Until a couple months ago, I had been using an iPhone as my main phone. I purchased my first iPhone in 2011. Since then, I have tried Android tablets briefly then went back to using my iPhone and iPad because I did not like the experience. For those that do not know, VoiceOver is the screen reader for iPhones and TalkBack is the screen reader for Android phones. For one thing, the gestures for TalkBack seemed really weird to me. You needed to use these gestures called angle gestures in order to read the screen by word, line or character. By angle gestures, I mean that you needed to do things such as swipe up then right or up then left in one gesture. I could never do that consistantly. For another thing, TalkBack was not always responsive enough. For example, when I tried to read posts on Facebook using TalkBack, I would swipe to the right to go to the next post. After I swiped, I would need to wait a few seconds for TalkBack to start reading the post. On iOS using VoiceOver, the post would start reading immediately. That may seem minor, but that was just one example.
Since I am a technology instructor and because I like keeping up with technology, I am on several different technology email lists. As a result, I read several emails about improvements to TalkBack. Since I was curious enough to try it out, I decided to use some of my stimulous check to purchase a Google Pixel. One of these improvements is that on Google Pixel and some Samsung phones, the latest version of TalkBack now supports multi-finger gestures. Yahoo, no more need to use those angle gestures that I had trouble with. Don’t worry, if you have been using TalkBack for a long time, you can still use the angle gestures if you want. Some gestures are even similar to VoiceOver on iOS. Do you need TalkBack to stop talking? Tap on the screen one time with two fingers just like on iOS with VoiceOver. Do you want to stop audio from playing? If you use VoiceOver on iOS, you already know this gesture. Double-tap with two fingers. I can answer the phone by flicking up with two fingers. If I need to review text on the screen, I can flick up or down with three fingers to set TalkBack to move by word, character, line, ETC. If you are on a web page, this also includes links and headings. Then I can flick up or down with one finger to move by that amount. If you are a VoiceOver user on iOS, you can think of this as TalkBack’s version of the rotor. I cannot remember if the gestures for reviewing the screen are the default gestures or if I customized them. If you are using TalkBack, you can find out the gestures by opening Settings on your phone. Go into Accessibility. Go into TalkBack. Go into customize gestures. Also, the first time TalkBack is started on a device, you are given the option to go through a tutorial that teaches you the basics of TalkBack. This is something Apple can learn from Google.
Another improvement is the ability to control TalkBack with your voice. I can double-tap with three fingers then say something like home to go to the Home screen, Notifications to open the Notification Shade or overview to show my list of open apps. The Notification Shade is similar to the Notification Center on iOS. You can think of the Overview as Android’s version of the App Switcher on iOS.
things that need improvement
On iOS devices, braille displays such as my Orbit Reader 20 can be used with VoiceOver to both read text in Braille that one would normally read on the screen and type things such as text messages and email using the Braille keyboard. Android has an app called Brailleback that is supposed to perform similar functions. A few months ago, I tried BrailleBack with my Orbit braille display. I was able to read and review text that was on my phone’s screen; However, when I tried typing using the Braille keyboard, weird things happened. For one thing, when I typed, TalkBack acted like I was deleting instead of typing. For example, if I typed the word dog, TalkBack would say “d deleted” “o deleted” and “g deleted.” What? I was trying to type, not delete. Google, would you please work on the BrailleBack feature? I’m sure some people who are blind and deaf would appreciate it and even some people who just enjoy Braille would appreciate it as well.
On iOS, I can telllllllll SIRI to send a text message to somebody. After that, SIRI will ask me what I want to say. I then tell SIRI what I want to say. Finally, she will read back to me what she heard and ask me if I want to send it. I can say yes, no or change it. That way, if she misunderstood me, I can either change the message or just cancel it. I can also tell the Google Assistant to send a text message by saying something like hey Google, send a text message to Lacy. Google will ask me what I want to say. This is good, but there is one problem. Unlike Siri, Google will not ask me before she sends the message. This might not seem like a big deal, but there are times when it could cause problems. Sometimes my students text me if they need to ask a question or cancel/confirm appointments. What would happen if I told Google to text one of these students and Google misunderstood and put in something off the wall such as a cuss word? Depending on the student’s personality, I could see one of two things happening. I could either apologize and they would not think much of it. On the other hand, they could think I am unprofessional and not want to work with me. As a work around, I actually open the Messages app and send messages that way. Then I can use TalkBack to make sure the message is correct before sending it. This works, but sometimes it would be nice to jusst quickly tell Google to send a message.
Another improvement that could be made is in text selection. When I am editing text, I can select text with TalkBack. It would be nice if I could also select text when I am just reading text from some place such as a web page. One use of tthis would be if I wanted to post part of an article into an email or Facebook post.
Even though I discussed things that could be improved, I am planning to keep using my Google Pixel as my main phone. I am confident that Google can fix the problems discussed above. TalkBack has come a long way since it was first developed. When Android 12 comes out, I plan to do a follow-up post to discuss any improvements made.