Apple's Big Push to Improve Accessibility in iOS 13, iPadOS, and macOS Catalina

Apple is introducing several accessibility-friendly features with iOS 13, iPadOS, and macOS Catalina, including Voice Control, Hover Text, and Mouse Pointer Support for iPhones and iPads.

After the company's WWDC keynote on Monday, TechCrunch's iOS accessibility expert Steven Aquino sat down with Apple's Sarah Herrlinger, director of Global Accessibility Policy & Initiatives, who offered further details on the thinking behind Apple's latest, and arguably greatest, accessibility push.

Apple accessibility

Voice Control

Herrlinger first opened up about Apple's new Voice Control feature, which earned its own slide space during Craig Federighi’s onstage presentation. Voice Control supports editing and menu navigation in both ‌macOS Catalina‌ and iOS 13, but it was the feature's advanced dictation capabilities that Herrlinger was most eager to highlight.

For example, Herrlinger explained how you can say "show numbers" in Safari's Favorites view and little numbers, corresponding to the number of favorites you have, show up beside a website's favicon. Say TechCrunch is No. 2 in your list of favorites. If the glyph is hard to make out visually, saying "open 2" will prompt Voice Control to launch TechCrunch's page. Likewise, you can say "show grid" and a grid will appear so you perform actions such as clicking, tapping or pinching-and-zooming.

Herrlinger said Apple has worked hard to improve Voice Control's speech detection system, so that it can more adeptly parse users with different types of speech, such as those who stutter.

On iOS, the feature also utilizes attention awareness to know when a user with physical motor limitations is interacting with their device. Allaying privacy concerns, Apple says that none of the audio processed by Voice Control can be accessed by anyone else, including Apple, thanks to built-in anonymity and encryption.

Hover Text for macOS

Another feature Herrlinger was keen to demo was something called Hover Text on macOS. Described as a subset of the existing Zoom functionality, Hover Text enables the user to place the mouse pointer over a selection of text to get a bubble with the text enlarged.

Herrlinger told me the feature works system-wide, even in places like the menu bar. And yes, Hover Text is indeed customizable; users have access to a wide variety of fonts and colors to make Hover Text's "bubbles" their own. Text size can be enlarged up to 128pt, Herrlinger said. What this means is users can play with different permutations of the feature to find which label(s) work best — say, a yellow background with dark blue text set in Helvetica for the highest contrast. The possibilities are virtually endless, a testament to how rich the feature is despite its simplicity.

According to Herrlinger, Apple could have brought iOS feature Dynamic Type to the Mac, but found Hover Text accomplished the same goal of enlarging text in a way that felt better suited to its desktop operating system.

Mouse Support for iPhone and iPad

iPadOS and iOS 13 introduces mouse support for the first time, allowing a USB mouse to be connected to an iPad and iPhone for the first time.

Mouse support is not a standard feature, but is instead available as an AssistiveTouch option, designed for users with physical motor delays who can’t easily interact with the touchscreen itself. Apple says it works with both USB and Bluetooth mice, although the company doesn’t yet have an official compatibility list. According to developer Steve Troughton-Smith, who first discovered the feature, it also works with the Apple Magic Trackpad.

When I asked why build pointer support into a touch-based operating system, Herrlinger was unequivocal in her answer: it serves a need in the accessibility community. "This is not your old desktop cursor as the primary input method," she said.

The reality is, it's not your secondary choice, either. The bottom line is that, while Apple loves the idea of accessibility features being adopted by the mainstream, pointer support in iOS 13 and iPadOS really isn't the conventional PC input mechanism at all. In this case, it's a niche feature that should suit a niche use case; it's not supposed to represent the milestone of ‌iPad‌'s productivity growth that many think it could be. Maybe that changes over time, but for now, it's the new Mac Pro of software: not for everyone, not even for most people.

