ShellyBlog Shelly Brisbin's life consists of several long tails. She writes about them here.

September 13, 2015

Apple Makes Stuff, I Talk About It

Filed under: Podcast Appearances — Tags: , , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 9:13 PM

My friends at Apple, for I must surely call any organization that has taken so much of my money in exchanged for shiny objects a friend, announced a lot of new shiny objects this week. And so, I podcasted about them on my own show, on a show where I’m a regular, and as a guest on someone else’s show.  Minimum show length? 1 hour. That’s the one I produced and edited. You’re welcome!

But Siri-ously. Do check them out, of they were fun shows to do:

Hey, if you’re sick of podcasts, check back on Wednesday. I’ll have book news.

 

July 17, 2015

The One iPod Touch Fangirl

Filed under: New Media and Tech,Random Personal Nonsense — Tags: , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 11:09 AM

This week’s announcement of faster, more colorful versions of the iPod Touch was met with:

  • a) rapture
  • b) sophisticated market analysis
  • c) indifference

Actually, the answer is d) scorn.

You see, the lowly (that one always hurts) iPod Touch is not perceived as an aperitif for those wishing to sample the iOS menu. Nor is it the logical landing place for someone who prizes small, elegant things. It is also not a cost-effective way to get onto the Internet without all the carpel tunnel. No, dear readers, the iPod Touch kind of makes people crazy. Crazy the way reality TV makes me crazy. I mean, the existence of totally made up skits featuring surgically-enhanced blonde people doesn’t affect my life, but the very idea that they exist on a TV screen is kind of irritating. So it is in the brains of the iPod Touch skeptics, who outnumber me by the millions.

An iPod Touch hater has three modes: first, he or she, probably an iPhone/Apple Watch fan person, must be unimpressed. “It’s been so long since I thought about the iPod.” Next, it is good to be a prophet of doom. “I don’t think there’s much life left in that thing.” Finally, convert that one naife you know who secretly carries an iPod, into a cultural outsider. “I can see how you might get one for a five-year-old.”

And so the iPod Touch is an obsolete, doomed, toy. Case closed!

As I’m sure you have surmised, I beg to differ.

I got my iPod Touch in 2013, when I needed a test device for the first edition of my iOS accessibility book. I justified the purchase by promising myself to sell the underpowered thing once the book was done. But like so many Apple products before, my Touch, whose name is Sea Lion, burrowed its way into my life. Soon, it had become my primary podcast listening device, text message checker, and Kodi remote.

My case for the iPod Touch is a personal one: while the disdain in which it is held by the world at large is weird, I don’t suggest that everyone take a Touch to the prom. Chances are that if you don’t have one, you have arranged your life in such a way that the Touch would be redundant. But I use the thing every day, far more than my phone. With every fiber of my being, I am fighting the urge to anthropomorphize the little bugger.

Time for the bullet points. Here’s why I am The iPod Touch Fangirl:

