Thursday, December 8, 2016

Going to the App Store

ON this week's segment, I discussed the app store. This is an absolutely crutial area to be familiar with if you want to make optimum use of your iOS device. It is where you can find and obtain software that lets your iPHONE, iPAD or iPOD do an incredible array of things. There are a mind-boggling number of apps. Hundreds of thousands of them. Many of these are accessible to blind people since they support Voiceover. These include everything from ebook or print reading apps to cooking recipe apps to games to word processors to item identification and GPS apps. As an owner of one of these devices, you do yourself a criminal disservice if you fail to take advantage of the app store and limit yourself to the small collection of apps which come installed on your device. I cringe when I hear about people who are so afraid of shopping online that they fail to even create an Apple ID or get set up to make purchases. It would be like moving into a large house or apartment and then, for fear of being robbed, failing to furnish it living in just the bathroom. It's very much worth your while to explore the appstore and see if there's an app which will help you do something more easily or entertain you.

Be aware that not all apps are accessible. These devices are designed primarily for people who have sight. Hence their flat screens. The vast majority of games and other apps really require eye sight to use. However, when you're dealing with hundreds of thousands of apps, even having only ten percent of apps fully accessible still makes for something on the order of thirty thousand useable pieces of software. I'm a pretty heavy computer user but I don't believe I've ever heard of anybody owning anywhere near that many programs. I have around two to three hundred apps with around eighty of them being accessible games.

Due to the high likelyhood of finding an inaccessible app, I always recommend that blind users try to learn about it before purchasing it. Read reviews of the app as well as its description. If you come across a mention that an app supports Voiceover, it's at least going to be useable for you. Before spending money on an app, it's a good idea to see if there's and entry about it in the app directories at:

This web site has become the best place to go for guidance and information especially for blind people making use of Apple products. It's well worth checking out thoroughly. In particular, there are directories with descriptions and reviews of apps. You will also find podcasts which demonstrate apps in audio form so you can hear what it's like to use them. Do your homework and you'll avoid disappointment.

There are five main areas of the appstore each having a tab across the bottom of the app to help you get there quickly. From left to right, these areas are:

"Featured": This is where Apple directs your attention to apps, categories of apps or new arrivals in the appstore. Keep a lookout for the free app of the week. These are occasionally accessible to blind users. It's an interesting area to browse but you're relatively unlikely to discover apps which are accessible. You'll also find buttons to send and redeem gift cards. You can do both quite accessibly. This is very useful especially if you get iTUNES gift cards or want to give email gift cards to people. It is also quite possible to give specific apps as gifts.

"Categories": Double-tap on this tab to explore the available apps by categories. These can go many levels deep. To back out of an app description or level onto the prior one, use the "back" button found at the top left of the screen. That "back" button is ubiquitous throughout apps and areas of iOS. The array of categories makes it possible to poke around and see if there might be an app suitable to your needs. Within categories, there are subcategories. Also, you'll find recommendations of popular apps or editor's picks which may help steer you towards some of the better apps. Everyonce in a while, I'll look into various categories of interest to see if anything nifty has popped up.

"Top Charts": Here, you can find out what the most popular paid, free and top grocing apps are. Note the "category" button near the top left. It lets you find out what the most popular apps are within a given category. This area gives you an idea of what everyone uses their devices for these days. Increasingly, I'm pleasantly surprised to find that apps which are accessible to blind people actually end up on these top charts. Apps that are useful to me are some of the most popular for everyone. It makes me feel welcome in this new world. It's a very refreshing change of experience after decades of using specialised software nobody outside the blindness accessibility community has heard of. Apple has lowered the barriers to making apps which are accesible and more developers are taking notice.

"Search": This area lets you search for specific apps by the app's title, keywords or the name of the developer. Just type it in the search field found near the top left. Flick right through the results until you come to one that interests you and double-tap it to be taken to the app's entry. In my experience, this is the most frequent area I use to track down and purchase apps. Typically, I'll hear about an accessible app from a happy customer or read about it on Applevis. This happens more often as you become connected to a wider community of blind users. Word of accesible apps travels very fast once they're announced or discovered. Type the name of that nifty new app into the search field and double-tap on its title in the search results. You can then read about it in the app entry and decide whether to get it. If the app is free, there will be a "get" button. Otherwise the button will state the app's price.

