'Force Touch Is Going to Do Incredible Things for Accessibility'

Serenity Caldwell at iMore is as excited for Force Touch as an accessibility tool as I am:

What if we had a trackpad or other surface that could simulate Braille, for instance, if a setting was turned on? Or a Force Touch trigger that would let you know if you'd moved to the edge of a window, or on a button? There are so many potential avenues for exploration here...

'How Apple Makes the Watch'

Greg Koenig, writing at Atomic Delights:

This walkthrough is a detailed narration of what we see in Apple's Watch Craftsmanship videos. Of course, we only get to see a mere fraction of the process; I've tried to provide plausible explanations for the likely steps taking place between the processes shown on film, but these are assumptions and are included only to provide a more satisfying and complete narration.

This was a terrific read; I'm fascinated by the manufacturing films Apple made for each metal.

Apple Watch Includes Diagnostics Port

Matthew Panzarino, reporting for TechCrunch:

Apple Watch has a port that the company has yet to show off. It’s being used for diagnostics and direct access to the Watch operating system, but it’s feasible that could be used to connect accessories in the future.

The port has a 6-dot brass contact array inside the groove for the ‘bottom’ strap connector slot. Several sources have confirmed its existence and placement to me. It is very similar to the connector for the Lightning connector in iPhones, as that connector currently only uses 6 of its 8 available pins. Apple recently began opening up the Lightning port for use by third parties. A source says that this port is currently for diagnostic purposes only — but that there is nothing preventing it from being a connection port for future accessories.

(via Daring Fireball)

Apple Employees Speak to the NYT Off-the-Record About Apple Watch

Brian X. Chen, reporting for The New York Times, scores a few nuggets on the Watch:

Inside Apple, members of the team that worked on the watch product, code-named Gizmo, say it was a difficult engineering challenge. Three employees briefed on the project agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity.

In an effort to maintain secrecy, engineers testing the watch outside the office even created fake casing that made the Apple device resemble a Samsung watch, one person said.

The people who created the watch have been described by Apple employees as an “all-star team.” Apple’s top designers and engineers who worked on its iPhone, iPad and Macs are all part of it, several Apple employees said. Top executives include Jony Ive, Apple’s head of design; Jeff Williams, the head of operations; and Kevin Lynch, a former Adobe executive, who leads the watch’s software development.

[...]

Apple has said the watch battery is estimated to last a full day, requiring a user to charge it at night, similar to a smartphone. The company also developed a yet-to-be-announced feature called Power Reserve, a mode that will run the watch on low energy but display only the time, according to one employee.

Can't wait for next week's press event, at which Apple will reveal more details about the Watch.

Tim Cook Asks Apple VP of Enviromental Initiatives, Lisa Jackson, to Boost Accessibility Efforts

Neat scoop by Mark Gurman, who reports for 9to5Mac:

Apple told employees during a week at the flagship Berlin Apple Store in Germany that the company will increase its focus on product accessibility by putting executive Lisa Jackson in charge of the efforts, according to people in attendance. Asked by an Apple Store employee if the Apple Watch will include accessibility features, Cook reportedly replied:

Yes is the short answer. In every product we do, we want it to be accessible for everyone. This is not something that we sit around and figure out what the ROI is. I can give a rats what the ROI is. It’s one of those things that goes in the just and right column. So we want all of our products to be accessible. In the point that you we are on, I think we need to raise the awareness of accessibility, and I’ve asked Lisa Jackson to work on this. She’s done a great job on the environmental impact, and I tend to think we can do the same thing with accessibility and create an even better environment than what other companies do. The Watch will start with doing some things, but it will become better at more things over time. You can make a call from the Watch… You can interface with Siri. Siri with this point comes back in a textual mode, but we’d like to do something different with that over time. But it’s cool for all of us, but I think it is going to be profound for some people. More on this.

This is terrific news. I'm so thrilled to see Apple further prioritize accessibility.

'Apple Car: Destination Unknown'

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors, in a smart think piece on the Apple Car rumors:

It’s entirely reasonable that an Apple executive would try to imagine the auto industry of 20 or 30 years from now and see those trends lead to a logical conclusion: A fleet of vehicles with electric engines that feature deep integration of hardware and software, possibly up to the point of being self-driving or at least with optional auto-drive capabilities in some circumstances.

