a little bit about Blind Android Users. We’ve talked about the podcast as we’ve gone through this, but you’ve been very generous with your time and you may have tantalized a few people to find out more. How often do you publish?
Ed: Once a week. we record on Saturdays typically, get the episode up on Sundays. I tend to announce it, chuck a little bit of structure around it, Warren Carr, he’s the brains behind it. Austin Pinto, Mariam Mohsen, the Egyptian branch of the Mosen family [crosstalk].
Jonathan: I have to tell you the very first episode of your podcast I listened to, I got that little jive that somebody said about no relation. [laughs]
Ed: That might’ve been me. [laughs]
Jonathan: I said to Bonnie, “Jeez, I can’t even listen to a blindness podcast.” [laughs]
Ed: I blame Mariam for having a similar name. It’s her fault really. Were she not called that, then I wouldn’t have been able to make the joke. Warren and Austin and Doug, he does our website, they’ve been using Android for years and years and years. Warren power user, good relations with Google. Austin, if you ever want to do really, really geeky things like install the operating system on your phone, the update before your manufacturer wants you to have it, roaming that’s called, Austin’s your guy for that. These are really technical, technical guys in the Android system.
Warren started it back in December 2020, I think. I came on as a listener in the wintertime to tell them how I got into Android, then Warren asked me to come on as a host and I’ve been doing that. We record, publish it normally on Sunday, we tend to do app demos. We have a spotlight section where we try and get app developers on, we’ve had Carthic from Envision. We’ve had Supersense, we’ve had Aira, audible vision, Loui voice control, Pranav’s been on it. We try and do that. We showcase commentary, the other screen reader. Do give it a listen– As I said as well we’re on Telegram. We have an email list.
If YouTube is your thing, then you can listen to our episodes. Austin slices and dices them into quite helpful playlists and we publish extra content on there. Do check us out https://blindandroid users.com is the website, but you can subscribe through your podcast client of choice.
Jonathan: It is your hope then that blindandroidusers.com will evolve into something more than the podcast, is that right? That people who might want to write how to type articles, that sort of thing would be able to put them there or is it podcast exclusive that website?
Ed: No, it’s not. We do what we do on articles. There are some. It’s fledgling, I think it’s fair to say, but we don’t want it just to be the podcast’s website. We want it to be a place where you go for written guides for how-to’s and that content will evolve.
Jonathan: Now, I keep attempting to wrap, and then I have more questions for you. Let me just ask you this one. What advantages does commentary have over TalkBack?
Ed: It’s way richer in terms of feature set. Multi-finger gestures will work. It’s got really good text manipulation, copy and paste facilities which you would have to install a bunch of third-party apps to get TalkBack to achieve. I think although I could be wrong, I think you can have different settings for different apps. It is a fuller featured set. It’s a controversial screen reader. It’s not on the play store and people go, “Hmm, that’s interesting. Why isn’t it on the play store?” It’s also Chinese, which means that people mistrust it for that reason. It’s a good screen reader. It’s been localized by volunteers.
Some of its localizations are a bit quirky, some of its translations, but if you were to stack them side by side and go, “Which has the richer feature sets? It would be commentary, whether or not you want to sideload it, whether not you care that it’s an app developed in China that you don’t know much about then those are some reasons why people don’t use it.
Jonathan: Interesting. We’ll delve into that. Ed, thank you so much for your time. This has been a very interesting discussion. I hope that it’s been informative for those people who’ve heard that they might like to take another look at Android. In a pretty boring year for Apple hardware, this might be the year that people decide to do it. Thank you. I really appreciate it and all the best with blindandroidusers.com.
Ed: Pleasure. Thanks very much, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Let’s get into some listener comments on Android. Dennis Long starts us off and says, “Hi, Jonathan. I switched from Android to iOS. I have issues doing the touch gestures on iOS and Android. I use a Revo 2 keyboard. The Revo tries to work with Android, but due to Android’s crappy keyboard implementation, it doesn’t work well.
On iOS, it just works with a physical keyboard. The app could have a terrible design on iOS, but I can still click every button with my keyboard. Another nice thing with Apple is buttons, links, headings, et cetera are separated. This isn’t the case with TalkBack. iOS is just much more polished than Android.”
Thank you very much, Dennis. It’s great that you’re comfortable with your choice. I do want to try and make sure that we have the latest information for those who are weighing up the pros and cons of either option. Certainly, on the TalkBack that I am using now, you can perform a three-finger swipe left and right, and you can go through different elements on a web page. If I’m running Google Chrome on my Android device, I can choose to navigate by buttons and links, et cetera. You can choose what elements are available on that menu. It is configurable.