"Updates": This important section lets you learn about and obtain any updates made to apps you have purchased. There is a handy "update all" button near the top left. Also, the "Purchased" button lets you look through any apps you have ever purchased even if they aren't on your device any longer. Some apps might eventually be made more accessible and this is how you easilly get them back onto your device. You never have to purchase anything more than once as long as you remember your apple ID and password. Those pieces of information are the keys to your kingdom and the ability to purchase new apps. Remember them always. It's better to have a password you will remember than one that nobosy including you has a hope of remembering or guessing.

To purchase an app, double-tap on its title to enter its space in the appstore. There, you'll find description, reviews, screenchots and perhaps a video demonstrating the app. There is also a "get" button if the app is free or else a button with the price of the app. Double-tap this to begin the purchase process. You'll then need to confirm your identity via Touch ID or via apple ID and password to complete the purchase. Even free apps must be authorised in similar fashion. The app will then download immediately and appear on your homescreen.

You will also want to go into the Settings app and into the "iTUNES and App stores" settings. There, you can make decisions on how you want to identify yourself and other choices related to the experience of shopping in Apple's ecosystem. For instance, you might decide to not require your password to be entered when acquiring fre apps. You can choose to enable Touch ID which means that you can use your fingerprint rather than entering your password in order to make purchases.

Your device can either be an occasionally used expensive paperweight or it can grow into the most handy and affordable piece of accessible technology you've ever owned. After five years of use, I've reached the point where I've found the best apps to do all manner of things. I don't even carry a laptop anymore when I travel. I simply take a small bag of accessories and my iPHONE. The heaviest thing in the bag is a battery which could recharge my gear many times over and keep me going for around a week if necessary. I have reached this point through learning about and acquiring apps. These are typically far cheeper than similar software on my Windows laptop. Combine that with stupendously useful stuff like KNFB Reader for reading print and BlindSquare for getting around, and you begin to see the possibilities for people on lower incomes. It simply doesn't get more portable, affordable and powerful.

Another thing which the appstore makes easier is contacting the developers of apps. As people gain confidence in using Voiceover, they may start experimenting with buying apps which sound like they should be accessible. This is how many happy discoveries of apps which are quite accidentally useable or nearly useable by blind people have been made. In many cases, developers simply need to be contacted and made aware of the need or desire for their app to be made accessible and they'll find a way to do it. King of Dragon Pass is a splendid example of how this can happen. Sadly, other lesss complex games which could have been accessible are not since their developers were unaware of the potential market of blind users. Be polite and make your case. You might just do a big favour for many hundreds of thousands of people.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Kelly and Company Segment 5: Podcasts

Feeling penny-pinched and short on audio entertainment? Ever wish you could have a constantly renewing fountain of interesting stuff to listen to on your iOS device? You absolutely can. The only things it may cost you are storage space on your device and the data used to download episodes. I've enjoyed podcasts for years and have made some fabulous discoveries. They're great for when you don't really want to dig into a book or can't afford to. I download a bunch before a trip so I have lots to listen to.

I've often been surprised at just how much excellent listening gets put out there and completely escapes public notice. One show which attempts to rectify this is Podcast Playlist. Each episode features a number of different podcasts connected by a common theme. The hosts of that show have introduced me to many new favorites. The show itself is also a podcast. Check out a few episodes and get a better idea of what's out there for your listening pleasure. It can be found on CBC Radio or online at:

There's no regulation when it comes to podcasts. Anything goes. Ordinary people can just decide to record podcasts on their computer or smartphone and stick them out there through a podcast hosting company. Some popular podcasts are sponsored or produced by companies as advertising vehicles. It's a very diverse and wide world to explore. Gifted amateurs often attract audiences as large or larger than corporate produced efforts.

To listen to podcasts, you need a podcasts player. There are many good ones in the appstore. Three very popular ones are:

Podcasts: This app is made by Apple. It is available free from the appstore. There are no ads or in-app purchases. It's a very bare bones uncluttered experience. A very good choice for absolute beginners still struggling to get used to operating their iOS devices. There are tabs across the bottom. My Podcasts is on the far left and where you'll find any podcasts you've subscribed to. The "Featured", "Top Charts", and "Search" tabs make it easy to find podcasts you're interested in. There are settings for this app but you need to go into the iOS Settings area and find the Podcasts settings. If space is tight, you can tell the app not to automatically download new episodes so that they won't fill your device storage. Episodes can then be streamed over Wi-Fi or cellular data.

