My comments on the Braille Monitor Article concerning the iPhone

the June 2014 edition of the Braille Monitor contained an article by Curtis Chong titled Knowing what Is Good about the iPhone and What is Not.
I was intrigued by the title. I have to admit that I’ve become quite the Apple fanboy of late and I would have a very difficult time in coming up with a list of ten objections or things which are “not good” about the iPhone. In fact, I’m having a very difficult time in coming up with a list of one or two things which are “not good” about the iPhone. However, no product is perfect and I can handle objectively written product evaluations. Unfortunately, this article was not one of them. I’m going to reprint each of the objections stated by Mr. Chong in their entirety, with my comments below each objection.

What Is Not Good About The iPhone
1. If you don’t want to pay for a data plan, the iPhone has no option for that. A data plan will cost you about twenty dollars a month. You need a data plan for the iPhone to be able to communicate over the Internet.

Response: you need to pay for a monthly plan to get anything on the Internet. If a consumer already has an Internet connection in his home, he can buy an iPod Touch or an iPad. These devices run iOS and don’t require an additional monthly data plan. The fact is that any computer or device that accesses the Internet is usually going to require you to pay for some sort of access plan.

2. It is very inefficient to make a simple phone call with the iPhone, particularly if you don’t have a person in your contacts list. You can dial a phone number that you know much more quickly with a keypad that has real, physical buttons.

Response: not at all. You can simply press the home button and command siri to call any number, such as saying “call 302 555-1212.” That’s hardly what I’d call inefficient. Also, a consumer can order screen protectors from Speeddots containing tactile keyboard overlays.
Finally, the rivo keyboard, while insanely expensive, gives you a keypad allowing for quick telephone entry and it also provides keyboard commands which let you control many other functions of the iPhone.

3. On the iPhone touch typing for texting and email is very slow as compared to a regular keyboard; this has been somewhat mitigated by Braille apps, of which there are now two. However, you should know that research has shown that, on average, a blind person entering data using the touch-screen QWERTY keyboard is writing at about three words per minute. By contrast, users of the built-in Braille apps have been clocked at around 23 words per minute.

response: you can use any number of Bluetooth keyboards if you want to compose a lengthy email or text message. For short text messages, composing one is as quick as dictating the text to Siri, just as you can use your voice to place a call. Also, if you adjust the rotor to touch typing mode, you might be surprised at how quickly you can find the correct characters by visualizing the layout of the QWERTY keyboard, without doing much fumbling. It takes some practice but gaining proficiency with any skill usually does.

4. The iPhone is very much a technology requiring good hand-ear coordination. People who want real buttons that they can operate silently by touch will be very disappointed in the iPhone.

As I stated in a previous response, you can purchase affordable tactile overlays from Speeddots. Besides, in the section in the article covering the iPhone’s strengths, it is stated correctly that the iPhone demonstrates, with a properly designed user interface, that blind people can successfully operate a touchscreen.

5. Battery life for the iPhone is still an issue. You have to charge it at least once a day—a lot more if you use GPS.

Response: yes, I long for the days when products like the Braille ‘n Speak could give us 30 hours of battery life from one charge. However, this is a non-issue. During the day, I connect my iPhone to my computer’s USB port and when I get home I connect it to my computer for a few hours before going to bed. Turning off Bluetooth, if you’re not using that service, and turning your screen brightness down to zero percent will do a lot to save battery life. Besides, it’s not exactly a major inconvenience to plug the thing into a computer or a wall outlet every night.

6. The iPhone is not small. It is bigger than a lot of flip phones.

response: are you serious? Really, are you kidding me? My wife’s Motorola Droid Ultra has a wider form factor. The iPhone fits very comfortably in one hand. I mean, we’re not talking about a device like an iPad or a Kindle 8.9 HDX.

7. For a lot of people the iPhone is a lot more technology than they want. It is not for someone who just wants a phone to make and receive calls.

response: true, but once blind people discover that the iPhone can act as their digital book player, restaurant menu reader, Web browser, email client, money identifier, barcode scanner, radio tuner, game player and object recognizer they might just want to use it for more than just making and receiving phone calls.

8. The iPhone is not cheap. Even with a two-year contract, the basic unit can cost $200. The full retail price of the iPhone is approximately $650.

I received my iPhone 5C, 32 GB version, for free if I agreed to sign a two-year contract with Verizon, which I was more than happy to do. Admittedly, that particular deal expired on March 31 of this year but I have heard that at least one other carrier was offering a similar deal. It is likely that consumers who do a bit of searching will be able to acquire an iPhone for a fraction of the actual cost if they are willing to sign a contract with the carrier.

9. First-time users of the iPhone have reported initial frustration with this powerful technology. It is not uncommon for these people to feel as if they want to throw the phone away during the first month. Answering calls and hanging up calls seem to be two particularly difficult problems for beginning iPhone users.

Response: does this mean we shouldn’t recommend JAWS or NVDA to some consumers who are new to Windows because we can find a percentage of users who experienced frustration with their screen reader during the first few weeks or months of use. It is common for people to find a new piece of hardware or software frustrating or difficult to use when they’re first learning how to use the product. Yes, using a product with a touchscreen is a very different way of interacting with a device and frustration can occur. This is true, by the way, with sighted consumers as well as blind consumers so this really is a very silly objection.