  • Thin n lite: Apple is thin-obsessed, as are many of its customers. You can’t beat the iPod Touch for thinness and lightness. It fits into any pocket or purse, and can be balanced between two of my small fingers for easy reading or button-tapping. Wrist strain is for iPhone users, myself included. I’ve never considered burdening the Touch with a case. I’m not sure how you could design a lighter, thinner Internet device that also includes a screen of useful size.
  • Luxuriously long battery life: Because there’s no cellular radio to drain the battery, this thing is an Energizer, doing my bidding all day without complaint. I can’t say that of any iPhone I’ve owned, especially when I navigate with GPS, listen with VoiceOver, and/or make calls. Since I work from home where the wi-fi is fast and plentiful, the Touch doesn’t need a radio. When I leave the house, it’s full of podcasts and books, none of which make many demands on the battery. The phone’s job is to tell me when the next bus will arrive, and to take calls from my mom. Carrying two devices may seem a bit awkward, but it feels more like having a 16 Gb, wi-fi-enabled Mophie for my phone.
  • Perfect podcast and audiobook machine: I know that music is all about streaming these days, and plenty of people stream podcasts, too. I use Overcast to do this crazy thing called downloading. On the go, it’s quick and easy to pull the tiny iPod from my outside purse pocket, should I need to switch from tech podcasts to something lighter. The phone slumbers on, in the inner pocket, dreaming of SMS and signal bars.
  • Um, I sleep with mine: I suffer from bouts of insomnia, but even when I turn out the lights, I like to curl up with a good audiobook. The Touch is a far more congenial bedmate than my iPhone 6, with its bulky case and large, bright screen. I’ll confess that I’ve dropped the phone onto my face while manipulating the Audible app. This is a personal coordination issue, but whatever! I’ve never seen this tested in a lab, but I assure you that an iPod Touch to the nose hurts less than an iPhone 6 does.
  • Internet for kids: Finally! Something we can all agree on. Nope. Here’s where I make someone mad. If your kid is under the age of 14 or so, he or she shouldn’t have a smartphone. And if he or she is under the age of 10, an Internet device of one’s own is too much. So yes, the iPod Touch is a perfect tween machine. If Apple stopped making the iPod Touch tomorrow, would you give your 11-year-old his or her own iPhone? I know that passing an old phone on to your kids is among the best justifications for getting yourself a new one. And without the iPod Touch in the lineup, you can continue to do that. That’s right, mom and dad. I’m calling you out! Be honest about your own gadget desires. Give the kid an iPod Touch and let him or her grow into a phone when puberty hits. You’ll save money, if that’s a thing in your house.
  • Low stakes in unclean places: My husband is the kind of guy who does not call a plumber or electrician when something goes wrong at our house. He’s also the kind of guy who built our pavestone driveway and a french drain, and who is currently digging for a retaining wall between our house and the next. Take that, y’all who need an app to turn off the lights at night! Wait, come back, I have a larger point to make. So Frank spends a lot of time out in the yard with shovels and wheelbarrows and stuff. He picked up the audiobook bug from me, and likes to listen while he’s toting that barge and lifting that bale. He also likes his phone to stay clean and dry, and inside the house. Entertainment while digging holes, along with no calls from your large family, is kind of a perfect use case for an iPod Touch, or even an iPod Nano. Cheap these gadgets are not, but replacing a lifeless one is simpler and quicker than performing the same maneuver when phone carriers are involved.
  • Lower cost/no contract: Phone companies are evil. Can we all agree on that? You hate phone calls? Can we agree there, too? It’s unlikely that you would feel comfortable not having a device that can exchange calls on the telephone network, but your Phone app probably gets less use than Messages, Mail, or maybe even FaceTime. Therein lies the genius of Apple’s broad suite of communication tools. The iPod Touch costs 250 actual dollars, not 250 subsidized, we-own-your-ass-for-two-years dollars. I’ve heard half a dozen people say “95 percent of my calls and texts are with other iOS users.” I think most of them are exaggerating grievously, and my numbers are nothing like that either. But still! the iPod Touch can do everything a phone can do that doesn’t involve a cellular connection to the Internet, and making an old-school phone call. When I’m at home, I pick up whichever device is nearest. Sometimes, that’s my iMac, which is actually kind of heavy, and I plan to stop picking it up.
  • Watch schmatch: Since April of this year, people really hate pulling their phones out of their pockets. It’s a bloody nightmare! Hence, they’ve invested $400 or more in a tiny screen that sits atop their wrists. Is it just me, or is “complication” a counter-intuitive name for something that’s supposed to make your mobile life easier? When I’m home, the battery-chewing iPhone 6 sits on a bar in the center of my house, continuously drinking the sweet nectar of electricity. When I get a text or Twitter notification, or need to dash off a quick email, Sea Lion is usually in my pocket. I possess just enough strength to pull it out. From there, I view the entire tweet or text on a single screen, and dictate or type a grammatically correct and people-pleasing email without need of contorting both arms to read and write on a tiny wrist screen. Did I mention that it’s half the price of the watch?

I haven’t placed an order for the faster, more colorful, camera-rific iPod Touch. The same stubborn, cheap streak in me that allows me to love the unlovable also keeps me from buying new gadgets right before vacation. I do have a birthday coming up, though.

June 1, 2015

Maccessibility Roundtable #85

Filed under: Podcast Appearances — Tags: , , , , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 12:04 PM

With WWDC approaching, we share our wish lists for the probable new versions iOS and OS X. Also, watch updates from those who have em.