According to Herrlinger, Apple recognizes that people without disabilities will use this feature. "For example, many people find value in closed captions," she said. "Our goal is to engineer for specific use cases so that we continue to bring the power of our devices to more people."


That being said, Herrlinger was quick to emphasize that mouse support should be seen in context. In other words, Apple hasn't introduced it to drastically alter the primary user input landscape of iOS, although that being said, it's not going to stop anyone outside its intended use case from plugging a mouse into their iPad Pro.

iOS 13, iPadOS, and ‌macOS Catalina‌ are only available to registered developers at this time, but later in the summer, Apple plans to make public betas available, giving public beta testers a chance to try the software before it sees a public launch in the fall.

Top Rated Comments

Aston441 Avatar
23 months ago
Why are you dragging your feet Apple? Just make it a regular mouse cursor, like it was figured out to be, by Xerox, decades ago, to be one of the fastest and most comfortable ways to interact with a computer.

Just stop being weird.

You're going to add it eventually and we all know it. Just paste in the code.

Jerks.

I can't believe a closed, locked down OS became the most popular again.

Have we learned nothing from the Windows debacle? Apple is behaving worse than Microsoft ever did.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Macaholic868 Avatar
23 months ago
I absolutely love this feature!!! The one thing that prevents me from going on vacation with an iPad alone leaving my laptop behind is that I need to be able to use Microsoft’s RD client to connect to my system at the office and do work that requires a mouse from time to time.

I can bumble my way through it with touch if it’s just adjusting a line or two of code but anything more than that and forget it on anything but a laptop or desktop with a mouse.

With mouse support I can take my iPad Pro with me and be safe in the knowledge that I’m covered if I have to do something more complex on my work PC that requires the precision of a mouse instead of touch through the RD interface! For me this one is a game changer!!!
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Khedron Avatar
23 months ago
Embarrassing that it took them this long. This is just a software switch to stop intentionally crippling standard bluetooth/USB interfaces.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Darth Tulhu Avatar
23 months ago
I hope this works as we EXPECT IT TO, not some cockamamie Apple-exclusive-convoluted-three-finger-swipe-down-left-right-A-B-Start kind of way.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mi7chy Avatar
23 months ago
What is the motive for hiding ordinary features like mouse support under accessibility? Is it because of shame for backtracking, playing into the hearts of consumers that they really care about disabilities, weird rebranding, etc.? No other mouse supported OS does this.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Glideslope Avatar
23 months ago
Finally some innovation. :apple:
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

jon prosser imac 2021colors

Prosser: 2021 iMac to Come in Five Colors, Apple Silicon Mac Pro to Resemble 'Stacked' Mac Minis

Wednesday February 24, 2021 7:26 am PST by
Hit-and-miss leaker Jon Prosser has today alleged that the upcoming 2021 iMac models will offer five color options, mirroring the colors of the fourth-generation iPad Air, and revealed a number of additional details about the Mac Pro with Apple Silicon. In a new video on YouTube channel FrontPageTech, Prosser explained that the redesigned iMacs will come featuring options for Silver, Space ...
2021 mbp sd slot feature2

Kuo: New MacBook Pro Models With HDMI Port and SD Card Reader to Launch Later This Year

Monday February 22, 2021 8:52 pm PST by
Apple plans to release two new MacBook Pro models equipped with an HDMI port and SD card reader in the second half of 2021, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who outlined his expectations in a research note obtained by MacRumors. The return of an SD card reader was first reported by Bloomberg's Mark Gurman last month. "We predict that Apple's two new MacBook Pro models in 2H21 will have...
m1 mac mini

M1 Mac Users Report Excessive SSD Wear

Tuesday February 23, 2021 7:07 am PST by
Over the past week, some M1 Mac users have been reporting alarming SSD health readings, suggesting that these devices are writing extraordinary amounts of data to their drives (via iMore). Across Twitter and the MacRumors forums, users are reporting that M1 Macs are experiencing extremely high drive writes over a short space of time. In what appear to be the most severe cases, M1 Macs are sai...
iphone 12 pro display video

