Thursday, February 25, 2010

Eyes-Free: TalkBack And Shell Improvements

Here is a brief summary of updates to Android's eyes-free tools--- including TalkBack, and the Eyes-Free Shell from the last two weeks.


  • Speech during a phone call is now re-enabled.
  • Turning the screen on/off is spoken. This announcement includes the ringer mode/volume.
  • Changes in the the ringer mode - silent, vibrate, and normal are now announced.
  • Unlocking the phone is announced.
  • Other Android applications can programmatically discover if TalkBack is enabled.

Eyes-Free Shell

Now that applications can programmatically discover whetherTalkBack has been enabled, configuring Eyes-Free shell to become your default home screen has become a lot easier. In a nutshell,if you are a TalkBack user and install Eyes-Free shell, hitting the Home button will bring up the eyes-free shell, ---no configuration needed. Note that you can always get to the default Android home screen by long-pressing the Back button.

Share And Enjoy

Friday, February 12, 2010

Eyes-Free Updates: Marvin And TalkBack Simplified

We routinely push updates to our access tools on Android; users get these updates automatically via Android Market updates. We just pushed out updated versions of TalkBack, our Open Source screenreader for Android, and Marvin, the Eyes-Free shell. Here is a brief summary of these updates:

  • Android applications can now programmatically discover if TalkBack is running, thanks to the latest changes in TalkBack. From an end-user perspective, this means that you no longer need to configure Eyes-Free shell via EyesFreeConfig to be the default home. If you run TalkBack, and have EyesFree Shell installed, then pressing Home automatically gives you the EyesFree Shell. Remember, you can always get to the default Android Home by long-pressing Back.
  • EyesFree Shell now includes a touch-based shortcuts manager. Until now, shortcuts needed to be explicitly configured by editting an XML file on the SDCard. With the recent EyesFree update, you can interactively define short-cuts via a touch-based ShortCuts manager. By default, we have assigned shortcut 1 to the ShortCuts manager; so to invoke this new feature, do:
    1. Stroke left (4 using stroke dialer notation) to enter the shortcuts screen.
    2. Stroke up and to the left (1 using stroke-dialer notation) to invoke application ShortCuts Manager.
    3. Use the trackball/D-Pad to configure each of the 8 available shortcuts.

Marvin: We hope this gives some minimal relief to the pain in all the diodes on your left side.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Silencing Speech With A Wave Of Your Hand On Android 2.0

Update To Android Access: TalkBack

Smart phones tend to be short on physical buttons --- even devices like the G1 or MotoRola Droid have very few buttons when the physical keyboard is not open. This provides interesting challenges when designing an efficient eyes-free interface --- especially given the old maxim Speech is silvern, but silence is golden!.Said differently, once you have built a system that talks back, the first thing you want to build is an efficient means of silencing spoken feedback.

Early versions of TalkBack on Android skimmed by without a stop speech button --- you basically moved from one activity to another,and the speech produced by the new activity effectively stopped ongoing spoken output. However, as we make more and more applications work seamlessly with our Access APIs, it's always been clear to us that we need a global stop speech gesture! Notice that I said gesture --- not key --- stopping speech is a critical function that we'd like to enable without having to pull out the physical keyboard, and something we'd like to have devices without a physical keyboard.

In the spirit of the dual to every access challenge is an opportunity to innovate, we recently launched a new experimental TalkBack feature on devices running Android 2.0. Devices on the Android 2.0 platform have a proximity sensor on the top front left corner of the phone --- this is typically used to lock the screen when you're holding the phone up to your ear when on a phone call. As the name implies, the proximity sensorfires when you get close to it --- you can activate it by waving your hand close to the top left corner of the phone. As an experimental feature, we have configured the latest version of TalkBack to silence ongoing speech if you wave your hand in front of the proximity sensor.

Note that this is a new, experimental feature --- it's something that we welcome feedback on our public Eyes-Free Google Group. We'd like to know if you accidentally activate stop speechbecause of this new feature. In having used it for a few weeks, I find that I am not triggering it accidentally --- but that might well be a function of how I hold the phone.

What Devices Does This Available On?

Note that at the time of writing, the devices that have a proximity sensor that I have used this on include:

  • MotoRola Droid from Verizon
  • Google NexusOne

Note that the G1 and other older Android devices did not have a proximity sensor.