Download Maccessibility Roundtable #85: The Guys Only Name the Big Ones

March 16, 2015

Outside the Box with Jason Snell

Filed under: Access and Disability,Podcast Appearances — Tags: , , , , , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 11:19 AM

A committee of the Maccessibility Roundtable chatted recently with Jason Snell, former Macworld poobah, and current proprietor of Six Colors. We talked about Apple accessibility, as seen from the mainstream tech world. I should note, too, that I’ve known Jason since we both worked at MacUser, back in the day. He and I covered the Internet, initially in our spare time. We also shared custody of an email server, from which we ran music mailing lists. No one from the former secretary of state’s office asked us for advice.

Outside the Box #3

February 17, 2015

You’re the Last to Know

Filed under: Access and Disability,Announcements,General Store — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 7:48 PM

A bit less than a month ago, I released an updated version of my book, iOS Access for All. The new edition covers iOS 8. I would just love for you to buy, read, and enjoy a copy of the book. I would also love to be able to tell you why my own blog, the one that features an image of the book’s cover there on the sidebar, is the last to get the word. Among other things I never got around to telling any loyal readers who have managed to keep me in their RSS feeds, is that I am now a panelist on a lovely bi-weekly podcast called Maccessibility Roundtable. Also, I released an episode of my own podcast, and have done a bushel of interviews about the book. More are scheduled for this very week.

Does my inattention to what is supposed to be my home on the Internet indicate that I am now among those who believe that Twitter (and possibly Facebook) is all anyone could possibly need in the way of a personal platform? I mean, everyone agrees that RSS is dead, right?

Yes, my own ill-use of this space is connected with the ascendance of other media; ones that have proven results for me, both in terms of feedback on what I write, and jingle in my digital pocket. As much as I love this blog, and making the occasional essays I have penned here, the amount of traffic and comments it gets have been underwhelming.

I refuse to pronounce the blog dead, not so much because I love writing this one, but because I love reading those other people write. But, then again, I just wrote a book, so what do I know? Nobody does that anymore!

May 27, 2014

My book, iOS Access for All, is available now!

I’m thrilled to announce the availability of my book, iOS Access for All: Your Comprehensive Guide to Accessibility on iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. The book guides readers through all accessibility features available on Apple’s mobile devices. Whether you’re just getting started with iOS, or want to learn more about apps and accessibility tools you already use, iOS Access for All has all the bases covered. With information of interest to users who are blind, low-vision, hearing-impaired, or have cognitive or motor disabilities, the book is the most extensive iOS accessibility resource available.

I’ve spent more than 25 years writing about technology, with a particular focus on Apple products. I’m also a visually-impaired iPhone user. My full bio is here.

Here’s the Table of Contents for iOS Access for All.

Part 1: Getting Started

Chapter 1: Accessibility the Apple Way

  • Apple Revolutionizes Mobile Access
  • Today’s iDevices, and iOS
  • The Apple Ecosystem
  • Meet iOS Accessibility Features

Chapter 2: Orientation and Quickstart

  • iDevices 101
  • Parts of iOS
  • Choose How to Set Up iOS
  • Accessibility Quickstart
  • Ready to Dive Deeper?

Part 2: The Wide World of iOS Access

Chapter 3: VoiceOver

  • Activate VoiceOver
  • Learn iOS and VoiceOver
  • Do More with the Rotor
  • Text and the Virtual Keyboard
  • Dictate Text with Siri
  • Enter Text with Handwriting Gestures
  • Use a Wireless Keyboard
  • Use a Refreshable Braille Display
  • Manage and Navigate Your Device

Chapter 4: Low-Vision Access

  • iOS’ Low-Vision Challenges
  • Screen Magnification
  • Enlarge and Enhance Text
  • Color and Contrast
  • Speech As a Low-Vision Tool
  • Quickly Enable Low-Vision Features
  • Mainstream Features with Low-Vision Uses
  • The iOS Camera: Low-Vision Super Weapon

Chapter 5: Siri and Voice Input

  • Set Up Siri
  • Siri Commands
  • Dictation
  • Voice Control
  • Voice Input Alternatives

Chapter 6: Tools for Hearing Impaired Users

  • Convert Alerts to a Flash or Vibration
  • Control Audio Output from Calls and Apps
  • Hearing Aid Support
  • Use a Hearing Aid
  • TTY Support
  • Closed Caption Support
  • More Communication with iOS