Also, there’s a great set of Bluetooth keyboard commands if you’d like to use a Bluetooth keyboard. It’s quite similar to say using a Windows screen reader on a web environment. I think that the issue that Android faces is that it took them so long to get up to this level that a lot of people have had negative experiences that they have to overcome, and they may not. They may have just given up on Android because it has taken so long to get to a standard where it is competitive.
Now, we know that Peter in Hungary has had a very old device for a long time. He sent this in to me a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t have time to get to it in the previous episode. Here’s another device recommendation with the caveat, of course, that if you want the multi-finger gestures on TalkBack, you may either need to wait for Android 12 to use this device or get something else for now.
Peter says, “Hi, Jonathan. Just a quick feedback to the last which is now the second to last Mosen At Large episode. You mentioned that you were considering to buy a new Android smartphone. Believe it or not, I finally jumped out of the IT stone age right into Android 11. I bought a shiny new Nokia G20. It has unmodified Android. We’ve been together for about two weeks. We’re only getting familiar with each other. My starting impression is that it works. It is certainly different a bit than my old Samsung Galaxy J3 with its Android 5.1. Takes a little effort to learn.
By the way, I gave my Samsung Galaxy to the 11-year-old daughter of one of my friends. She is quite happy with it.” I’m sure she’s happy with you too, Peter for giving her a free phone. “The price of the Nokia he says was Ft 6,000. That is about $202. Hungary is one of the highest value-added tax in the world. It may be a lot cheaper in New Zealand. Anyway, go and try it as an option. Before you make your decision if you have the chance.”
Thank you, Peter, for the recommendation. If you are happy with the angular gestures, that’s an example of a low-cost device. It’s running stock Android, and it will perform okay. Some reviews I’ve read of it suggest that it’s a wee bit on the slow side. Again, I suppose it depends on what your expectations are and what you intend to do with the device. This is one of the intriguing things about Android, of course, you’ve just got so much hardware to choose from. I love how we whisk around the world on this show because we’re going from Hungary to Colombia where we have Luis, who is in touch, and he says, “Hi, Jonathan. First of all, let me thank you for the comprehensive review of iOS 15.
I keep being very impressed and grateful for your generosity to share your knowledge with the blind community worldwide.” That’s really kind of you. Thank you, Luis. “Regarding your Android adventure, I have some comments. A few days ago, I called Google accessibility using the Be My Eyes app to inquire about what phones support multi-touch gestures. The only phone that they recommended was the Google Pixel, which is not available in Colombia.” I’ll just stop there and say that’s the problem that I had too, Luis. We don’t get Google Pixel officially in New Zealand. As I said last week, I do wonder why Google’s distribution channels are so limited.
Luis continues. “They didn’t have any definitive answer regarding Samsung phones, which are readily available here. After listening to your segment on Android, I decided to go to a Samsung store to find out what phones support multi-touch gestures. They didn’t have any idea of what TalkBack was, and therefore I had to play with some handset myself. This is very different to what you get when you go into an Apple store, where the salesperson is very aware of voiceover. My preliminary test results indicates that only the expensive Samsung handsets support multi-finger gestures, i.e the S line handsets, such as the S21.
These high-end handsets are as expensive as the iPhone counterpart. This is really disappointing, since many blind people can’t afford expensive handsets, and those angular gestures are difficult to perform for many users, including myself.” I’ll just stop there and say that as we heard from Ed in the segment just gone, Luis, it appears that there are quite a wide range of Android phones made by Samsung that do support the angular gestures. That’s not to say that everyone does, but it does look like you don’t have to go into the S series in order to get the multi-finger gestures. Certainly, the range of price points available on Android is one of its biggest strengths, I think, particularly given the demographics of our communities.
You may want to have a look at some of the A-series. I’m sure some others will chime in if they’ve got other Samsung devices that are not the Galaxy series, the S series that are working okay. Luis continues. “If my preliminary test results are confirmed, I think that an iPhone handset is a better choice for a blind person, given the more robust accessibility support of iOS, especially if Braille is a necessary feature that the person needs to use. Furthermore, you can get an iPhone SE for a cheaper price than the Samsung S21 handset. I hope a comprehensive list of Android handsets that support multi-touch gestures is compiled and see if there are more affordable handsets that support this feature that makes its use a much easier experience.
I am not an Android user, and therefore my comments might be biased in favor of the iPhone. I hope Android listeners will send their contributions regarding these comments.” Thank you very much, Luis, and I know that you like many of us dabbled in Android some time ago, and then switched back. The one thing I will say, and you know that I don’t have a particular axe to grind on the subject is that I have not found the current accessibility in Android to be not robust. I think it is in very good shape these days, much better than I was expecting, actually, as I said in the intro to the piece with Ed Green. This is the trouble. We have a bad experience, it tarnishes us, it taints our perceptions.
