Following the precedent set by last year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced that WWDC 2021 will be held online as a digital-only event due to the ongoing pandemic. The 32nd annual WWDC will be taking place June 7th through June 11th, and it will be free for all developers. Apple will hold a kickoff keynote event on June 7th, which can be streamed on Apple.com, the Apple TV App, and YouTube.
While not all information is currently available about what Apple will be unveiling at WWDC 2021, there are a few confirmed updates concerning iOS 15 and accessibility features. Apple’s newest software installation, iOS 15, has been confirmed to feature some updates to notifications and privacy settings, but the coming accessibility options will be a game changer for extending the Apple experience to a wide range of users with different needs.
Software Update iOS 15
According to a Bloomberg report by Mark Gurman, Apple is planning a new notification feature for iOS 15. This feature will allow users to change notification behavior based on their activity status, such as driving, working, or sleeping. This will make it easy for users to apply a silent notification setting while sleeping, or an unobtrusive haptic feedback alert during work, as well as a wide range of custom statuses and preferences.
Alongside the updated notification behavior, Apple is introducing automatic replies to messages depending on the user’s status. Currently auto-reply is only available while driving, so this update will be a useful improvement in other situations.
Apple is also releasing a much-anticipated privacy menu to give users more control over their sensitive data. Following the privacy features offered in iOS 14.5, this menu will show users which apps are silently collecting data in the background. It is clear that Apple is continuing its fight to increase privacy and security for iPhone users.
Apple has long been a champion for diversity in the mobile market, and iOS 15 appears to be taking this even further with a wide range of accessibility options set to roll-out over the coming year. From inclusion to functionality, Apple’s update will bring the Apple experience to users of all walks of life.
Memojis, the personalized 3D emojis that user can customize to resemble themselves using TrueDepth cameras, will get some new features that will expand representation to more users. These lifelike characters will now come with the option of adding oxygen tubes, cochlear implants, and soft helmets for headwear. Inclusivity is an important aspect of a connected society and extending visibility to underrepresented groups provides more individuals with feelings of acceptance.
Apple will also be implementing a background sounds feature that may improve quality of life for neurodivergent users. The aim is to help minimize distractions and feelings of distress caused by unwanted environmental noises. These background sounds will be available in different varieties, and they will seamlessly mix into system sounds and other audio.
Apple’s iOS 15 will be changing the landscape for smartphone accessibility among users with limited mobility. Three features set to launch later this year will enable users to navigate their iPhones without needing to physically touch the devices.
AssistiveTouch will utilize the built-in features of the Apple Watch to allow users to control the screen without touching it. By using the Apple Watch’s motion sensors and optical heart rate sensor with on-device machine learning, the Apple Watch will be able to detect subtle differences in muscle and tendon movement. Users can then control an on-screen cursor with small hand gestures like pinching and clenching. iPad Eye-Tracking is another feature for users with limited mobility, which will offer support for third-party eye-tracking devices on iPad OS.
For iPhone users who are both non-speaking and have limited mobility, the impressive Sound Actions for Switch Control feature will completely revolutionize their ability to interact with and enjoy their phones. This will replace physical buttons and switches with simple mouth sounds such as clicks and pops.
Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing
Apple’s newest software update will also bring with it a host of new features for users that are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing. SignTime will allow users to communicate with AppleCare and retail customer care in their preferred Sign Language. Users will have access to service representatives who sign American Sign Language (ASL,) British Sign Language (BSL,) and French Sign Language (LSF.) It is currently unknown when more languages will be supported.
Users who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing and use hearing aid devices will have new support for bi-directional hearing aids with the MFi Hearing Aid Improvements. Additionally, Headphone Accommodations will gain support for audiograms, allowing users the ability to customize their device’s audio settings by importing their hearing test results.
Blind and Low Vision
Along with more extensive display and text size options, users who are blind or have low vision will have more detailed and rich descriptions available with new VoiceOver improvements. Using image recognition, VoiceOver will be able to provide details about people, text, data, and objects in images. These improvements will allow VoiceOver to provide important context for users who are blind or have low vision and will allow users to add their own descriptions with markups.
Apple’s WWDC 2021 is an exciting event kicking off on June 7th, and while Apple has (as usual) shrouded most of the details in mystery, we have gleaned some key info confirmed by Apple insiders. The pending release of iOS 15 will not only add notification features, it also promises to bring with it a slew of exceptional accessibility options that will expand the Apple brand to users of all abilities.
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