Chapter 7: Physical and Learning Access

  • Guided Access
  • Switch Control
  • AssistiveTouch

Part 3: All About Apps

Chapter 8: Access to Apple Apps

  • Safari
  • Mail
  • Sidebar: Delete, Move, and Share within Apps
  • Calendar
  • Phone
  • Messages
  • FaceTime
  • Contacts
  • Maps
  • Camera and Photos
  • Music
  • Videos
  • App Store/iTunes Store
  • The Rest of the Included Apps
  • But Wait, There’s More (Apps)

Chapter 9: The Best of Accessible Apps

  • An Accessible App Primer
  • Navigation and Travel
  • Productivity
  • Reading, News, and Information
  • Communication & Social Networking
  • Education
  • Lifestyle
  • Accessibility Tools
  • Learn More About Apps

Appendices

Appendix A: VoiceOver Gestures

Appendix B: VoiceOver Keyboard Commands

Appendix C: Braille Commands

You can buy the book for US$20 at the iOS Access for All Web site.

You can buy the ePub (Apple iBooks-friendly) version for $20 at the book’s Web site.

March 7, 2014

I Can’t Use this POS!

Filed under: Access and Disability,General Store — Tags: , , , , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 7:01 PM

Forgive the sensational headline. I did it on purpose. There! I feel better. Confession is good for the soul.

It seems someone has filed a class action lawsuit against Apple on behalf of visually impaired customers who are unable to use the company’s touch-screen point of sale (POS) devices to enter a debit card PIN number. What I’ve seen of the commentary on this subject today leads me to offer some clarifications for those of you who are neither visually impaired, or familiar with the accessibility options in Apple’s iOS devices. I check both of these boxes.

If you make a card-based purchase (debit or credit) at an Apple Store, the transaction will be processed on a modified iPod Touch, carried by an employee. You’ll be asked to enter your PIN on a touch screen, or to use your finger to sign your name, if you’re using a credit card. Now, all iOS devices, including the iPod Touch, have a number of nifty accessibility features, namely the VoiceOver screen reader, and magnification and invert colors options used by visually impaired (sometimes called partially sighted by those who are not) people. You can turn these features on for any iOS device you, yourself control, even the demo iPads in the Apple Store. Using Accessibility Shortcut, you can do it with a quick triple-click of the Home button. So far as I know, it isn’t possible for Apple employees to enable these options on the locked-down devices they carry.

A couple of pieces I read today compare Apple’s POS systems with those in grocery stores or other retail environments, suggesting that “all” such devices offer tactile buttons, because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires them, and that these buttons solve the problem for blind people who need to enter a PIN. In fact, I’ve used some POS systems that rely on non-tactile buttons, and many more that require the user to navigate a series of menus to choose the kind of transaction, request cash back, and approve the total purchase amount. Positioning, size, and color of these menus varies widely. For me, they’re just difficult to read, and I have been known to judge chain stores based on their card reader technology. For a blind person, these systems create real barriers, tactile buttons notwithstanding. So let’s be clear that the grocery store is not a happy, accessible fairyland, while the Apple Store is a big, blind-hating meanie. The difference is that though I may need assistance confirming the amount of my food purchases, I am often able to enter my PIN number unassisted, even though the menus suck.

Now, if you’re looking for topics to add to your “all outrage, all the time” talk show, I suppose this suit against Apple would be a fun one. I can hear the lawsuit haters revving up their dialing fingers now, ready to hold forth about how this guy probably wants to be paid for his inconvenience by separating Tim Cook from some of those Apple millions. But my intuition, and that’s all I’m relying on here, tells me that’s not what’s going on. Apple has the ability to solve the problem stated in the lawsuit by 1) making it possible for the employee to enable accessibility features like VoiceOver on the POS terminal, and 2) providing earbuds to a customer who doesn’t want the PIN to be broadcast throughout the store. Since I use Invert Colors on my iOS devices, I would like Apple to expose that option, too. Boom! Apple POS systems turn from cold, unfriendly, pieces of…glass back into highly accessible iPod Touches, making them far easier to for customers (and potential disabled employees) to use than my grocery store card reader.

Another reason to keep an eye on this suit, and whether Apple finds a way to diffuse it with adjustments to software, rather than with a tactile button attachment, or some other significant change to its POS hardware, is that iOS devices are popular in all kinds of retail environments. My favorite little Thai place has one, and I find the screen, as rendered by the POS software they use, impossible to read. And it infuriates me to know that the accessibility tools I use every day are right there, behind the POS screen and not available when I pay for my chicken fried rice.