I’ve got to tell you I take the point with Braille and I haven’t played with BrailleBack yet. I just these days don’t have as much time to play with technology as I once did. I can’t comment yet on BrailleBack, and I welcome anybody’s feedback on BrailleBack. Notwithstanding that Braille could be an issue there. If you are a speech-only user, and that is the majority of people, it’s a pretty close run thing now in my opinion. It’s coming down to just a matter of personal preference, what feels right for you, what feels intuitive for you. It’s certainly in pretty good shape right now. Really is quite remarkable how far they’ve come. Let’s get the opposite perspective.
This is somebody who’s been using Android devices for some time already, dabbled in iOS from time to time, and then always moved back because he’s more comfortable in Android land, and that is Nick Zammarrelli. He says, “I’ve just ordered the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G. One of my main reasons for doing this is that its fingerprint reader is on the side key, rather than under the glass. Just the other day, it took me 11 tries to get the phone to recognize my fingerprint. I’ll keep you posted.” Thank you, Nick. I hope that you will. I agree that under-screen fingerprint is a real pain on the Samsung Galaxy S21. What I say to iPhone users is be careful what you wish for, mates.
My understanding is that that is the way that Apple is seeking to go, that it will be an under-screen fingerprint. Now, they may well make the whole screen a fingerprint reader, in which case that’ll be good because it won’t matter where you touch, but if you have to touch an invisible or rather unfeelable bit of the screen to unlock your phone, you are going to be hankering for the days of face ID I tell you, although I suspect they’ll keep both when they eventually go to the unlocking with your finger again. I believe that may not even be until 2023. If they do this the way Samsung has done it, there are going to be most blind people, even really tech savvy blind people, who are going to hate the feature.
We’ll just have to see whether Apple will do it differently. Jason White is also recommending that I look at Braille TTY. He says, “Although I use Braille TTY under Linux, which is its primary environment, I haven’t tried the Android version as I don’t own an Android device that can run it. Also, thank you for the high-quality podcasts.” Well, thank you, Jason. I will definitely give this a chance. I don’t know whether Braille TTY supports the Mantis or not, but I still do have the Focus 40 Blue as a backup so I’m sure that it supports that and I will get to that in due course and let people know what I’m finding.
Chris Westbrook: Hey, Jonathan, this is Chris Westbrook. I was listening to your Adventures in Android with much amusement. It was very entertaining. I was wondering if you tried to use the Made for iPhone hearing aids with the Samsung. My hearing aid and cochlear implant work, but there is a lot of choppiness in the audio for some reason sometimes. It reminds me of the earlier iPhones when they first came out with the Made for iPhone thing before they perfected it so I’m hoping that that gets improved. Other than that, I like the Samsung, except for the Braille like you had said before. I don’t use it as my primary phone, but I like having it around to test things and what things I keep current.
Jonathan: Wonderful to hear from you, Chris, hope you’re keeping well. What cochlear implant do you have? Who manufactures yours? Because I know that Nokia have implemented a general Bluetooth standard, so they don’t conform to the Made for iPhone hearing aid standard. The advantage of that is that you can pair it with many more devices. I’ve got the Oticon Opn S 1 hearing aids at the moment. I did go into the hearing aids settings of my Samsung device and saw them there. I put them into pairing mode and they showed up and I was very excited about this.
I thought, “Wow, this is getting close.” I mean, if I can get the hearing aids working with it and then I can get Braille TTY kind of behaving, I could be on the road to a big switch if I wanted to be, but it was not to be not at the stage anyway because when I tried to pair the hearing aids, it came up with an error and said these hearing aids require an app. When I Googled to try and get an answer to this, I was told that the only way that you can get these particular hearing aids to pair with a Samsung Galaxy range is to use the ConnectClip, which is a little external device.
The ConnectClip has some real accessibility challenges because it’s got a couple of multipurpose buttons that you just press, they don’t have a physical position on the buttons. Sometimes you have to hold a button down for a certain number of seconds until the light changes color and it’s really challenging sometimes. Also, it’s small it’s easy to lose. I don’t really want to keep carrying the ConnectClip around with me, although I guess if it was the last remaining show-stopping thing, I probably would do it. At the moment, what I’m doing to get the hearing aids working is what I used to do in the good old days before I had Made for iPhone hearing aids.
