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iOS 8 changes we'd like to see: Accessibility

Steven Aquino | May 23, 2014
With Apple having announced this year's WWDC, it's time to start getting excited about what the next version of iOS will bring. Macworld has been compiling lists of features we'd like to see, covering (so far) Notification Center, Mail, Calendar and Reminders, and Photos and Camera.

On the one hand, it's commendable that Apple is listening to users and acting accordingly. On the other hand, this "throw a setting at it" approach puts Apple in an unfavorable light. By cramming Accessibility chock-full of options to compensate for the user interface, the company is tacitly admitting that the design it so championed last summer isn't as grand as claimed. (Button Shapes, in particular, is the most damning, because it shows that Apple realizes text alone does not a button make.) The plethora of options here also makes iOS a more confusing to use.

So I'd love for Apple to not only tweak iOS's user interface to make it better for everyone, but to subsequently trim some of the fat from Accessibility. That would be a win-win.

Make accessibility more of a design principle

iOS and the devices on which it runs epitomize the phrase "mass market." On the other hand, when it comes to sales, the accessibility community epitomizes (for better or worse) a niche market. While Apple's done extraordinarily well in serving the needs of its disabled users, the fact of the matter is that iOS 7, in a number of ways, alienated many in this group. It's untenable to be all things to all people, but the starkness of iOS's redesign made the user experience considerably worse — I know I've struggled with and lamented iOS 7 more than any previous version.

Simply adding more accessibility features, and expecting those with special needs to find and enable them, misses the forest for the trees. Broad and deep though they may be, Accessibility options alone can't and shouldn't fully compensate for the inherent problems of a design. I don't want to rely on a bunch of settings as a crutch because the out-of-the-box presentation is riddled with problems. At some point, you turn on so many features that, in my opinion, you lose much of the original user experience — and you can't solve every accessibility issue by posthumously adding new settings.

The bottom line is that accessibility should be a major part of the design process from the start. Make the interface the best it can be from the get-go, and you won't need to later capitulate by throwing everything but the kitchen sink into a screen full of settings (and hoping it works out). As a bonus, while not everyone user needs a fully accessible interface, many interface elements that made a device more accessible also make it easier to use for everyone.

Bold but rough

On the whole, I love Apple's new vision and direction for iOS. But the first step, iOS 7, was more bumpy than I would have liked, and I believe that it would behoove Apple to keep in mind the needs of the accessibility community in future updates. More than any features wish list, I personally hope that at WWDC next month, Craig Federighi previews a significantly tweaked UI that takes into consideration feedback like this — and like so much other I've given over the past year.


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