Monday, October 11, 2010

How Accessible is the Droid?

Droid first generation mobile phone with physical keyboard
Market shares for sales of the Android Operating System have been steadily creeping up past the iPhone and BlackBerry, and one must consider its accessibility relative to its predecessors. In fact, the Droid does have a few accessibility features built in:

  • TalkBack uses speech feedback in order to announce the actions performed by the user, and in some cases it announces the focus of the application currently in use. TalkBack will also voice synchronized events upon arrival, such as “new email”;

  • SoundBack provides an auditory “sound effect” type of feedback and produces different sound cues based upon the action the user is performing; and

  • KickBack uses haptic feedback (vibration) whenever a user selects an item on the touch screen.

  • Also built into the Android Operating System are Voice Dialer for the telephone component, and Voice Search for the browser:

  • Voice Dialer allows users to call contacts from the contacts list by speaking a call command and the contact’s name, or users can dictate individual digits in order to place calls to contacts not previously stored. Voice Dialer also allows users to access their on-device calendar by speaking the command “Open Calendar”;

  • Voice Search lets the user perform an internet search via the built in web browser by dictating the search terms.

  • Speech dictation is also built into the Short Message Service application, thus allowing users to speak their text messages rather than requiring use of the onscreen or physical keyboard.

    While Google may be commended for addressing accessibility within the Android OS, by no means do these features succeed in making the Droid completely “eyes-free” or “hands-free.” However, unlike the iPhone, BlackBerry, or Palm OS, the Android OS is open source, which means developers can create applications, with little or no restrictions, and post them to the Android Market for all to upload and install.

    Apps4Android, a subsidiary of IDEAL Group, is one such software development company committed to creating accessible applications specific to the Android OS. Many of their apps are free or very low cost and cover a wide range of accessibility functionality. For a list of products available, visit their website:

    Google also has a team assembled for the purpose of developing a screen reader for use in combination with the touch screen for the Droid. You can follow this project, and other eyes-free accessibility projects in development for the Android OS, by visiting their website:

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