The latest version of the Apple TV became available the first part of November with some great new features and added accessibility. The new 4th generation Apple TV includes VoiceOver, the screen reader software it shares with its Apple cousins, the Mac computer and iOS devices like the iPad. VoiceOver is not new to Apple TV, but the 4th generation also includes both Zoom and SIR, making it even more accessible. Zoom is the screen magnifier also available on the Mac and iOS devices. SIRI, of course, is the digital assistant that will do things in response to your voice commands—not to be confused with VoiceOver…Have I lost anyone yet?
If you are new to Apple TV, it is a small computer, slightly larger than two decks of playing cards stacked on top of each other. It connects to the WiFi Internet in your home, or to an Ethernet cable and uses your existing HD TV as a monitor (if you purchase an Apple TV be sure you have an HDMI cable handy or buy one, because this is not included with the Apple TV unfortunately).
Although the Apple TV is a computer, think of it more as a computer designed for streaming media over the Internet and onto your TV —movies, TV programs, music, etc. You will not be able to send an email or surf the Web per se, although you will find apps, such as YouTube that are Internet based. Like its other Apple cousins, the iOS devices and Mac computer, there are apps (software applications) on Apple TV represented on the screen as icons. You will find apps for movies, like Netflix, TV show apps like PBS and Hulu, and much more.
Can you cut the cable cord with Apple TV? Probably not. Some services, like Netflix and Hulu offer a stand-alone monthly subscription for their streaming programs, I you want to watch, but other programming, like HBO and ESPN require you have a cable subscription to use their services on Apple TV. No cost or subscription programming, like TED, PBS, CBS News, ABC News, and Bloomberg TV, and YouTube, for example, require no subscription at all.
If you already have a Mac, or iOS device with an iTunes account, you can stream all your iTunes music, TV Shows, movies, andpodcasts onto the Apple TV. Although this is a great feature, it is important to note that it’s not necessary to have a Mac or iOS device to use and enjoy the Apple TV.
One of the greatest features of the new Apple TV is that users may now download and install apps from the Apple TV App Store. Previous versions of Apple TV came with a specific number of apps and that was all—there was no adding additional apps. In fact, when you first turn on the new Apple TV it has much fewer apps preinstalled on the screen than previous versions, so you will eventually customize it by downloading apps from the App Store. Like the App Store for the iOS devices many apps are free, and some cost a couple dollars each. The App Store for the Apple TV is new, so the library of apps is limited but growing.
Accessibility Out of the Box
The previous version of the Apple TV was recently discounted to $69, so the newest 4th generation Apple TV is more than double the price at $149. Is it worth it? Absolutely. One of the greatest criticisms to the 3rdgeneration Apple TV was the limited amount of content provided, as compared to competitors, such as Roku (www.roku.com).With the addition of the App Store feature in the latest Apple TV, this is less of an issue, and the fact that the 4th generation Apple TV is accessible out of the box for visually impaired users makes it, in my opinion a great value! During the initial setup, just clicking the menu button on the Apple TV remote 3 times will start VoiceOver, and following the audio prompts will complete the setup process. If you are an iOS device user already, with iOS 9 on your device, the Apple TV can get most of the information needed for the initialsetup right off your other device!
In addition to VoiceOver, the Accessibility menu, found in Settings, includes the ability to customize text by choosing a larger font, bolder text, and higher contrast. Also under Accessibility, full screen magnification is now available (a feature not available on 3rd generation Apple TV) by turning the Zoom feature on. The Zoom gesture is similar to that used on the iOS devices—double tap and hold with two fingers, then slide toward the upper right corner of the touchpad to increase magnification or the lower left corner to decrease magnification.
Didn’t I mention the itsy bitsy touchpad on the remote? At 1.5 inches square its probably not the smallest touchpad out there but it could be a challenge for anyone new to using gestures, and may take some practice to make this work consistently.
Once you’ve discovered the best setting for Zoom, here’s a tip: press the touchpad three times quickly and this will switch between the magnified view of the screen and the unmagnified view. You may find this easier at first than using the gestures each time you want to magnify the screen.
The Accessibility menu also includes the ability to customize the font to a larger and bolderfont, and to add additional contrast to the screens. For users with a hearing impairment, Closed Captioning may be turned on from this menu as well.