Despite my joking that, due to my low vision and lack of a driver's license, an Apple Car would be of no use to me whatsoever, reading Jason's piece made me realize something. Come 2035 or 2045, perhaps the auto industry (and the bureaucracy that, ahem, drives it) will be in a place that I could make use of a car, albeit a self-driving one. I get on my Jony Ive-designed Apple Car, use CarPlay to tell the car where I want to go, and off I go. My very own Uber, essentially.

This is pure speculation, of course. But for visually impaired people whose vision precludes them right now from driving --- and the freedom that driving affords --- a self-driving Apple Car could represent the zenith of accessibility. No longer would we need to rely on public transit or a ride-sharing service or the kindness of others to get anywhere not within reasonable walking distance. As I said, all we'd need to do is hop in our car, tap a few buttons, and go. Yes, we'd need to worry then about insurance and maintenance of the vehicle, but the upside in accessibility would almost be too great to pass up.

'I'm Going to Fucking Hawaii'

Casey Newton for The Verge, in a profile of digital savings service Digit:

Here’s how Digit works. You can sign up for an account on the desktop web or on your phone; you’ll need your banking information handy, but the process is relatively painless. By signing up, you’re creating a new savings account, managed by Digit and insured by the FDIC. Once you’ve built up some savings in Digit, you manage it with simple text commands: text "withdraw" along with an amount, and Digit moves the money from your savings account back into checking. The service is "free" in that there’s no fee to use it, but it does come at a cost: your Digit savings account doesn’t pay interest. (Digit has a good FAQ here.)

[...]

Digit was designed so that you can interact with it entirely through SMS. Once a day it will text you with your checking account balance; you can text back commands to view your Digit balance, check recent transactions, or move your money back and forth. For now, there are no plans for an app beyond the mobile web version of the site. "We want to see how far we can push it SMS-only," Bloch says. I appreciate the simplicity of SMS, but it feels a bit basic for something as important to me as my personal finances. (I’d much rather have push notifications and a native app, myself.)

I first heard of (and signed up for) Digit on MG Siegler's recommendation, and I'm a fan. It's been almost a month, and I've already amassed $120 in savings. As Newton writes, the best part about Digit is the saving is done automatically, without you having to think about it. It's a wonderful idea executed very well. I would prefer a native app, among other things, but so far, so good using the service.

On the Apple Car Rumors

MG Siegler, writing at Medium, offers his take on the "Apple's developing a car" buzz:

[W]e already know Steve Jobs wanted to build a car. Phil Schiller has said Apple thought about building a car in the past — and is a car guy. Jony Ive is a car guy. Eddy Cue, car guy. At some point, it would be almost like Apple was going out of its way not to build a car.

CarPlay is essentially Apple’s “Rokr” play here. You partner to test the waters and gain some intel, biding your time until you go all-in. And when that time rolls around, the automotive world is likely to be a very different place than it is right now. Electric cars galore. Self-driving cars a reality. Etc.

I've joked on Twitter that an Apple Car would be off-limits for me to review, because my low vision precludes me from getting a driver's license. My only recourse would be to hire a chauffeur to drive me around in it.

'The Loop Magazine' Issue 31

The new issue of Jim Dalrymple's The Loop Magazine is out this morning, and there's an article by me.

In my piece, "Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memories --- And Accessibility", I write about the documentary film Alive Inside and the iPod's impact on accessibility to the elderly. Included in the story is an email interview I conducted with the film's protagonist, Dan Cohen.

Apple Planning Launch of iOS Public Beta Program

Mark Gurman, reporting for 9to5 Mac:

In an effort to eliminate bugs from upcoming iOS versions ahead of their general releases, Apple plans to launch the first-ever public beta program for the iOS operating system, according to multiple people briefed on the plans. Following the successful launch of the OS X Public Beta program with OS X Yosemite last year, Apple intends to release the upcoming iOS 8.3 as a public beta via the company’s existing AppleSeed program in mid-March, according to the sources. This release will match the third iOS 8.3 beta for developers, which is planned for release the same week. Apple then expects to debut iOS 9 at its June Worldwide Developer Conference, with a public beta release during the summer, and final release in the fall…

[...]

The main goal of the iOS beta program will be a more reliable and widely tested operating system by the time of the wider consumer launch, as Apple has come under fire for lack of quality control in iOS 8. Launching public beta versions of iOS will also reduce the demand for unauthorized sales of beta downloads from developer accounts, which enabled some consumers to test-drive future iOS features. Apple Vice President of iPhone and iOS Marketing Greg Joswiak publicly shared his concern regarding these blackmarket businesses, saying that Apple planned to fight those in the future.