The iPod Touch and iPhone are wonderful devices that have so many uses. However for quite a while I didn't give them much serious thought because I thought I had no chance of actually being able to physically use them. When the App Store was launched in July of 2008 I did take immediate notice of an e-book app called "Stanza". I've always wanted to read more but being that I am a high-level quadriplegic doing so was quite difficult for me. Reading on my Mac or listening to audio books wasn't an acceptable solution. So when I saw Stanza I knew I had to start taking a closer look at the iPod Touch as an e-book reader and hopefully more. With the discovery of the Pogo stylus and a very generous offer from my friend Samuel Sennott to loan me his iPod Touch for a little while to see If I could make it work for me I was on my way!
It didn't take me long to discover that the iPod Touch was something I could use well enough to make it worth my while to get one of my own. So when the second generation iPod Touch was released last September I bought one on the first day that it came out. It's been one of the best purchases I've ever made! Aside from reading I use my iPod Touch 2G for listening to music, internet radio, podcasts, playing games, checking email, etc. It's become an everyday part of my life.
Perhaps the coolest thing about the iPod Touch (and the iPhone) is how the App Store continually adds functionality to the device for little or no cost. I recently added two apps that added functionality to my iPod Touch 2G that might interest physically challenged users out there. To use these apps you're going to need a microphone. If you have an iPhone you don't need to worry about this but if you have an iPod Touch you will need to purchase an external microphone. The best place to look for microphones for the first and second generation iPod Touches is TouchMic.com. I purchased the lapel microphone they sell for US$17 and it works fantastically. It turns on automatically any time you launch a mic-enabled app. I should note that the third-generation iPod Touch which is likely to come out in September is rumored to have its own built-in microphone just like the iPhone. That's going to be really cool if it's true although the lapel microphone I purchased really doesn't add any bulk to the iPod Touch 2G.
The first microphone-enabled app that I purchased is called Voxie. Voxie is basically a recording app with a bunch of really cool bells and whistles. The new iPhone and iPod Touch 3.0 software includes its own voice memo app but it's pretty basic. Voxie does so much more and at US$1.99 you can't go wrong. Voxie can do all the things you'd expect from a recording application such as labelling, categorizing, and even combining recordings. You can also even send recordings to yourself or anybody in your address book. There's even an optional transcription service which, for an additional fee, will convert any recording you send them to text for e-mailing and such. For a physically challenged user such as myself the real usefulness of Voxie shows up in its "express mode". You can set Voxie up so it starts up in express mode. In this mode you need only tap anywhere on the entire screen to start a recording and then do the same to stop a recording.
Then Voxie will automatically either save the recording, send it to yourself, or send it to a contact depending on how you've set up express mode in settings. This has become immensely useful for me for sending friends and family members short voice emails and quickly creating reminders that get sent to my Mac. It's now unlikely that I'll ever forget to do anything again because no matter where I am I'm just a few taps away from creating a reminder! I'm not too bad at using the physical keyboard on the iPod Touch but making reminders and sending short e-mails to people using this method is certainly both easier and faster.
The second app I'd like to talk about is called Vocalia (US$3.99). Originally Vocalia was essentially a voice dialling application for the iPhone. With the recent release of Vocalia 2.0 both iPod control and bookmark control have been added. The best way I can describe Vocalia is by calling it sort of a "voice operated Spotlight" that will help you quickly find contacts, songs, albums, playlists, and bookmarks then interact with them in a basic manner. You can set up Vocalia to operate completely by voice as soon as it's launched. The way it works is you say the name of the song, for example, then it brings up a list of possible matches. You then pick the correct match by voice and that song will be played. Upon picking a bookmark then that bookmark will be opened in Safari. Picking a contact will open up the appropriate contact card in which case you can then dial that contact's number if you so choose (if you have an iPhone obviously). Now of course the voice recognition isn't perfect so there are mistakes on occasion but that is to be expected. All in all it works pretty well though. Whenever you make a selection Vocalia will quit so that desired function can be performed. This is not the developers fault but rather a limitation from Apple. So let's say you pick a song or playlist via Vocalia. Upon doing so the application will quit back to the home screen and the appropriate music will start playing. To stop the music or pick another song or playlist you must restart Vocalia (or the default music app). The music will stop once Vocalia launches. So as long as you can tap on the Vocalia icon you can basically control what music is playing on your iPod Touch or iPhone. I moved the Vocalia icon to the permanent dock on the bottom of the screen so it's visible on every page. I also have it positioned at the bottom left-hand corner which allows me to easily tap on it with my knuckle in case I don't have my splint on. Clearly it would be awesome if you could also issue commands such as "next track", "previous track", and "pause" but once again this is not the developer's fault. Hopefully in the future Apple will give developers more control over this type of thing so all kinds of voice-activated functionality can be added to third-party apps. In the meantime Vocalia will save you a lot of extra taps and swipes when looking for and interacting with all the things I mentioned above. This is especially true if you have a lot of music and contacts.
So these are two ways an iPod Touch (or iPhone) can be made a little more friendly and useful for those that are physically challenged. I'm sure as time goes on things are only going to get better with these devices as far as accessibility goes. Seeing Apple finally add native voice dialing and iPod commands to the new iPhone 3GS is a good start but there's still so much more that can be done. Here's hoping it happens! :-)
- Paul Natsch