10. The iPhone requires a fair amount of dexterity and the ability to tap quickly. People who have motor issues or poor dexterity will likely not benefit from this technology.

Response: I don’t believe this is correct. I’m no expert on this but I remember reading about how the iPhone can be adapted for consumers with difficulties with hand movement.

First, I’d like to point out that my concerns about Mr. Chong’s piece have nothing to do with the NFB as an organization. In fact, I highly recommend the NFB Assistive Technology blog. Amy Mason and Clara Van Gervin write product reviews which are well-written and accurate and these evaluators clearly know their stuff when it comes to how to properly assess the pros and cons of a particular product.
Also, I acknowledge that Mr. Chong compiled a list of many advantages of owning an iPhone; I was amused that he listed that one of them was that NFB Newsline was available as an app. However, I found this list of things which were “not good” to be misleading and an example of irresponsible journalism. Mr. Chong is entitled to his opinions. However, the NFB is a very influential organization and many of its members as well as readers of the Braille Monitor take these articles very seriously because they are being published by a well-known and well-respected organization which claims to represent the visually impaired. I am concerned that this article could convince many blind people, as well as friends and family members who support them, that the iPhone will not be a good product for them. This is tragic, as it could potentially be responsible for deterring blind consumers from enjoying a device whose functionality is unmatched by any competitor. It is my sincere hope that Mr. Chong would examine the validity or lack thereof of the objections which he states in his article and that he would consider writing a follow-up piece to correct these statements.

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10 thoughts on “My comments on the Braille Monitor Article concerning the iPhone

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with your comments here. I’m just a tad incredulous about the article. It makes me feel as if I went through a time warp. No mention of tablets, WiFi, or dictation. Very odd and a bit unsettling

  2. Hi, Teresa.
    Thanks so much for your comment. I’m actually surprised that the piece made it past the editor’s desk and was approved for publication. I plan to submit my response to the Monitor and it is my hope they’ll publish it. For me, this is not about the NFB or even the Braille Monitor as a magazine but about the impressions this piece is going to leave with consumers who don’t know much about the iPhone.

    • All I will say is that I’m really glad you wrote this! Mr Chong is New Mexico’s problem now. I find it interesting that NFB doesn’t understand that Mr Chong needs to stick a fork in himself and turn over, he is done.

  3. hi. I’m amazed at the original article. it was so bad, it had me half laughing in shock, and half wanting to give this person a modern, up to date iPhone, and get them to try all their things again, and see how they went. as I posted on twitter about one of the points earlier, was this article written based on the iPhone 3gs? rofl. very sad that something like this was even put out there. and as for one of the points / responses, about motor disabled people having problems with iPhone’s, you are totally correct, this is, of course, rubbish. utter, rubbish. the iPhone isn’t just the most accessible for blind / VI users. its the most accessible device out there, for all walks of life, and all abilities / disabilities. it has accessibility functions for just about everything you can think of. deaf, blind, motor control, so on, and so forth. and apple is adding to the list of accessibility features, on an almost yearly schedule.
    I mean, for example, there is a young boy in hospital somewhere, I think in America, who can only move a finger slightly to operate things. and when he was given an iPad, he could suddenly access a hole huge new world of computing, he, nore his parents, thought he’d ever have. thanks to apple’s work in accessibility. you never, ever, ever! see stories like that coming out, about android phones. not one!.

    I must thank you for putting together this response to this sad bit of writing. good on you.

  4. Reading this piece, meaning the brailleMonitor article, makes me think the writer himself is an iPhone newcomer. Either this, or he has not kept up with current technologies at all. For one, I am very curious where he got the statistic of blind people writing about 3 words per minute. Yes, I certainly admit typing on a nokia phone is a lot quicker than typing ona touch screen. This is and will always be one of the primary annoyances I have with any touch-based input device. However, three words per minute is pushing it quite a bit. I am quite sure I can at least write about five times as fast on my iPhone. It’s funny he mentions hand-ear coordination, because I really think that is mainly the case with typing and dialing phone numbers. Is anyone else starting to see a pattern here? I think the writer has a rather bad sense of spacial awareness and his visualisation skills are not all that great. This is not something he can help per se, but he is clearly mirroring his own experiences onto other people. ‘Research has shown’? No, you yourself have shown.

    • I know I type on my touch screen faster than three words a minute. I think it’s more like ten. I’m sure glad I learned to touch-type, or the keyboard would be impossible for me to use without a lot of practice.

  5. David, absolutely fantastic response and I hope you truly will submit it to the Monitor. I definitely checkled at the mention of a flip phone, a flip phone? I haven’t seen one of those in years, not since my ancient Nokia N75 which has been off the market for many years. I’d also love to see the supposed study claiming three words per minute — I’m hardly the fastest typist using the iPhone’s standard keyboard, but I’m pretty sure I can beat three words per minute. I could definitely go on and on, but suffice it to say, thank you, thank you for taking the time to put this response together.

  6. I’d like to thank all of you who have responded so favorably to this post. I will be honest and admit that there are some on the ViPhone list who disagreed with my assessment of Mr. Chong’s piece and who raised some interesting points. I appreciate their views and their perspective. I have submitted my comments in this post to Gary Wunder, editor of the Braille Monitor. I have informed him that I am open to having my comments published in a future edition of the Braille Monitor, if he feels that doing so would be appropriate. I will keep all of you posted.

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