There were a lot of people watching Apple announce its new smartwatch today. Among them was Michael Hansen, a college student in Indiana, a self-described Apple fan, and part of the team that runs AppleVis, a news and forums site for blind and low-vision Apple users. While there are certainly those who prefer Windows and Android devices, Apple is widely considered the leader in designing accessible gadgets for users with visual impairment. It’s a position that Apple has held since the company launched the iPhone 3GS with VoiceOver in 2009, a feature now built into all Apple products that reads what’s on the screen for users. As Hansen, who is blind, explains, “All of the system apps, everything that’s built in, is accessible by default.” (Not everyone loves this lack of competition, of course.)
Pacific Standard decided to check in on how Hansen and AppleVis were feeling about the watch. The following conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How did AppleVis cover the launch?
We watched the stream on the Apple website. I did the live Tweets on what I was hearing in the stream. Another member of our team retweeted things from other Apple sources: MacRumors.com, 9to5Mac. Those were folks who were actually there.
Because the team is made up of just volunteers, I assume you don’t have funding to go to an Apple event.
No, we rely on donations from the user base. We don’t have external partnerships, which helps us stay independent.
I’d certainly love to see an Apple event in person.
How are people feeling on Twitter and on AppleVis?
I think that, generally, people in the blind community are optimistic. That’s even without knowing what’s accessible. On Twitter, the discussion is that this could have huge potential for GPS. There are GPS apps out there that provide turn-by-turn directions. If you could have those turn-by-turn directions piped directly into your watch, that would be really cool.
Can you even tell yet if the Apple Watch will be accessible to low-vision and blind users?
Unfortunately, we don’t know very much yet. Are you going to be able to use the zoom features? Other low-vision features? During the keynote, they talked about changing the watch faces. Might there be watch faces that are better for low-vision users?
I would love to see Apple Watch be fully accessible with VoiceOver. [Editor’s Note: Many sites specializing in Apple news and leaks have reported the watch will have VoiceOver, but Apple has not addressed that in official literature.]
The 95 percent guess is yes, it’s going to be accessible, based on everything else Apple has done, but we don’t know for sure.
Will the smaller screen be a problem?
The small nature of the screen could definitely be a concern, more for users with low vision [than users who are blind]. Would the magnification features—this is assuming Apple has accessibility—work on the small screen?
My concern, as a VoiceOver user, will be just in terms of, “Can I navigate it with one finger and do all the gestures?” But if people can use it—if it’s made for an average-size hand—generally, a VoiceOver user would be able to use it, as well.
Why would you want an Apple Watch when you already have an iPhone?
Just as early as this morning, I was saying, “I don’t really know why I would want one.” Then I was listening to the event and I was thinking, “Oh, my goodness, I think I do want one.” Having the notifications on your wrist, being able to check your emails without having to take the phone out of your pocket.