Apple announces minor software accessibility improvements at WWDC 2016 conference

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Tuesday, 14 June 2016 15:07pm

Apple has announced a number of new features in its range of products at its annual World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), with a focus on incremental updates and greater Siri integration.

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The conference, which focuses on supporting developers to create new products in the Apple software ecosystem, highlighted a number of improvements across its desktop, mobile, watch and TV set-top-box operating systems, some of which are likely to benefit people with disabilities.


The most significant updates have come to the Apple Watch. The new update to its operating system includes a breathing meditation app which has a wheelchair mode, the inclusion of ‘scribble’ handwriting functionality, and an emergency SOS feature which calls the local emergency number if people are in need. 


The new version of MacOS, formerly known as OSX, has the codename of Sierra and its primary improvements are the integration of the Siri digital assistant to the desktop and improved integration between mobile and wearable devices with the desktop. For example, it will be possible to log in to your desktop computer once it notices that a user’s Apple Watch is nearby. This type of integration is likely to make it easier for people with a mobility impairment through the convenience of hands-free login and using Siri to perform verbal commands in a desktop environment.  


Currently there are no specific announcements relating to accessibility improvements for iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad, although improvements to Siri are likely to benefit people with vision and mobility-related disabilities.


The Apple TV set-top-box also received some updates but there is no specific news relating to additional accessibility support.

While the announcements are likely to provide incremental benefits to people with disabilities since the last Apple update we reported last year, the primary accessibility features appear to be largely unchanged with no significant announcements at this stage. While the updates to Siri are arguably the most significant, Apple has been criticised in recent times for its digital assistant losing ground in its speech recognition accuracy and usefulness when compared to competitors Google and Microsoft’s Cortana. As such, it will be interesting to see if the updates significantly improve its functionality in everyday scenarios. 

A full list of all the announcements can be found in the CNET WWDC 2016 coverage.

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