What Today’s Apple Event Means to the Blind

Today, Apple had their “Let’s Talk iPhone” announcement. As usual no one knew what to expect. Many hoped for a redesigned iPhone with a curved surface, much like the beautiful iPad 2. Apple also previewed iOS 5 at their developer’s conference in June, so we knew a lot of the cool software features to expect. I looked forward to the notification center and Twitter integration. We also learned of Apple’s acquisition of Siri, and their plans to integrate voice navigation with the iPhone. As today drew near the rumor sites said that we would not see a new iPhone, but rather an upgraded iPhone 4. I felt a little disappointed. I wanted the sleek and sexy iPhone 5, and I had only used iPhone’s voice navigation by accident once when something else in my pocket pressed the on button for a few seconds. Still, I got psyched for this real life sporting event.

It started with them talking about how the Mac does very well, something I enjoyed hearing. I love my Macs. Then they started talking about greeting cards, and a Find My Friends app. Something about cameras or photographs. They refreshed the iPod Nano. Video games. More with the greeting cards. Everyone felt bored. Then it came to talk iPhone. The whole net suddenly seemed effected. All the major sites went down. So we all sat, gathering what information we could. A blind iPhone friend called me for parts of it as well, reading to me from a live blog. Eventually we pieced it together.

The rumor sites got it right. Apple announced the iPhone 4S with an A5 processor, twice as fast as the one in the iPhone 4. It also has a better camera, an improved antenna system, and for the first time it comes in a 64 GB model. Hopefully the better camera will mean better OCR and image recognition, two things which the blind need. Apple devoted the end of their event to talk all about Siri, demonstrating its impressive voice navigation. It actually lets you have a conversation with your iPhone. It definitely looked cool. Then the event ended and Apple’s stock dipped. Apparently other people wanted the sleek and sexy iPhone 5 as well. I relaxed and thought.

When the iPhone 3 came out, the blind had no interest in it. After all, we couldn’t use it. We had to wait for the upgraded version, the 3GS, with a powerful enough processor that would run VoiceOver, the software which enables the blind to use the iPhone. For us, this upgrade made a world of difference. The same holds true in this case.

Apple has unveiled the new paradigm of conversing with an artificially intelligent computer. The Siri Assistant gives us the type of interface we see on Star Trek, the one we’ve always wanted. You never see them bumbling around their computers unless something goes seriously wrong. They just tell the computer what they want it to do and it does it. I put on an episode of Star Trek and began to get excited. If all goes well, the masses will have this kind of technology in a few weeks!

Accessibility helps everyone. Apple has made it mainstream. The blind have enjoyed text to speech for years. Now the sighted can enjoy eyes-free operation as well. Voice recognition and a wealth of data complete a perfect picture of universal accessibility.

In 1987 I had turned ten. I entered the fifth grade, and got my first PC, sadly saying good bye to my beloved Apple II way of life. Meanwhile, Apple made this video. It presents their concept for Knowledge Navigator, and shows a professor talking to his tablet computer and getting back intelligent responses. Weirdly, his calendar displays the date September 16th, and he references a five-year-old paper written in 2006, making the year 2011.

On October 4, 2011, Apple released the new iPhone with the Siri Assistant. The page features a video. It ends with a blind woman hearing a text message and dictating a reply. Meanwhile, Amazon has released their totally inaccessible Kindle Fire. What a difference! Thank you Apple! We love you!