Here at Broadened Horizons, we view ourselves as a company and culture dedicated to meeting the needs of our community, and making accessibility an option for all no matter what your preference or ability. In our office we have employees using Mac or Windows based systems, based on their preference or sometimes both simultaneously if there is a need. We also have team members with iOS devices and/or Android devices. Our culture reflects the diversity of opinion of our community; each is loyal to their brand and preference, even though this may cause unique and differing challenges for a user with upper extremity limitations. As the fall and holiday shopping season gets into full swing, and new devices are released for the tech hungry consumer, I’d like to take a look at the flavor of the month from our friends at Apple, Inc. Recently, I purchased the 11.6” Macbook Air, upgraded to their latest operating system Mountain Lion OS 10.8, purchased the newest release of Nuance’s Dragon Dictate software, and upgraded my iPhone 4S running iOS 5 to a brand new iPhone 5 with their latest operating system iOS 6. I wanted to take a look at how someone in the Broadened Horizons community can get the most out of their Mac experience.
Part 1: 11.6” Macbook Air 2012 running OS 10.8 Mountain Lion (using the RoboArm Mount and QuadMouse controller) As someone who is on the go, I wanted something that is powerful and highly portable. This is a full-featured laptop, which is incredibly lightweight. Once switched on it boots up at an incredibly fast speed, and apps load much more quickly than I am even used to. Using the RoboArm mounting system, the MacBook Air can be held firmly in place for long periods of time whether still or in motion without worry of damage from an accidental fall. The battery life is good; I’ve seen other computers with a longer lasting battery but none as portable and light. The worst part of the MacBook Air is the aluminum case. It is prone to scratches, especially in the process of transferring it onto the mount if not handled with care. I would suggest getting one of the third party skins available to protect the shell. For persons with upper extremity limitations I recommend using the QuadMouse as a mouse interface. The QuadMouse is plug and play with Mac, and the adjustable speed controls allow flexibility and ease. If I am just surfing the web I will set the speed faster to quickly move around the screen and click. If I am working on photo editing or design I can set the speed slower and hive pixel perfect precision and control. The screen resolution is excellent, although glad can be an issue in certain light, Overall, any concerns I had about the 11.6” screen size being too small are completely gone.
Mountain Lion (10.8.x) like every Mac Operating system is a user friendly easy to operate interface that has a hefty amount of features. In terms of Accessibility it still leaves much to be desired, but with some third party software and hardware you can work and play with the best. This newest OS incorporates many of its new features from popular features of Apple’s mobile operating system. Now you can find Notes, Reminders, and iMessage, as well as a Siri-esque Dictation app. Mountain Lion also delivers support for Apple’s cloud-based iCloud service, allowing you multi-device seamless access to your documents, photos and more. Mountain Lion even keeps working while the computer sleeps, downloading software updates, messages, mail, and much else while the laptop’s lid is closed and its lights are off, so the system is up-to-date the moment it wakes up. For my purposes of style, function, portability, speed, and power, the 2012 MacBook Air is an excellent buy.
Although Apple made a noble attempt with their new Dictation app, it is pretty much useless. For users without the dexterity to use a standard keyboard your best bet is Dragon Dictate. Dragon has been the industry standard bearer in computer voice control for good reason. Their latest offering for Mac is a huge leap forward. The recognition engine developed by Nuance is more than a slight improvement. Out of the box you will get fairly decent accuracy. My recommendation is to do as much training as is available. I spent an entire day training Dragon Dictate like a puppy getting ready for Westminster. The results were phenomenal. You have the option of using your iPhone, or a Bluetooth device as a dictation input but I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re looking for complete hands free independence, grab a USB Flexarm Microphone. You don’t have to worry about the battery of the Bluetooth device or, the iPhone app being interrupted by a call or crashing. With this latest release by Nuance any Mac user will be impressed.
