Thursday, May 20, 2010

An Eyes-Free View Of Android At The Google IO Sandbox

Google IO 2010 is playing home to over 5,000 attendees in San Francisco this week. A number of Google Access engineers are at the conference consuming and producing information --- here is a brief view of some of the exciting bits seen on the Android show floor from an eyes-free perspective.

Hardware And New Devices From An Eyes Free Perspective

Many of the phone manufacturers were showing off their latest devices on the show floor --- visit the Android Sandbox at Google IO to see these first hand. Charles and I walked through the various displays Wednesday (May 19) afternoon to test drive these devices first-hand --- given the large number of Android devices coming out every week, this was a unique opportunity to see many of these devices for the first time. Here are some highlights:

  • All devices were running Android 1.6 or later, and consequently, Settings/Accessibility was available on every device. Having worked on this for the last 2 years, it's extremely gratifying to see phone manufacturers including accessibility in their devices.
  • We found one device from Motorola where we couldn't find the accessibility setting --- the booth representative promised to check after we pointed this out --- waiting to hear back.
  • My favorite device was the LG Ally --- check this device out if you get a chance.
    • Device to be sold by Verizon.
    • Device has an elegant tactual feel.
    • Front of the device sports hardware answer/hangup buttons.
    • The pull-out qwerty keyboard is a pleasure to use --- I would rate this one of the best designed cell phone keyboards I've seen.
  • Android devices continue to show up in many shapes and sizes --- re-emphasizing that there is a device for everyone. This makes it even more important to choose a device that meets your particular needs.

Software --- Android Applications Galore

We also visited the various vendors showing off their latest Android applications. What was gratifying was that even though most of these developers had paid little thought to eyes-free use --- and were blissfully unaware of the existence of an Android Accessibility API, their applications worked for the most part with Accessibility enabled. Where there were gaps, we were able to show developers what they needed to do --- everyone was extremely receptive. Below is a brief summary of what we saw --- and a shout-out to all the friendly developers we met:

Where

This is a very accessible application I have been using for a while --- the developers were thrilled to hear that it was accessible since they had made no special effort.

Aloqua

A competing application to Where with a very slick visual UI. This application doesn't raise the appropriate Access Events at present because it's a custom UI. When we first talked to their lead developer he was extremely hesitant saying I dont want to change my custom UI. However, I could hear his face light up when we said You dont need to change your look and feel --- you just need to set a couple of custom Java properties (specifically, property ContentDescription

Pandora

Another favorite of mine that works well with access --- except --- the player controls are unlabeled. I showed them the application in action on my Droid --- looking forward to seeing this application become even more usable.

NPR News

There are many NPR tools on the Android Market --- NPR News is the official application. The application was originally written by a Googler and Open Sourced --- I have been using it for about 4 months and it's completely accessible. It could do with some power-user shortcut keys to make it even more efficient.

MLB At Bat

I had originally played with this application during last year's World Series; at the time, the application was quite usable with TalkBack. I'm happy to report that nothing has regressed --- the application still continues to to work well, except for a couple of glitches with unlabled player controls. The booth representatives had actually heard of accessibility --- and were receptive to fixing the remaining issues.

Summary: The light-weight design of the Android Access layer has proven valuable in making sure that it makes it on to every device. The minimal set of responsibilities the API places on developers has meant that a large number of Android applications are accessible out of the box.

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