The Blind Android
This post is to reflect on what can be gained by using Android, as opposed to iOS. My previous post, My Dear Android talked a little about this, but I wanted to go into further detail here.
USB-C has won
I have a lot of accessories, for computers and phones. I have a game controller, which uses Micro USB, but if you buy it now, it'll likely come with USB-C. I have a game controller for a phone, which uses USB-C. I have a Braille display, which uses USB-C. In fact, I'd say just about every modern Braille display uses USB-C. I have USB-C earbuds. All of these technologies use USB-C or can be made to use it with a dongle.
When I use an iPhone, any iPhone today, I have to put all these accessories through a dongle. I don't have a USB-C to Lightning dongle yet, but I do have a Lightning to USB A one. So, whenever I want to plug in, say, a USB-C Flash drive, I can't. I can't plug in my USB-C earbuds into the iPhone. Now, are their dongles for this? Sure. But why deal with that. USB-C has won, soundly, over Lightning. Lightning was always going to be a closed, Apple-only system. No one likes non-standard junk.
Audio and standards
As mentioned in another article, I have a pair of Sony LinkBuds S. These are a pair of truly wireless earbuds that have noise-canceling, transparency mode, integration with Google Assistant and Alexa, integrate with Spotify and Endel, and sound fantastic. When I used them with my iPhone, which has Bluetooth 5.0 (which the newest iPhone SE 2022 also has), the lag was just too much to deal with. When I use them with Android, the lag is noticeable, yes, but much less, and much easier to deal with. This really pushed me back to Android. With iPhone, I would have to get all Apple products to have the best experience. I would need to get the new AirPods or AirPods Pro. I would need an Apple Watch. I would need a Mac. With Android, interoperability means I can get any Android-supported accessories, and they would work just fine.
Another difference between the two ecosystems is that Google Assistant readily works with the LinkBuds S. Assistant reads incoming messages, reads notifications, and does just about everything one can do with the Pixel Buds pro. On iPhone, there is no way to get Siri to automatically read new notification unless you have a pair of AirPods. Seeing this, Android works with many more accessory types, not just in a basic way, but supporting them to their fullest potential.
Also, did I mention the Bluetooth codecs? In Android, several phones have 3 or more different codecs, to support the widest range of audio types. On iPhone, there's just SBC, the lowest quality codec that must be supported, and AAC, Apple's own codec. No APTX, no LDAC, no LC3. So, even if you get an expensive pair of headphones that supports APTX low latency audio, you won't get that support on an iPhone. To be fair, some Android phones don't support APTX either, but on Android, you have that choice of phones. On iPhone, you don't.
Works with Windows and Chromebooks
If you use your computer a lot, you may want to text with it. If you're blind, chances are that you have a Windows PC. Well, iPhone works exclusively with Mac computers, so you can't text from your PC, or make calls from your PC, or control your phone from your PC. Oh yeah, you can't control your iPhone from your Mac either. Anyway, you can do all this from a Windows computer. If you use Google Messages, you can even read and send texts from the web, using your phone and phone number. As an added bonus, the Messages for Web page is very accessible, and has keyboard commands for navigating to the conversations list or messages list.
This gives me the freedom to do what I want, from whatever device I'm on. I don't have to switch contexts from my computer, to my phone, just to send a text, or read a text. I can just open Messages for Web, and do everything there.
Are you a Developer?
How much do you think you'll save if you didn't have to pay $100 per year? That's how much it costs to have an app on the Apple App Store. If you're a blind developer, you may be paying for JAWS every year too, so that's $200 a year, just to make great apps for iPhone. Along with all that, you have to deal with the sometimes frustrating experience of not only using a Mac, but developing on it, in Xcode. Now, you may be using a framework like React Native, or Beeware for Python, where you don't have to code in Swift, or touch Xcode all that much. If so, that probably cuts down on a lot of stress. But you still have to spend money just to keep your app on the App Store.
Accessibility, the mixed bag
Now we get into the thing I'm all about, accessibility. If you use apps like Telegram, DoorDash, Messenger, YouTube, and others, you may find that they don't work as well as they should on iPhones. YouTube, just recently, gained a bug where you can't go passed the third or so item in the home tab. Android doesn't have that problem. DoorDash has reviews in the middle of their menus, and tells you the time the delivery will reach you, not the estimated time in minutes as it does on Android. In Telegram on the iPhone, if you have a message that covers more than the screen height, VoiceOver will not navigate to the next message until you scroll forward. On Android, TalkBack will eventually reach the next message, and will not get stuck.
This shows, to me at least, a slice of something strange. Android seems to have more of a flexible accessibility framework, allowing for code to tell more of the story than visuals. On iPhone, VoiceOver doesn't look passed the current screen of content, or the cross-platform framework doesn't tell VoiceOver about it, but does tell Android and lets TalkBack navigate to it. However the code works, it results in a worse experience on iPhone, and a better one on Android. I can't argue with results.
Now, for image descriptions. I do miss them, being on Android. But, I'm sure Google is working on them, with its testers. After all, TalkBack can describe text, and icons now. And it does that very well. So, I'm sure they'll get image descriptions down in maybe a year. In the meantime, I still have an iPhone, Lookout, Bixby Vision, and Envision to hold me over until then.
I'm also hoping Google works on audible graphs, as that's pretty helpful. I could see them integrating that with image descriptions to describe graphical graphs, which iOS doesn't do yet.
Now, for Braille, things have improved. I grabbed a Focus 14 to work with, and find that I can use my phone with Braille support for about 30 minutes, without growing tired of it. One really nice thing that TalkBack does is focus management. So, if you leave an app, then come back to it, focus will remain at the spot that you left it. So, if you're reading a Reddit thread in RedReader, and you go to Messenger to read and reply to a message, when you come back to Redreader, your focus will be on the exact comment you left it on. I don't recall that ever happening on the iPhone.
Mostly, it's a very good start of Android's new Braille implementation. One that, even though it's new, is very stable, and all commands work fine. There isn't the issue of HID-based displays on iOS, where you cannot assign the “enable autoscroll” command and such. Input works great, and there is no time when the input process gets stuck, and you have to press the “translate” command several times to plunge it out.
After spending a week with iPhone, I'm back on Android. Yes, I'm looking forward to greater accessibility, like image descriptions, Braille improvements, and audible graphs and charts, but I also love what Android is right now. Android is open, allows for greater innovation by developers, allows accessory manufacturers to create great, integrated experiences, and in quite a few cases, is even more accessible than the iPhone.
Android also allows one to use many of its services from a Windows computer, which is more popular in the blind community than Macs. This allows the user to stay in the same context, without needing to pull out a phone just to check a text. One can also make calls and control their Android phone from a PC.
In closing, thanks for reading this article, in my journey with Android and iPhone. I know I'm not done with this, and as the two operating systems grow and age, things will change, on either Android or iOS' side. Feel free to subscribe to my blog, or leave comments.
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