I’ve got a USBC to 3.5 adapter. Now, I have a couple of them and I just use an audio cable, a direct audio input cable going from my hearing aids to the 3.5 jack in the device and I can hear really clearly through the hearing aids, but it is a cable. It’s another thing when the dog gets all excited and greets me, that the dog can trip over and pull my hearing aids out of my ears and all the things that used to happen. I have read though that the new Oticon More hearing aids do work directly with the Samsung Galaxy phones, but it’s not something that I have tested myself.
If anybody has any comments among our hearing aid using or cochlear implant using community about using hearing aids directly with Android devices, please feel free to add your valuable contribution to the discussion. From Chris to Christopher. This is from Christopher Wright and he says, “Hello, Jonathan, like you, I’ve dipped my toe into the Android land a couple of times now. I’ve always stuck with Nexus and now Pixel devices because they offer the best experience. Samsung has changed the interface and bundled unnecessary crap with their devices and historically, hasn’t supported them very long though that might have changed to align more with Google if my research is correct.
Google only supports their devices with new Android versions and security patches for about three years, which is rather sad when Apple has them beat by at least six now. I am not willing to purchase a new device every three or four years, I want my equipment to last at least five-plus years. Fortunately, the open nature of Android means I can install many custom ROMs to add features and extend the usable lifespan of my device. I have the original Pixel from 2016 and have had trouble getting TalkBack to run on the LineageOS, the ROM I am trying to use.
I found the installation process to be very convoluted. I can get the ROM installed, but getting the Google Play services and TalkBack working has thus far alluded me. I think the trouble stems from the new A/B partition scheme modern Android devices are using where the system uses two partitions instead of a single one. One is used to store the current system while the other is used to install updates in the background. The system reboots into the new system partition and if there’s an error, it can revert back to the old one. This is great except when it comes to flashing ROMs.
There might be something basic I’m missing, but every time I try to do this, my install of TalkBack and Play Services, either disappears or the system won’t boot at all. Are there any other blind Android users out there that dabble with custom ROMs? I’d go to the Eyes-Free list, but the traffic is extremely high and most of the people there seem to have a fit if you speak badly about Android in any way. I like Android, but I’ll definitely call out Google on their slow accessibility progress, in the same way, I’ll openly criticize Apple’s awful neglect of the Mac version of Voiceover. In terms of Android usage, I love the system.
It’s an open environment based off Linux that offers significantly more freedom than Apple’s walled garden. The last time I used TalkBack was an Android 10 and it worked quite well aside from the lack of multi-finger gestures and poor Braille with an uppercase B support though, I’m not as concerned with Braille due to the irritation of using current single line displays. Having said that, I agree Braille support needs to get a massive upgrade. Why Google hasn’t done this is beyond me.
If it weren’t for the innovation and polish of Voiceover, Apple’s much longer support period, and a few exclusive apps, I wouldn’t hesitate to use Android as my daily driver. It’s sad that it took this long for multi-finger gestures to arrive with Android 11 and it’s even more disturbing that someone somewhere at Google is actively deciding to restrict them to Samsung and Pixel devices. I wonder what’s coming in Android 12 for accessibility?
Here are my general recommendations for people wanting to get Android devices. One, buy Pixel devices. I’ve heard Samsung is getting better and they might work okay, but I don’t like Samsung devices personally, due to the reasons discussed above. If you buy Pixel, you know what you’re getting, and won’t be surprised unlike going with some weird brand like Oppo or Xiaomi. Android’s open-source nature is a blessing and curse.” Well, Christopher, I’ll keep reading your list, but that’s assuming that Pixel’s available in the country where someone’s listening. In my case, it isn’t officially.
“Two, get Android phones that are unlocked. If you get something that’s locked to a particular carrier, you’ll have to wait longer to receive updates because they have to go through both the manufacturer and carrier before they’re approved. If you get an unlocked Pixel device, you immediately get updates directly from Google. Last I checked, Samsung takes forever to update their devices if they update them at all.” Thank you very much for that email, Christopher.
You see, the landscape keeps changing all the time, doesn’t it? Because I know that Samsung devices already have an Android 12 beta out there. I don’t know what the process is for installing it because I’m too much of a noob to take that risk right now. I’m still coming to terms with the system as it is. There might come a time when I will risk doing that, but for now, I am too chicken. I have read a lot more Android tech press of late though and I know that Android 12 is rolling out on a number of devices in beta form for those who want to do it. It does seem like the fragmentation, which I agree has been a huge issue with Android, is being dealt with over time.
Jonathan: I love to hear from you so if you have any comments you want to contribute to the show, drop me an email written down or with an audio attachment to Jonathan, J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com. If you’d rather call in, use the listener known number in the United States, 864-606-6736
Speaker: Mosen At Large podcast.
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