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How Apple’s commitment to accessibility is triggering innovation

Nandagopal Rajan
Apple s focus on accessibility seems to have inspired its community of developers, too, especially the younger ones.

Apple s World Wide Developer conference this year was a mixed bag. As always, there were so many announcements that it took a while to take it all in. However, a couple of trends were clear: one, Apple wanted to grow each vertical like the Apple Watch and iPad separately within its larger ecosystem and; two, there was going to be another big push towards accessibility across its devices.

With its new MacOS Catalina, you will be able to literally get things done and navigate around the computer using just simple voice commands. Apple has even split the screen into grids to help users selects areas which otherwise don t have buttons, like in case of a map. The whole experience was mind blowing, and looking at it from the perspective of someone with motor disabilities the feature would be game changing, and of course so empowering.

Apple s focus on accessibility seems to have inspired its community of developers, too, especially the younger ones. Palash Tarneja, a student of DPS Rohini in Delhi, was among the select few who got to present their ideas to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Tarneja s creation is a software that translates the audio on YouTube videos in realtime. My idea was about linguistic accessibility by translating YouTube videos into the native language of the user, he says, adding how this will be especially useful in terms of educational content. He (Cook) said it was a fantastic idea and he will look into it. Chennai s Sudarshan Sreeram s project this time was a Swift Playground called Amaze. It s a simple game where you have to navigate your way around a maze within a time limit and collect stuff on the way.

But the catch is that each time you reach a collectible, your direction symbols flip, explains Sreeram, adding that the idea was to ensure that toddlers for whom the game is meant don t become habituated to the movements. The game also comes with features that make it accessible for those with colour blindness and even low motor skills. His next project will be to help dyslexics.

Apple, meanwhile, is trying to de-hyphenate its products from each other. The Apple Watch, for instance, will now be able to run apps independently, and will not require the iPhone. There will even be an App Store of its own, on the watch. iPad too pulls itself away from the iPhone. The tablet now gets an operating system of its own with very tablet-centric user interface, though based on iOS. The iPadOS will offer multi-tasking and multi-window capabilties along with keyword commands, intuitive gestures and even files folders like on the Mac. Plus, Safari on iPad will offer desktop-type browsing and won t load mobile pages. It seems Apple Park clearly sees the iPad as a bridge-device, a computer for those who don t want to use a larger form factor or can t afford one.

The Mac will, with its next OS upgrade, come even closer to the mobile world. There will be more apps that will run here, like Music, Podcasts and Radio as Apple kills of its iTunes platform. Then, Apple has done something unique with a feature called Sidecar that lets Mac users add the iPad as a new input device. This helps them be more creative with a host of software they would run on their computers, tapping in on the Apple Pencil s capabilities.

With the latest edition of WWDC, Apple has reiterated its commitment to accessibility, again, not limiting itself to just those who can t hear well or see clearly. This is unique for a smartphone company, but also an acknowledgment that this could be a big user base to tap into. In the process, it is also triggering innovation around accessibility within its large developer community. In an Apple world, tech will be a facilitator for those who otherwise find themselves stuck behind a virtual barrier.

The author is in San Jose on the invite of Apple