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global call to label buttons plus an update on using a bottom-end Android phone with TalkBack

July 29, 2014

_Beginning_
I left behind my keypad based phone (Nokia C5) over two months ago and happy to say I’m doing fine on a touch screen device with not a physical button in sight except for the on off and volume up and down, which by the way also moves the cursor focus forward and back by a character at a time when in edit boxes! Well, depends on the edit box, it works on some and not on others although i cannot remember which now. This isn’t one of those fancy technical postings by the way where you can learn facts and figures it’s just my gut reactions.

_Middle_
More on my gut reactions:

Android KitKat speaking voice is a victory design – i actually love it not just like it or put up with it – it’s not scratchy or digital sounding like on the iPhone voice and she just sounds on the right side of informative and enthusiastic and it’s rare she lets me down. I think this is “the benchmark voice” for a handheld mobile device if anyone else agrees let me know!

The tactile feedback is also a victory for anyone who benefits or even just likes sensory input on a physical level as well as an auditory level. I really miss it now on my Nexus7 tablet and find myself scrubbing around much more tediously for buttons compared to the MotoE phone.

I like and need to use my mobile as a mobile – not just a standing still phone – and the combo of clear voice on the Android KitKat operating system with the tactile feedback has, in many situations, now met my other benchmark of using my mobile on the move.

Interesting observation: for sighted people who stare at their phones as they walk along and therefore render themselves temporarily partially sighted and bump into other people I’m happy to say this does not happen to me despite being officially visually impaired! i have discovered that the spatial bit of my brain isn’t disrupted by interacting with this touch screen phone (spatial interface) as I’m navigating along compared with my previous button based Nokia C5 (conventional tab order interface), i think it’s because operating key presses and a tab order style interface uses a different part of the brain and therefore conflicts with walking along. This is something i wasn’t expecting but i do think the tactile feedback is the key factor because i did not discover this effect with an iPhone which has no tactile feedback.

I have activated the so called ‘experimental single tap’ function which i never really understood what it did and still don’t but assume it means when i reach the button or link or item i want i can just lift my finger off very slightly and tap down just once at that precise point on the surface and that activates it. If this is how it is working then i commend it because it’s led to me interacting much more spatially with the X Y layout and freed me from swiping to reach controls (with no idea where they are located on the screen) which is in effect just a tab order way of using the phone. I now find my muscle memory remembering where controls are on the surface in lots of different applications and my speed of interaction has increased hugely. In fact, on applications i use a lot, i am now moving perhaps nearly as deftly as a sighted person (for whom all this interface stuff is heavily design and obviously optimised). I’m not getting to excited though, as soon as my interaction speed goes up on familiar aps i find myself getting even more frustrated with less familiar aps.

_End and a global call to action!_
Surviving and suffering far too many problems some of which are ridiculously basic. Let’s focus on one – the sheer number of unlabelled buttons on third party aps is a scandal and even Google creations are littered with them. The BBC MediaPlayer seems to have not a single button even present let alone labelled i really don’t understand what’s going on there at all. This is really poor and maybe proves no one is checking or testing their creations with TalkBack – if they are why are they not noticing this massive problem?

Labelling buttons isn’t about sticking to rules or boring ideas like that, this is about companies who are creating really interesting and often brilliant things, actually living the dream, but if the only dream they are living is their own, and sticking signs on the doors with no text, then that’s not in the long run going to unlock the doors so everyone can join the fun.

I’m going to conclude this posting with a simple global call to action – test what you create with TalkBack to make sure you’ve added decent text labels on all of the buttons and controls – it is easy to do. Here’s how: activate TalkBack and explore by touch on your device (built in and free of charge) – then sit back, watch the TV if you want, and listen as you explore your ap. Identify and fix buttons which Talk Back says “button 51” or whatever number it is. This is an unlabelled button. If it’s a Play button or close and go back button, label it as Play or Go back! For those buttons with a symbol or other marker that is supposed to make sense to everybody (but often doesn’t) at least give it a text label that communicates the symbol on that button, if it’s an X or a left arrow, add X or Left Arrow as the text label.

Time please! You are a busy person i know, but every unlabelled button affects other busy people too and the upside is every time you make a button accessible by labelling it you are opening that door to someone who might be sitting next to you on the tube the very next day, hoping to use your creation, and you’ll be directly saving them time and confusion and making their day a good one rather than a tedious one. So it’s worth it! Do it! It’s a bit like a suspended coffee, you’ll never drink it, but you know how good coffee is when you do and you are passing that joy onto a fellow citizen.

Thanks for the label!

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