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.

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

(View all)
Avatar
17 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)
Avatar
17 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)
Avatar
17 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)
Avatar
17 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)
Avatar
17 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)
Avatar
17 months ago
Finally some innovation. :apple:
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

iPhone 12 Lineup Rumored to Be Named 'iPhone 12 mini,' 'iPhone 12,' 'iPhone 12 Pro,' and 'iPhone 12 Pro Max'

Monday September 21, 2020 5:24 am PDT by
Leaker known as "L0vetodream" has today shared the alleged naming for the upcoming iPhone 12 lineup on Twitter. The tweet proposes that the upcoming iPhone 12 models will be titled "iPhone 12 mini," "iPhone 12," "iPhone 12 Pro," and "iPhone 12 Pro Max." The names likely correspond to the three expected sizes of iPhone 12, with the 5.4-inch model being the iPhone 12 mini, the 6.7-inch model ...

iOS 14 Widgets Offer iPhone Users Creative Home Screen Ideas

Sunday September 20, 2020 8:43 pm PDT by
Updated on September 22nd with hands on video. In iOS 14, Apple introduced ‌the concept of Home Screen‌ widgets, which provide information from apps at a glance. Widgets can be pinned to the Home Screen in various spots and sizes, allowing for many different layouts. Despite the relative lack of...

Hands-On With iOS 14 Widgets, Custom Icons, and Home Screen Setup

Tuesday September 22, 2020 3:25 pm PDT by
Apple with iOS 14 introduced widgets on the Home Screen, leading to unprecedented levels of customization for the iPhone. Combined with Shortcuts that let you change an app's icon, iOS 14 lets you create a whole new look for your Home Screen. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. We've been following along with some of the creative alternative Home Screen designs that M...

PSA: New Apple Watch Owners Have to Return Entire Device for Ill-Fitting Solo Loop or Braided Solo Loop

Monday September 21, 2020 3:26 pm PDT by
With the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple introduced two new band options, the Solo Loop and the Braided Solo Loop. These new bands are unique because they have no clasps, buckles, or other fasteners, and instead use a stretch design to allow them to pull onto the wrist over the hand. Because these bands are not adjustable, Apple sells each one in nine different sizes to make sure each person...

Apple's iPhone 12 Event Could Happen on October 13 Based on Rumors From Mobile Operators

Wednesday September 23, 2020 11:51 am PDT by
Apple's upcoming iPhone-centric event could perhaps be held on Tuesday, October 13, according to information shared with MacRumors by an employee at a UK cellular carrier. There's no way for us to confirm the dates at this point in time nor are we sure on the credibility of the source, but even without a rumor, Tuesday, October 13 is a good guess based on Apple's historic launch timelines, ...

New Images Leak of iPhone 12 Braided USB-C to Lightning Cable

Thursday September 24, 2020 2:37 am PDT by
Rumors suggest Apple's upcoming iPhone 12 models will ship with a new Lightning to USB-C cable that includes a braided fabric design. Images of the purported cables were leaked in July, and today leaker Mr White has shared new images that give us a closer look at what we might get included in the iPhone 12 box. The photos show a USB-C to Lightning cable with a clearly braided design rather...

Interest in iOS 14 Home Screen Ideas Helps Pinterest Break Daily Download Record

Wednesday September 23, 2020 4:37 am PDT by
Apple's introduction of widgets on the Home Screen in iOS 14 has driven a surge in interest among users looking to customize their iPhone, and that has reportedly had a knock-on effect for Pinterest, whose iOS app has seen record downloads as users flock to its content seeking design inspiration. As reported by TechCrunch, App Store intelligence firm Apptopia was first to note the impact of ...

Apple Releases First Public Betas of iOS 14.2 and iPadOS 14.2 With New Shazam Control Center Options

Monday September 21, 2020 10:34 am PDT by
Apple today seeded the first public betas of upcoming iOS 14.2 and iPadOS 14.2 updates to its public beta testing group, a few days after seeding the first betas to developers and a little less than a week after releasing the iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 updates. Public beta testers who have signed up for Apple's beta testing program can download the iOS and iPadOS‌ 14.2 updates over the air after ...

Apple Emphasizes That Solo Loop May Increase in Length Over Time, Updates Sizing Guide With More Specific Instructions

Wednesday September 23, 2020 8:26 am PDT by
Apple on Tuesday updated one of its support documents to emphasize that the new silicone rubber Solo Loop for the Apple Watch may increase in length over time, as mentioned in fine print at the bottom of the Solo Loop product page. Apple has also updated its printable Solo Loop sizing guide with more specific instructions, as noted by 9to5Mac's Michael Steeber. The guide now advises users to ...

Microsoft Announces Outlook for Mac Redesign, Improvements to iOS and watchOS Apps

Tuesday September 22, 2020 8:56 am PDT by
Microsoft has today announced plans to bring a new design to its Outlook for Mac app along with several other improvements and features for Outlook on iOS and watchOS. In preparation for the public release of macOS Big Sur, Microsoft has been testing a new design for Outlook on Mac. The design includes Microsoft's Fluent icons and several design cues from Big Sur such as rounded corners....