There was a special Apple event in San Francisco yesterday and Apple unveilled a bunch of updated hardware and software. There were plenty of accessibility highlights - some of which were even announced on stage by Steve Jobs which is great for the general public's awareness of accessibility being an issue!
There's a streaming video version of this September Special Event available from Apple's website, or you can save bandwidth and read a transcript of MacWorld's liveblogging of the event, written by two MacWorld reporters as they watched.
Here are the highlights in terms of accessibility:
iTunes 8 Available
iTunes 8 has been released, along with an upgraded version of QuickTime. iTunes 8 sports a "Genius" playlist creator which will find songs that go well with what you're playing, and a new grid view to scroll through album covers, amongst other things. Accessibility aspects of iTunes 8 are many:
The Mac OS X iTunes is fully accessible on Leopard systems. This includes creating new iTunes Store accounts, purchasing full albums, accessing iTunes U, and renting movies - all of which were stumbling points previously.
Ironically, the only inaccessible feature of iTunes 8 that anybody has reported so far on the MacVisionaries mailing list is that the installation agreement that shows up when you launch iTunes for the first time is not visible to VoiceOver users! There's an easy workaround for anybody who wants to read it - the "print" and "save" buttons are functional, so just print it as a PDF or save as an RTF file and read it before you click the "Agree" button.
iTunes 8 will install and run on systems still running the Tiger operating system (10.4.9 and above, specifically) but anecdotal reports suggest that it doesn't appear to have the accessibility improvements that Leopard allows.
The Windows version of iTunes is now accessible to those with Window Eyes 7.0 beta 3! GW Micro announced on their public mailing list today that they had been working closely with Apple to pull this off, and it's certainly a wonderful thing for iTunes to be accessible on Windows.
Lioncourt.com has reported that iTunes accessibility under Windows is accomplished by fully implementing MSAA (Microsoft Active Accessibility in iTunes, which means that other Windows accessibility solutions - such as the screen reader JAWS - should be able to take advantage of the accessibility features very quickly.
iPod Nano 4G Released
A new iPod Nano 4G was announced, with new features such as a larger and brighter screen which works in landscape or portrait mode. It also features accelerometers like the iPod Touch and iPhone - to shuffle music you actually shake the device!
The biggest accessibility boon is that the new iPod will have speech enabled menus for both regular headings and song information! The speech will actually be pre-generated by the user's computer, so your iPod will use whichever system voice you have. Lioncourt.com has spoken to Mike Shebanek - head of Accessibility at Apple - about how the iPod Nano 4G speaks, for those who want more details.
The technical specifications page for the iPod Nano 4G also list an alternative large font option, and adjustable contrast and backlight on the screen which should help low vision users. The Nano will also display captions when they are present, although I'm not sure how readable captions will be on a screen that's less than 2 inches wide.
The new Nano also has headphones which have a tiny volume controls and a button which controls pause/play, next song (double click) and previous song (triple click) as well as having a tiny microphone for voice recordings to the Nano. I suspect that adding an external switch to make these headphones properly accessible to switch users would not be an incredibly difficult thing to do - perhaps a single switch accessible iPod Remote is closer than we think?
iPod Touch/iPhone Updates
Upgrades to the iPod Touch were also announced, as well as firmware upgrades to the iPhone and existing iPod Touch devices. I don't immediately see any accessibility implications for these though.
What did you think of the new announcements? What did I miss? Leave comments below!
- Ricky Buchanan