Monday, March 21, 2011

TalkBack Refreshed: Accessible On-Screen Keyboard And More ...

Android Access: TalkBack Refreshed

1 Android Access: TalkBack Refreshed

The latest enhancements to TalkBack now brings Android Accessibility to devices without a physical keyboard. Many of these enhancements also improve the overall TalkBack experience on all devices.

1.1 Highlights

  • New TalkBack Keyboard.
  • On-screen talking keyboard enables text entry via the touch screen.
  • Text review provides spoken feedback when moving the cursor by character, word, sentence, or paragraph.
  • Virtual D-Pad for navigating the Android user interface.
  • Global TalkBack commands enable one-click access to oft-used commands.

1.2 TalkBack Keyboard

The TalkBack Keyboard is an Accessible Input Method (Accessible IME) that when activated enables you to enter and review text via the touch screen. To use this feature, you need to first activate the TalkBack keyboard via the Language and Keyboard option in the Settings menu. Next, customize the TalkBack Keyboard to taste via the TalkBack Keyboard Settings option --- here, you can customize additional features including auditory feedback as you type. Finally, open your favorite editing application, long-press on an edit field, and select TalkBack keyboard as your default IME. Note that you need do this only once; once the TalkBack keyboard has been made the default, it persists across reboots.

1.3 Entering Text On The Touch Screen

TalkBack keyboard is an on-screen keyboard that supports touch exploration along with synchronized spoken and auditory feedback. This means you can now enter text when using devices that don't sport a physical keyboard.

But wait, there's more here than meets the finger at first touch. Once you have activated the TalkBack Keyboard, you can switch the keyboard among three states by long-pressing the volume up/down buttons:

The TalkBack keyboard is not displayed.
You get access to an on-screen virtual D-Pad, along with Back, Home, Search, and Menu buttons.
An on-screen qwerty keyboard.

My preferred means of using the keyboard is to turn on auditory feedback from within TalkBack Keyboard Settings, as well as having SoundBack active. In this mode, you hear keys as you explore the keyboard along with an auditory icon; picking up your finger types the last key you explored. Typing produces a distinctive key-click.

The on-screen keyboard occupies the bottom 1/3 of your screen. While entering text, explore and find the top row, then move above it to hear what you have typed so far.

1.4 Reviewing Text By Character, Word, Sentence Or Paragraph

You can now navigate and review text by character, word, sentence or paragraph. Use a two-finger tap to move forward through these navigation levels; a two-finger double tap moves in the reverse direction. Once you have selected your preferred mode of navigation, you can use Up/Down on the physical track-ball/D-Pad, or alternatively, flick up or down on the virtual D-Pad to move forward or backward through the text being reviewed.

Note that text review works when the TalkBack keyboard is in either/navigating/ or typing mode; personally, I find it less error-prone on keyboard-less devices to first switch to navigating mode when reviewing text, since it is easy to inadvertently enter spurious text otherwise.

1.5 Using The On-Screen Virtual D-Pad

Placing the TalkBack keyboard in navigating mode provides an on-screen virtual D-Pad --- this is especially useful on devices that do not have a physical D-Pad or track-ball on the front of the device. When active, the virtual D-Pad occupies the bottom one-third of the screen, and fast-flicks in that area has the same effect as moving with a D-Pad or track-ball. Tapping anywhere within the virtual D-Pad is the same as clicking with the track-ball.

The corners of the virtual D-Pad also provides Back, Home, Search and Menu buttons --- these are especially useful on devices that lack explicit physical or capacitive buttons for these common Android actions. You can explore the virtual D-pad by moving your finger around the D-Pad area; crossing the top-edge of this area provides haptic and auditory feedback that can be used as an orientation aid in finding the virtual buttons on the corners.

1.6 Global Commands

In addition, selecting the TalkBack Keyboard as your default input method enables a set of global commands that can be accessed from your physical keyboard --- eventually, we will make these available via the soft keyboard as well. Here are a list of the current commands:

BatterySpeaks the current battery levelmenu + B
TimeSpeaks the current date and timemenu + T
ConnectivitySpeaks the connectivity state of each connection: WiFi, 3G, etcmenu + O
RepeatRepeats the last TalkBack utterancemenu + R
SpellSpells the last TalkBack utterancemenu + S

These shortcuts are listed in the Accessibility Preferences application where they can be edited. You can choose between menu and search for the modifier, and any letter on the keyboard for the letter.

1.7 Summary

All of these features work on Android 2.2 and above. In addition, TalkBack makes WebView accessible in Honeycomb --- look for a separate announcement about accessibility enhancements that are exclusive to the Honeycomb release in the coming weeks.

Author: T.V Raman

Date: 2011-03-16 Wed

HTML generated by org-mode 7.4 in emacs 24


  1. These new features sound great. I got a phone with a built-in keyboard but sometimes it would be nice to just do something quickly and it sounds like the on screen keyboard will make that easy. Looking forward to the upgrade. Thanks for all the work on TalkBack.

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  3. On the other hand, on my OG Droid, Talkback keyboard is insisting on being the default, even after boot. It totally screws up my screen and I have to jump through hoops to turn it off and get back to my standard keyboard. How do you tell this invasive program NOT to assume such self-importance? Since it can't be deleted, it could at least be well-behaved. It's an OG Droid! I have a keyboard. I don't need a virtual keyboard.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Is it possible to add other keyboard/IME for TalkBack? Its even better if it can read the standard keyboard, instead of a dedicated one. Also are there any plan to allow of reading screen by tapping various area on the screen and control by gesture just like what Symbian,iOS and Windows Mobile 6 do?

  6. The Talkback keyboard is interfering with the built in standard Android keyboard when using other locale than English. I'm using Swedish and the Talkback keyboard is named "Android keyboard", exactly the same as the built in one. So now I can't use the standard keyboard. If I switch to English locale the Talkback keyboard is named "Talkback keyboard" and no longers interfere with the standard keyboard. Please fix this.

  7. Hi,
    Please let me know which phones work best with android OS. Is it better to go for phones with physical qwerty key pad or touch screens have become better in terms of accessibility. I am using talks on Nokia N82 but now wish to switch to Android phone for better aps and gps navigation. I have many questions to come on GPS navigation in future.

  8. I'm really disaointed, I've just baught HTC wildfire S love the phone but talkback just doesn't working properly on the V Dpad menu brings up the context menu but you can not choose options. apps menu will not work, and you can not select icons from the home screens, is this a HTC incompatability or not. Loved the phone not happy about taking it back. :-(

  9. I like the Talkback keyboard, but I think it still needs some improvement. For example, it seems you can't navigate within a Dialog/Spinner. I guess this is exactly what DCF Oldahm complains about. I have tried on N1 and Galaxy Tab.

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