Precisely typing the tiny screen of the Apple Watch has certain fundamental difficulties, but for some people with disabilities it is really impossible. Apple fixed this with a new mode called Assistive Touch, which recognizes hand gestures to control a cursor and navigate that way.
The feature was announced as part of a collection of accessible additions for all products, but Assistive Touch appears to be the one most likely to create a splash in the company’s user base.
It relies on the built-in gyroscope and accelerometer, as well as data from the heart rate sensor to infer the position of the wrist and hand. Don’t expect it to tell a peace sign apart from a metal sign just yet, but for now it recognizes “pinch” (touching the thumb with the forefinger) and “ball” (make a loose fist), which can serve as basic actions “Next.” “and” Confirm “. Incoming calls can be answered quickly with a clench, for example.
Most impressive, however, is the motion pointer. You can activate it either by selecting it from the Assistive Touch menu or by vigorously shaking your wrist. It then detects the position of your hand as you move it and allows you to “swipe” by letting the cursor dwell on the edge of the screen or interacting with a pinch or pressure on things.
Of course, this can be extremely helpful for anyone who only has one hand to interact with the watch. And even for those who don’t necessarily need it, the ability to keep a hand on the exercise machine, stick, or whatever while doing smartwatch things is certainly an attractive option. (One wonders about the potential of this control method as a cursor for other platforms too …)
Assistive Touch is just one of many accessibility updates Apple released in this press release. Other advances for the company’s platforms include:
- SignTime, a video call for ASL interpreters for visits and support at the Apple Store
- Support for new hearing aids
- Improved VoiceOver-based exploration of images
- A built-in background noise generator (which I really want to use)
- Replacing certain keys with non-verbal mouth sounds (for people with limited speech and mobility)
- Memoji adjustments for those with oxygen tubing, cochlear implants, and soft helmets
- Selected media in the App Store, Apple TV, books and map apps by or for people with disabilities
Everything revolves around Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which will take place tomorrow, May 20th.