BOE Rumored to Supply iPhone 13 Display Panels After iPhone 12 Failures

Monday February 22, 2021 9:54 am PST by
Display manufacturer BOE will be one of the main suppliers of OLED panels for iPhone 13 models, according to a new report today from Taiwan's Economic Daily News. BOE is said to be working with touch panel manufacturer General Interface Solution (GIS), part of the Hon Hai Group to develop OLED panels. Multiple iPhone 12 rumors suggested that BOE would supply some panels for the devices,...
flat mbp 14 inch feature yellow

Redesigned 14-Inch MacBook Pro Expected to Feature Brighter Mini-LED Display With Slimmer Bezels and More

Thursday February 25, 2021 7:48 am PST by
Apple plans to unveil new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models with Mini-LED-backlit displays in the second half of this year, according to industry sources cited by Taiwanese supply chain publication DigiTimes. The report claims that Radiant Opto-Electronics will be the exclusive supplier of the Mini-LED backlight units, while Quanta Computer is said to be tasked with final assembly of the...
anker magsafe powercore battery pack

Anker Releases MagSafe-Compatible Battery Pack for iPhone 12 Lineup

Tuesday February 23, 2021 7:49 am PST by
Following rumors that Apple is working on a MagSafe battery pack for iPhone 12 models, popular accessory maker Anker has beaten Apple to the punch with the release of its PowerCore Magnetic 5K Wireless Power Bank. First previewed at CES 2021, the PowerCore battery pack magnetically attaches to the back of any iPhone 12 model and provides 5W of wireless charging. With a 5,000 mAh capacity,...
iPad Pro Mini LED

New iPad Pro and MacBook Models With Mini-LED Displays Again Rumored to Launch This Year

Monday February 22, 2021 9:32 pm PST by
Taiwanese company Ennostar will begin production of Mini-LED backlight units for an upcoming 12.9-inch iPad Pro in the late first quarter or second quarter of this year, according to industry sources cited by DigiTimes. Ennostar is a holding company that was jointly established in January 2021 by LED-related manufacturers Epistar and Lextar Electronics. Apple is expected to unveil the new ...
First Look Big Sur Feature2

Apple Releases macOS Big Sur 11.2.2 to Prevent MacBooks From Being Damaged by Third-Party Non-Compliant Docks

Thursday February 25, 2021 10:07 am PST by
Apple today released macOS Big Sur 11.2.2, the fourth update to the macOS Big Sur operating system that launched in November. macOS Big Sur 11.2.2 comes two weeks after the release of macOS Big Sur 11.2.1, a bug fix update. The new ‌‌‌‌macOS Big Sur‌‌‌ 11.2.2‌ update can be downloaded for free on all eligible Macs using the Software Update section of System Preferences....
steam apple logo

Valve Ordered to Give Apple Information on 436 Steam Games As Part of Epic Games Legal Case

Thursday February 25, 2021 1:50 am PST by
Valve, the makers behind popular game distribution platform Steam, will be forced to hand over aggregate historical sales, price, and other information on 436 games hosted on the store to Apple, as part of the Apple vs. Epic Games antitrust case. As reported in a paywalled report by Law360, during a virtual discovery hearing on Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas S. Hixson ordered that...
scott forstall original iphone

Epic Games 'Attempting to Locate' Former iOS Chief Scott Forstall to Testify in Ongoing Legal Battle with Apple

Tuesday February 23, 2021 4:22 am PST by
As part of its ongoing legal battle, Epic Games is now seeking testimony from Apple's former iOS software chief, Scott Forstall. Forstall left Apple in 2013, in what was widely reported at the time to have been a forced exit, largely because of the botched early launch of Apple Maps. Since then, Forstall has kept a very low profile and has only made a few media appearances in the past few...