iPhone 5 (using the Vocalize! 100% Hands-free Device Control)
With the release of iOS 6, for the iPhone Apple really improved on what was arguably the sleekest mobile operating system around. This release is available for all current models of iPhone (3gs, 4, 4S, and 5.) For persons who are unable to manipulate the capacitive touch screen, owning an iPhone to date has been an exercise in frustration. The Vocalize 100% Hands-free Bluetooth control has allowed those with ALS, moderate to high-level quadriplegia, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and other dexterity limitations to talk, text, email, browse, and play on a wide variety of smartphones. Even with this innovation, the iPhone has been one of the most difficult devices maximize function. While most tablets, computers and smartphones operating on Google’s Android Mobile OS can easily be accessed by a variety of switch interfaces and other controls, iOS is much more difficult to gain access. Apple’s Built-in AssistiveTouch is a feature that lets you enter Multi-Touch gestures using one finger or a touch stick with a capacitive tip such as the Touch Input MouthStick, It also supports the use of adaptive input devices, like headsets and switches, the result is an acceptable, although somewhat diminished user experience. The greatest enhancement and main attraction for new iPhone users is Siri. The industry leader in mobile voice recognition is much more than dictation app. Siri is a mobile personal assistant that makes hands free a whole lot more fun. Siri is only available for iPhone models 4s and 5, so be cautious when shopping for a phone. Due to the limitations of the 3gs, and 4, the chip and the Internet speed can’t handle Siri. Activating Siri with the Vocalize! Is as simple as saying “Telephone.” Siri automatically recognizes the Vocalize! once it is paired, and will respond whenever you say your keyword. The main drawback is that Siri operates from the mobile data connection so if you are in an area without consistent 3G or 4G service, you may want to disable Siri and go with an app like Vlingo, or just consider a different phone altogether. Having tested the latest release of Siri using the Vocalize! System for a few days, I have to say I am definitely impressed. The previous version of Siri on iOS 5 was often times clumsy, clunky, inaccurate, and many of the advertised features didn’t work well. In this newest version, you can talk, text, set appointments and play media with ease, you can launch apps, get movie showtimes and theaters, check the weather, even sports scores using Siri. Apple notes that Siri is still in “Beta” with more upgrades and improvements coming. I look forward to seeing how Siri might better work within more apps to give greater device control. As far as hardware, I have to say that the iPhone 5, is a superb enhancement for existing iPhone users, or other phone enthusiasts meeting iOS for the first time. It’s the lightest iPhone, even though it’s longer and has a bigger screen. I compared it to the newest Moto RAZR, which is a super-lightweight Android model and they are pretty much the same in terms of density. The screen size has been lengthened to 4”, which is closer to the industry standard, but by no means matches some of the other models out there, which are pushing 5” of screen real estate. For me was much appreciated after a year with the 4S screen which although extremely crisp was not big enough to truly enjoy a movie or music video. With the Cell Phone Mini Mount or Wheelchair Seat frame Mount the iPhone can be securely positioned wherever it is most needed at any given time.
If you are lucky enough to live in an area with 4G LTE this phone will put your home Wi-Fi to shame. My friends who have been riding 4G LTE with their Android phones have been spoiled with lightning fast data, while iPhone owners have been stuck in 3G until now. Anyone making the switch from a previous iOS device will start noticing that staying on LTE versus Wi-Fi might actually produce faster results. The drawback is that most carriers have fairly expensive data rates and limitations (Sprint has Unlimited Data for the iPhone). 4G LTE, in my tests, ran anywhere from 10 to 20Mbps, which is up to twice as fast as my wireless router’s connection at home.
Using your iPhone 5 as a personal hot spot for a laptop or other device produces similar results, so you may want to consider signing up for the Data tethering service with your carrier. I used the LTE connection with my MacBook Air and had no trouble streaming high def video while surfing the net. Overall if you are partial to Apple, the iPhone 5 is worth the upgrade.
For more information about the Apple Products including the MacBook Air, and iPhone 5 please visit Apple, Inc. at www.apple.com For more information about Accessible Apple/Mac Friendly Products including the software, mounting and input solutions listed above please visit www.broadenedhorizons.com