Mobile Accessibility is a suite of applications from the well-known company Codefactory designed to provide accessibility to devices running the Android operating system for blind and visually impaired users. It should be noted right away that this is an unusual technical solution, since it is not limited to a certain program that works behind the scenes, simply reading screen information with a voice. Here we are talking about a fully voiced separate user workspace plus a system-wide screenreader.
Mobile Accessibility includes ten apps: Phone, Contacts, SMS, Alarm, Calendar, Mail, Internet, My Location, Apps and Settings. Each of them is fully accessible, has a simplified menu and is designed to solve certain basic tasks. There is also a general shell that speaks the standard device interface.
- Phone – allows you to make and receive calls, view information about the interlocutor and manage the conversation.
- Contacts – intended for managing the list of contacts, including in social networks, for example, FaceBook.
- SMS – designed to receive and send short text messages.
- Alarm clock – designed to set alarms and reminders.
- Calendar – allows you to create, edit and delete calendar entries, as well as display information about entries for different periods.
- Mail – gives full-featured access to the mailbox on the GMail service.
- The Internet is a full-fledged browser for viewing sites that allows you to navigate through headers, links, form fields, etc.
- My location – designed to determine the current location using GPS technology.
- Applications – manager of applications installed on the device.
- Settings – customize feedback and additional alerts (vibration and beeps), keyboard echo, speech rate and pitch, punctuation, and more.
The system-wide screen reader is capable of voicing the standard interface of the system and third-party applications.
Mobile Accessibility applications, even before the implementation of the touch interface in Android 4.0, supported work not only with the physical keyboard of the device and the trackball, but also with a multi touch display, that is, control could be carried out through the screen, although with the advent of Android 4.0 built-in support for a touch interface is not so outstanding functionality anymore.
In addition to verbal dubbing of on-screen information, Mobile Accessibility can additionally provide sound or vibration signals, as well as output data to the braille display (starting from version 1.09), which again was implemented before the built-in braille support, but with the release of Android 4.1 it ceased to be an exclusive feature of this program … To facilitate typing, speech-to-text functionality is also offered, that is, speech recognition, but it is available only starting with Android 2.2 and higher.
The Mobile Accessibility package can be installed on any smartphone running Android 2.1. Its price is € 69, but a 30-day trial is possible. At the time of this writing, there are English, Spanish, German, Italian, French, Portuguese, Czech, Polish, Dutch and Russian versions of the program. However, each language version is sold separately, and the simultaneous use of several speech synthesizers, for example, for working with multilingual texts, is not provided.
The Mobile Accessibility package is also notable for the fact that it has a built-in speech synthesizer, although in relatively new versions it is possible to use one of the standard voices of the system. Nuance and Vocalizer products are used as built-in voices. In particular, the Russian-language localization has the voice of Milena.
In addition, speaking about the peculiarities of the Mobile Accessibility localization, it should be noted that the virtual keyboard function in this program has not yet been adapted to the needs of Russian-speaking users, since it only supports the input of Latin characters. Therefore, to type Cyrillic characters, you should use either a hardware QWERTY keyboard or an alternative touch input system.
It should be noted that Mobile Accessibility is far from the first non-visual access solution for the Android operating system. Earlier, there were two non-profit screen readers TalkBack and Spiel. However, it is difficult to compare them. The fact is that TalkBack and Spiel are classic programs of this category, that is, they are a voice-over screen reader and do not provide additional services that duplicate the functions of the smartphone itself.
Historically, one of the main problems in developing accessibility tools for Android has been the limited API of the operating system. It did not provide an opportunity to redesign the navigation and control system in the interests of accessibility, as it is implemented, for example, in iOS or Symbian, which entailed serious problems in ensuring the work of a blind person with a touch screen. True, modern versions of Android have already coped with these problems in many ways. Also, a great difficulty is the extremely heterogeneous architecture of the Android system, which is constantly changing and branching in devices from different manufacturers, which entails the inability to fully voice the functions of a new smartphone, since the screenreader does not have time to update and cover all newly appeared devices.
In such conditions, TalkBack and Spiel in 2009-2010 did not manage to achieve serious functionality, the answer to which was a new concept of Mobile Accessibility in 2011, namely a set of duplicate programs, which was designed to ensure the availability of a basic set of functions regardless of the device.
Nevertheless, objectively, this functionality is absolutely ordinary and has nothing new or original compared to Symbian OS or iOS, and in some way (except for Internet access and GPS navigation) even with Samsung phones with voiced firmware. Thus, the main problem of older versions of Android, namely the low availability of the entire platform as such and its third-party applications, has not been solved in Mobile Accessibility.
The Codefactory product was marked by several serious steps, for example, a fairly powerful implementation of the accessibility of devices without a QWERTY keyboard or support for braille output, but these achievements were completely leveled by Android 4.0 and 4.1, where system-wide touch and data output to tactile displays were consistently implemented.
In general, speaking about Mobile Accessibility, we have to admit that this product from one of the leaders of mobile adaptive technologies – Codefactory, in its niche, is far from being a flagship, both functionally and economically, because in the context of modern versions of Android an additional package programs are no longer so relevant, and existing competitors in the face of TalkBack and Spiel are distributed on a non-commercial basis and often offer more advanced opportunities for working in a full-fledged Android environment. However, for some users with low functional requests to the device and problems with mastering interfaces that are not adapted for the blind, Mobile Accessibility may be just the best option, but in view of the still unresolved problems with adapting the program to the needs of Russian-speaking people,
Finally, we note that experienced users who are familiar with the technique, when several screen readers are launched on Android to obtain a higher level of system accessibility, will not be able to do the same with the Mobile Accessibility screenreader, since it has a lower priority than TalkBack and especially Spiel, and is simply suppressed by these applications.