Assistive Technology: Apple Watch (Series 4-5)

According to Apple’s website, “Apple Watch is designed to help everyone be more active, healthy, and connected.” To accomplish a more accessible product there are features for people with vision, hearing, and mobility related disabilities.  Examples include a built-in screen reader called VoiceOver, Siri, the Noise App (which tracks hearing health), touch accommodations, and trackable wheelchair workouts.

Mobility

The activity app, according to Apple’s website, “provides a snapshot of your daily activity, with the goal of closing each of the three rings every day.” For a person that uses a wheelchair the goals are roll (instead of stand), exercise, and move.  The app can measure pushes for the exercise/move goals, and rolls and stretching for the roll goal.  The workout app has two wheelchair workouts for a “walk” and “run” pace.

Activity app on Apple Watch, from Accessibility section on Apple’s website

Another feature that improves accessibility, pointed out by Steven Aquino who wrote a review of the Apple Watch Series 4 in TechCrunch, is:

“the device’s glanceable nature alleviates the friction of pulling my phone out of my pocket a thousand times an hour. For people with certain physical motor delays, the seemingly unremarkable act of even getting your phone can be quite an adventure.”

Steven Aquino, 2018

Hearing

The Noise App helps the user identify when sound levels could negatively impact their hearing and saves the information so it can be referenced again later.

Noise app on Apple Watch, from Accessibility section on Apple’s website

The Taptic Engine produces haptic feedback, so the user can customize tap alerts for notifications.  The result being they don’t have to rely on sound as the only means of noticing a notification.

Vision

The Taptic Engine also benefits those with a vision disability acting as a “secondary cue”, so the user can have visual and sensory feedback as they navigate (Aquino, 2018).  Telling time through a series of taps is also an option.

VoiceOver is a screen reader that helps the user navigate the Apple Watch without having to see the screen.  VoiceOver supports Siri voices and is available in 35 languages. 

VoiceOver on Apple Watch, from Accessibility section on Apple’s website

Accessible Overview:

The above features do not encompass everything the Apple Watch has for those with mobility, vision, and hearing disabilities but provides a snapshot of some of the features available.  This technology would fall in the functional model category since it is using technological innovation to fill the needs of those with mobility, vision, and hearing disabilities.

Below is an overview of the Apple Watch’s accessibility.  This could vary greatly depending on the user’s needs and goals:

Utility & Usability

In terms of participation in society, independent living, and accomplishing goals the device helps the user stay connected through different notification/communication options and keep track of their health, notifications, and the time. 

Accessibility

Apple has improved accessibility through general features: like allowing more options and customizations, and more specific features: like the apps designed for those with mobility, vision, and hearing disabilities.  There are definitely more features that could improve or hinder accessibility, but this review has only looked at a few of them.  

One issue is the unpackaging and assembling of the watch.  In the TechCrunch review it stated that because of its “piecemeal” approach it is difficult to open and assemble for those with mobility, visual, and/or cognitive disabilities (Aquino, 2018).  The size of the screen is another problem, although the watch does come in different sizes depending on someone’s vision it could still be too small to see or touch.  This could potentially be alleviated by using Siri, zoom, VoiceOver, or choosing a different layout setting.

Desirability & Viability

The Apple Watch was the best-selling smart watch in 2019 and shipped ~31M units (Statt, 2020).

Affordability

Prices range from $199 – $399.  In the TechCrunch article the author summarized his experience saying:

“Three years in, I can confidently say I could live without my Apple Watch. But I also can confidently say I wouldn’t want to. Apple Watch has made my life better, and that’s not taking into account how it has raised my awareness for my overall health.”

Steven Aquino, 2018

The author is a person with congenital hearing loss, cerebral palsy, and low vision.

Compatibility:

Can only be used with Apple products.

References

Accessibility – Apple Watch. (n.d.). Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://www.apple.com/accessibility/watch/

Aquino, S. (2018, October 21). Apple Watch Series 4 is the most accessible watch yet. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://techcrunch.com/2018/10/21/apple-watch-series-4-is-the-most-accessible-watch-yet/

Statt, N. (2020, February 06). Apple now sells more watches than the entire Swiss watch industry. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/5/21125565/apple-watch-sales-2019-swiss-watch-market-estimates-outsold