Like the iOS devices it is possible to put many of these accessibility options into an Accessibility Shortcut, which is engaged by pressing the menu button, three times quickly. You may put Zoom, VoiceOver, Closed Captioning, or Audio Descriptions into the Accessibility Shortcut to quickly turn them off or on.
If you are familiar with the way SIRI works on an iOS device, you will notice it works a bit differently on the Apple TV, and is not yet as robust as it is on the other Apple devices. Nonetheless, SIRI is a wonderful new feature to the Apple TV and will make using it easier. If VoiceOver is already on, pressing and holding the middle button on the leftside of the remote (microphone icon) will result in two beeps, after which you speak your command, such as, “What’s the weather in Tampa, Florida?” SIRI will then offer a spoken response. If VoiceOver is off, however, this is all done via text display, at the bottom of the screen. Low vision users may want to get in the habit of turning VoiceOver on before trying to use SIRI as an alternative to reading the text responses.
SIRI can offer some basic information from the Internet—such as the time, date, weather, sports scores and upcoming sports schedules, etc., but the Apple TV version of SIRI seems quite limited in the amount of information it can gathers from the Internet. SIRI will open most apps, and perform some handy functions such as turning VoiceOver off and on, opening settings, pausing and resuming movies while playing, but you will not be able to search the Web for information the way you can, on an iPad or iPhone.
Dear Apple TV Tech Support,
What were you thinking when you removed Bluetooth support for keyboards? Did any of you try out selecting letters with the itsy bitsy trackpad?
Love the Apple TV but you can’t be serious!
In the 3rd generation Apple TV, you could connect a Bluetooth keyboard, which made entering search terms so much easier. For example, in the YouTube app you may want to search for nostalgic episodes of the TV series, “Mr. Ed,” which will require typing into a search box. Even selecting letters has been made more difficult, by putting the alphabet into a long string which you must move forward and backward through by sliding a finger across the trackpad, then pressing to select the letter. In the 3rd generation Apple TV, the alphabet and numbers were arranged in a grid that seemed much easier to navigate. SIRI unfortunately won’t offer any assistance with dictation here either. When you’re first starting out, be prepared with a little extra patience for entering text with the trackpad. Enough about this oversight!
How Cool is This?
One of the first apps I searched for in the new Apple TV App Store was iBlink Radio, because it has so much great audio content, and voila, there it was!
Serotek’s iBlink Radio (http://www.serotek.com/iblink) is such an incredible resource for individuals with a vision impairment. It aggregates newspaper reading services, audio tutorials on technology, podcasts related to vision loss and access technology, and much more. It’s also a free app! Within a few minutes of installing it, I was listening to a current issue of USA Today, followed by selections from Real Simple Magazine and Business Week.
Another app, called myTuner (http://www.mytuner.mobi/) had a wide variety of conventional podcasts, like archived NPR material, and included a couple podcasts specifically for the visually impaired community, such as Insight Radio (from the UK’s Royal National Institute for the Blind—RNIB at http://www.insightradio.co.uk/) and BlindyTV (http://blindy.tv/), which offers television programing that contains audio descriptions.
Of course, there are plenty of other great appsproviding free content from NPR, YouTube and TED, not to mention all the programing available from paid services like HBO, Hulu, and Netflix. Apple TV is about putting all this content together in an alternate format that streams over your Internet WIFI.
My head spins to think about the readily available content, like newspaper reading services, audio tutorials on access technology, and TV programming with audio descriptions that is available on this $149 device! Add to this the fact that the Apple TV is completely accessible, out of the box, and can be purchased locally through an Apple Store or Best Buy, and it is hard not to get excited!
Just imagine, sitting at home and turning on the family’s Apple TV. Press the microphone button and tell SIRI, “Turn on VoiceOver,” then going to YouTube to listen to the iFocus Series from the Hadley School for the Blind (http://www.hadley.edu) to learn how to use another Apple device, or listening to a local newspaperread through iBlink Radio? Whether or not you are a computer user, the Apple TV is technology that just may be one of the simplest, accessible devices to use and really offers a great value, whether you need the accessibility features built in or not.