Android is a mobile operating system based on the Linux kernel. It was originally developed by the company of the same name, which was later bought by Google Inc., from which its active promotion began. Now it is being developed by a separate division of the Open Handset Alliance.

You can learn more about the history of versions of this operating system in Wikipedia , but here we will highlight only the key stages of this process that are related to the formation of accessibility tools for users with visual impairments in it.

Before moving on to an overview of Android versions, it should be noted that there is a certain tradition to call versions of the system not only numbers, but also words. All words used refer to the names of various types of dessert and are in alphabetical order. Therefore, you need to be prepared for the fact that in various Android sources, for example, version 1.5, can also be called “Cupcake” (Cupcake).

The first information about the development of Android OS accessibility for users with visual impairments appeared in late 2008 – early 2009 (see Android OS accessibility for mobile devices . However, these developments did not reach end users until autumn 2009).

On September 15, 2009, Android 1.6 is released under the codename “Donut”. This version is the first to implement speech synthesis functionality based on Pico TTS. In addition, programs can use third-party speech synthesizers, provided that the TTS Extended component is installed, however, Loquendo voices remain unavailable. Starting with this version, the system supports the installation of two non-commercial screen readers Talkback and Spiel. Thus, conditionally Android devices are available starting from version 1.6.

On October 26, 2009 Android 2.0 / 2.1 is released under the codename “Eclair” (Eclair). This version fixes the problem of inability to use Loquendo voices. In addition, starting from 2.1, one more screenreader can be installed on the system – Mobile Accessibility.

On May 20, 2010 Android 2.2 is released under the codename “Froyo” (Frozen Yogurt). In terms of accessibility innovations, this release is marked by a full-fledged built-in speech synthesis service and speech recognition implementation. It is because of the support for speech-to-text Codefactory that it is advised to install screenreader Mobile Accessibility on Android 2.2, as this will make it possible to use all the functions of the program. In addition, in Froyo, a bug has been fixed that led to frequent crashes of the speech synthesizer in previous versions, and a new item appears in the Accessibility Settings that allows you to use the hardware Power key to end the conversation, which eliminates the need to search for the button every time end a call on the touchscreen display.

On December 6, 2010 Android 2.3 is released under the codename “Gingerbread”. This release is not marked by significant innovations in accessibility and marks the beginning of a fairly long period of time during which system development is carried out without considering the needs of accessibility.

On February 22, 2011, Android 3.x is released under the codename “Honeycomb”. Line 3 is not the next step in the development of Line 2, but a parallel branch of development focused mainly on tablet computers. Android Honeycomb also ignored accessibility needs, and devices based on this platform remain in principle inaccessible to blind users due to the lack of necessary hardware controls.

On October 19, 2011, Android 4.0 is released, codenamed “Ice Cream Sandwich”. This version is intended in the future to reunite the areas of development focused on smartphones and tablet computers, and finally again turns to the topic of accessibility. Android 4 is becoming a milestone in the development of system accessibility, as it offers a number of global innovations: the ability to enable voice screen access and the accessibility training mode using a special gesture, the implementation of explore-by-touch mode, that is, the touch view mode, which ensures the non-visual accessibility of the touch screen , as well as fixes for a number of significant errors in the processing of accessibility events, on the basis of which all screen reader functionality is built. Moreover,

On June 27, 2012, Android 4.1 is released under the codename “Jelly Bean”, which takes further steps to provide advanced functionality for blind and visually impaired users. In particular, 4.1, in addition to learning by touch from 4.0, received the functionality of linear navigation , which is a set of accessibility gestures that allow non-visual work to be performed more conveniently and productively, and in 4.1 system-wide support for braille displays is implemented. that on Android 2.1-4.0 was implemented literally a month earlier in the Mobile Accessibility version 1.09 of the screen reader, but only as a local functionality of the screenreader. In addition, visually impaired users may find some innovations in Jelly Bean useful, for example, with more flexible configuring the size of widgets.

On October 29, 2012, the official press release introduced the Android system version 4.2, which is a minor update and, as a result, goes under the former codename “Jelly Bean”. There are no bright updates to the accessibility functionality, except, perhaps, only the appearance of the first release version of the magnifier. Along with this, several small new features and modifications have been implemented, which generally increase the usability of the system. In particular, this concerns the implementation of the function of calling the quick menu of accessibility settings, updating feedback methods when using a braille display, as well as some design changes to the system APIs responsible for touch navigation and handling text labels of various on-screen objects.

On July 24, 2013, Android version 4.3 was presented under the slogan “An even sweeter Jelly Bean”. As you might guess, this version is another minor update under the same code name “Jelly Bean”. By this point, the concept of Android development is becoming more and more modular, when system releases bring not only ready-made functions, but infrastructure in the form of APIs, on the basis of which new functionality appears for end users in the future with the release of updates to individual applications. Accessibility services are such updatable modules, which is why they do not receive noticeable updates with the release of Android 4.3. Of these, we can only name the improvement of TalkBack interaction and screen zoom. However, there is an update to the accessibility APIs that should potentially provide a number of useful features. In particular, we are talking about the fact that applications will be able to process not only special gestures, but also keyboard commands, there are also functions that allow increasing the availability of text editing operations, and there are also several less significant updates to the accessibility API.

A major update to version 5, codenamed “Key Lime Pie”, is still pending, which now appears to be pushed back to either late fall 2013 or late spring 2014. There it will already be possible to expect some significant updates not only in the form of API extensions, which are still useful to a greater extent only in potential, but also in the form of some ready-made functions.

The Android operating system continues to evolve. A serious breakthrough in the accessibility functionality in the fourth line of Android and its consistent refinement allows us to hope that the system developers (including after interested users have contacted them) have realized the need to implement full-fledged accessibility. All this gives grounds to assert that already now this OS can claim the status of one of the most accessible mobile platforms for users with visual impairments, although it still has a lot to improve. Nevertheless, the release of Android 4.1-4.2, perhaps, brings a landmark line in the evolution of the system, after which complex measures of a catch-up nature are no longer required, since the main basic functionality has already been achieved, and the focus is shifted to the implementation of some more unconventional solutions.

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