GTT Notes for January, 2018: All about Android

Ian opened the meeting. He introduced Shane to talk about Android.

Shane began his talk by discussing the difference between Android and Apple. He disclosed that he typically uses Apple, but trains on Android. The Pixel is his favourite Android phone. He had one, which he passed around. He asked around the room, and only one out of a dozen people are regularly using Android with accessibility.

Shane said what he likes best about Android is the Google Assistant. He finds the voice dictation interface better than Apple. Android is partially open-source, which is one advantage over Apple. Apple tends to be more stable and refined, but Android is catching up quickly. Apple accessibility is still preferable, but Talkback is getting better. The navigation is a bit awkward. A member contributed that getting a Google phone is a good idea because you’ll get updates quicker, this includes the Pixel and the Nexis. Other companies will take longer to push out the updates by a few weeks or so. Another member said he thought that lately, updates are more cosmetic then substantive. Members agreed that the Nexis isn’t in production any more, and that the Pixel is among the most expensive. The Motorola phones are cheaper but still good. Lower-end phones like HTC or OnePlus do work from an accessibility standpoint. Always try to test a phone before you buy it, because you can find a situation where a phone manufacturer has tinkered with something basic like the home screen, and disrupted the accessibility functions.

Talkback, the Android accessibility platform, works in similar ways to Apple’s VoiceOver. The swiping gestures are the same, and Apple rotor functions are accessed by swiping up or down.

There are three types of gestures, back and forth, up and down, and diagonal. If you want the first item on a page, swipe up then down without removing your finger from the screen. There are lists of Android commands available.

There are no screen dot protectors for Android because there are hundreds of different models of phone.

You can set up Google Assistant to respond by voice, by saying “ok Google.” Everyone who had an opinion, agreed that Google’s voice recognition and web searches are much more efficient than Siri. This is particularly relevant for someone with difficulties using a keyboard or making gestures. Siri will display web results, but Google will dictate the information. Another advantage is that Google works off-line.

Jason raised the issue of the Doro phone. It’s an Android phone being marketed by Bell. It has a software overlay that turns it into a much more menu-driven interface. It greatly simplifies the learning curve. The problem is that the company who designed the software is now out of business. This means there will be no updates to the software. It’s worth considering if you’re looking for something simple. It’s particularly useful for seniors. Shane said he has a Doro phone available for later testing if anyone’s interested. Jason said that he’s heard from bell, that they’re not concerned with Claria, the software company being out of business. As far as Bell is concerned, the phone does what they say it will. It’s also true that no matter what phone you have, you’ll probably upgrade it in a few years anyway. It costs about $300 off contract. Blindshell and a few others are similar, but they’re only available in Europe.

Samsung phones have their own built-in voice Assistant, which doesn’t do quite as much as Talkback. It’s good for people transitioning from Apple, because the gestures are more similar to Apple gestures. Voice Assistant also has trouble working with Firefox.

Lazarillo GPS for the Blind, is a GPS ap that’s quite similar to BlindSquare, and works on Android. The difference is it doesn’t support beacons, but it’s free. Nearby Explorer is a paid ap that allows you to download maps, so you can use it without data.

Other aps for Android include Spotify, Youtube, Google Sheets, which is a spreadsheet ap, and many others, which can run on both Android and Apple.

Iris Vision is a pair of Samsung goggles that low-vision people can use to magnify things or bring things like signs closer. It’s a much cheaper option than something like E-Sight. It uses the Android phone as its basis. Because Android is open-source, it’s more adaptable for innovation. Developers will often start with Android for this reason. Apple has a lot of restrictions on what you can do with their hardware.

Be My Eyes, and KNFB Reader are available on Android. The Seeing AI people say that it will eventually be available on Android, but they won’t say when.

A member clarified that Android is the name of the operating system, equal to Apple IOS. As software, it can run on any phone that isn’t an Apple. It’s the phone equivalent of Windows; it can run on many platforms.

Another advantage of Android is that, as well as the phones being cheaper, they’re also more flexible in terms of replacing batteries, having an SD card etc.. It gives you more choice about your hardware.

As a trainer, Shane approaches clients with the question, “What problems do you have that technology can solve?” Google Assistant can often offer solutions.

You can do wireless file transfers to Android phones, mediated by various aps. With Apple phones, you’re restricted to using iTunes.

You can swap sim cards between Apple and Android phones.

The topic was raised of the difference between Seeing AI, and Be My Eyes. Be My Eyes puts you in touch with a real person who will look through your camera and give you information. Seeing AI uses optical character recognition to give you text to speech. Be My Eyes works on both platforms; Seeing AI is only available on Apple.

A few years ago, Apple was way out in front where accessibility is concerned, but that’s not true any more. The playing field is much closer to level now. In general though, Android does require more tinkering or configuring to make it work the way you want it to. The National Braille Press has a very good book on Android.

Out of the box, with many Android phones, you can turn the phone on, hold two fingers on the screen for about five seconds, and Talkback will turn on.

A member contributed that, world-wide, 85% of all phones are Android. is all about Android accessibility. It’s a good resource for researching models of phones.

Another advantage of Android is that you can keep an older operating system and just update aps as you go. Apple aps will almost always say you have to have the latest version of the OS.