Overcast: This app is very popular and offers more advanced features including speed control and an option called voice boost which clarifies speech. It is free from the appstore but is ad supported. A premium subscription can be paid for which gives additional features and keeps the ads away. Even without paying for this, Overcast is an excellent podcast player. Just be familiar enough with navigating around using Voiceover so the ads don't trip you up. It's not rocket science and you get a far more flexible and powerful podcast player for your troubles.

Downcast: This is my favorite. It costs $3.99 in the appstore. You get everything for that low one-time fee. No ads to worry about. A very rich set of features including the ability to import podcast lists. Look in the "More" tab, you'll find settings, tools, all sorts of help, and other options. Go to the "add" tab to search for and add podcasts. For the most part, I find things are explained quite well in context. Learning what options are available is straight-forward.

All three of these apps are fully accessible to Voiceover users. There are more options out there in the appstore. A new one called Youcast is starting to make waves. Nothing says you can't have more than one podcast player. Just keep in mind that each of them might download any podcasts you subscribed to unless you change the settings for the app so that it doesn't download anything automatically. I use Downcast for my podcast listening needs but also preferred Overcastfor a while before they went heavier on the ads. Each podcast player will have its own approach to things like displaying new podcasts, managing downloads, etc. Find what works best for you.

All podcast player apps will have facilities for finding podcasts. In Downcast, go into the "add" tab. There, you'll find the ability to search for a podcast you might know the name of. You will also find directories of popular podcasts which you can browse and subscribe to any podcasts which interest you. Once you do that, you will be informed of any new episodes of that podcasts. They apps will typically default to the behaviour of downloading the new episodes automatically. If you subscribe to a lot of podcasts, this isn't such a good thing. I have Downcast set to mark all new episodes for streaming. I then simply browse through them and convert the one's I'm interested in to downloads. These are added to my download queue. I then have my settings such that I need to enable the download queue for the episodes tow download. That way, I don't need to have several gigabytes set aside for podcasts I don't end up listening to. Most podcast players have setting to automatically delete older episodes so your device doesn't get filled to the brim.

There's so much good audio made available in podcast form that it boggles the brain. I'll never run out of new ones to try. Much like beer in that regard. There are only so many hours to listen in a day though. I subscribe to around 100 podcasts and will comb through new episodes when I want something interesting to hear. Other people simply subscribe to a low enough number of podcasts that they can listen in order or make playlists to hear and keep up with them all. They're all free for the taking.

To help you get started, I've listed some podcasts below which I quite like. Just type the name of the podcast into the search field of your podcast app of choice and you should be able to subscribe and tune in. As new episodes get released, your podcast player can keep you informed. Take the time to learn options and settings the available in the app you've chosen. The time spent pays off as your lisetning priorities and circumstances change. Some great podcasts to start with are:

The Dinner Party Download: A fun informative podcast modeled on the structure of a dinner party. Jokes, etiquette tips, interesting guests, etc. They once had the actors who played Geordy from Star Trek TNG and Gandalf from the LOTR movies as guests. Awesome!!!

Spark: This CBC radio show, like many others, is also available in podcast form. Spark discusses technology and how it efects society. It has been on air for around a decade and has maintained a very high standard of quality. If you want to understand technology and how it might impact your life, tune into this one.

Snap Judgement: Glynn Washington and crew provide thematically linked interesting stories both real and fictional. They've kept the podcast going for around 7 years and there are hundreds of hours of well-produced and curated stories. They have some great special episodes including Spook specials around Halloween and other holiday specials. Shows have a theme which links the stories they contain.

The Applevis Podcast: This branch of the Applevis web site and community offers audio demonstrations and tutorials produced by community members for blind users of Apple products. Stay up to date with this podcasts and you'll be well informed about accessible apps and know how to get the most from your Apple gear. This can be very useful and motivating for beginners who may find navigating web sites and documents to be harder as they get used to Voiceover.

The Overnightscape: A favorite of mine, you just never know what Frank will get into. Frank Edward Nora records his thoughts on all sorts of pop culture and other aspects of life while travelling through New York or other places. Lots of things are described as he encounters them. He sometimes meets up with friends and family who join in the adventure. At the end of episodes is a section called The Other Side where you'll find independentmusic or publically available sounds from the present and past. A most interesting listening experience. Be aware that this podcast is relatively large and usually spans around two hours per episode.

Good Job Brain: A show for trivia buffs where a group of friends dig into all things fascinating. These friends get together each week for pub trivia and have kept the podcast going past 198 episodes.