The best outcome of this suit would be that Apple Store customers acquire the ability to complete transactions in an accessible way, and that the need to expose VoiceOver and other features in retail applications would translate into better accessible systems in any environment where customers buy things with mobile devices. That’s positive for anyone concerned about ADA compliance, and provides a competitive advantage for Apple over devices with less built-in accessibility.

September 21, 2013

Books, iOS 7, and Podcasting

Filed under: Announcements,General Store,Podcast Appearances — Tags: , , , , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 12:49 PM

I have been busy working on my book, iOS Access for All: Your Comprehensive Guide to Accessibility for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. Apple has decided to make my life interesting by releasing a new version of iOS. You may have heard about this. I have spent this week committing my thoughts about the new release into words, both written and spoken. You can read my reaction to the new OS, and its implications for accessibility, and you can listen to the Maccessibility Roundtable #44, where I join in a discussion of similar topics.

February 26, 2013

Apple Versus Samsung, My Take

Here is a story I wrote for Stabley Times about the latest Samsung lawsuit against Apple. This one is all about a subject that’s near and dear to my heart, the accessibility of iOS.

January 24, 2013

Pack Rat

People talk a lot about hoarding nowadays. I’m told by multiple sources that there is a reality TV show featuring people who do it to the extent that their houses and lives are destroyed. Sounds super-entertaining, huh? That’s another subject, and one on which you probably wouldn’t like my opinion. But whether it’s inspired by basic cable or not, the word “hoarder” comes up all the time when people need a word to describe their inability to unburden themselves of the objects they have accumulated. Is it a different thing when you need to carry the objects with you?

Before I go on a trip, I feel compelled to stockpile things that I might need; electronic equipment, cables, batteries, and bar tools have all ben stuffed into roll-y bags for trips both long and short. Lately though, what with iPads and phones, and tiny audio recorders, I don’t carry so much excess heavy stuff. All of my pre-travel pack ratting is digital.

To wit:

I’m about to go to San Francisco for five days. I expect my days and evenings to be packed with events, and that I will tumble exhausted into my bed at ridiculous times of night. And yet, my iPad Mini, iPhone, and iPod Nano are each stuffed to the gills with movies, music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Why? Because I detest the thought of reaching for a digital entertainment and finding that I don’t have it.

I need a movie for the plane ride. Better take four, in case film noir seems more appealing than a musical once I’m in the air. But wait! About half the time, plane cabins on morning flights are too bright to watch a movie, and I scroll through podcasts to find a Fresh Air interview, or a friend’s vacation story show. And what of those late nights when I fall into bed and grope for the device charging next to me? I’ll need some audio drama, or the latest episode of my favorite hometown radio show–until I fall asleep after 20 minutes.

Speaking of that radio show, though, it needs to be on the iPhone, along with the New York Times audio digest I listen to first thing every morning. I must be able to download the new shows while I’m gone, even though I packed gigabytes to take with me on the trip. I will dutifully fire up the slow hotel wi-fi just when everyone else is getting up too, impatiently checking to see that my newspaper has made it onto my iGadget when I exit the shower.

Music? This is the thing I am least likely to consume. I listen to podcasts when I walk or ride public transportation conveyances. Music is for writing time, or as a salve for bouts of insomnia at home. But wait! I might not be able to sleep in the hotel. Better take 4000 or so songs with me.

There’s one more media type clogging up my gigabytes: despite the fact that the average audiobook is at least eight hours long (many are far longer), I have loaded up 11 (ELEVEN) fiction and non-fiction titles. Because, like, how do I know whether I’ll be in the mood for World War II era spy novel, or a critique of the modern military general staff? Maybe it will be a book about how the British interacted with the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War. That’s on standby in case the Tom Perrotta novel with the great reviews seems boring. In any case, there is no chance at all that I will finish any single book during my trip.

Why do I do it? Why, when confronted with one of the greatest cities in the world, and both business and pleasure reasons for visiting, would I go to such lengths to make sure that I can entertain my ears in four or more different ways, on three machines? I don’t know, but TSA hasn’t regulated the digital heft of our iDevices (so far), and disk space continues to be of inconsequential cost. So I might as well, right?

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