‘How the iPhone and App Store Have Redefined Accessible Software’

My friends and colleagues at MacStories have been running a week-long event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the opening of the App Store. I was honored to be asked to contribute a story for it, and my piece ran on Wednesday. The Cliff’s Notes version: The App Store has quite literally given the disabled community access to the world.

Apple Merges Machine Learning, Siri Teams

Matthew Panzarino, reporting for TechCrunch:

Apple is creating a new AI/ML team that brings together its Core ML and Siri teams under one leader in John Giannandrea.

Apple confirmed this morning that the combined Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning team, which houses Siri, will be led by the recent hire, who came to Apple this year after an eight-year stint at Google, where he led the Machine Intelligence, Research and Search teams. Before that he founded Metaweb Technologies and Tellme.

The internal structures of the Siri and Core ML teams will remain the same, but they will now answer to Giannandrea. Apple’s internal structure means that the teams will likely remain integrated across the org as they’re wedded to various projects, including developer tools, mapping, Core OS and more. ML is everywhere, basically.

As Panzarino notes, this move makes a ton of sense for many reasons.

‘The Science of Saving the Declaration of Independence’

Joe Pappalardo, writing for Popular Mechanics:

The official declaration of America’s independence from Britain may be dated July 4, 1776, but the story of the Thomas Jefferson's hallowed document really begins two weeks later. On July 19, the Continental Congress ordered a scribe, Pennsylvania State House clerk Timothy Matlack, to write the words on a piece of parchment big enough for everyone to read—and with room for signatures.

Since then, the Declaration of Independence has had a fairly rough time. A forensic analysis of the document shows some rough handling, damaging displays, and even a mysterious handprint. Understanding why it looks the way that it does — much more faded and battered than the U.S. Constitution or The Bill of Rights — is a romp through the history of printing, preservation, and patriotism.

This was a fascinating read; it’s astounding how old documents like this survive.

(via The Loop)

'The Democratization of Communication'

AssistiveWare founder and CEO David Niemeijer wrote a terrific piece on Medium on how the App Store has revolutionized access for AAC devices. He writes, in part:

We saw an opportunity to democratize access to AAC. Our aim was to deliver AAC on a consumer device at a price within reach of those who did not have access to funding. In April 2009, we released Proloquo2Go, the first full-featured symbol-based AAC app on iOS. Combined with an iPod touch and a speaker case, total cost was below US$ 500.

We were a small company based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. We did not have a network of sales reps or a department to help with funding requests. The App Store provided us with access to a worldwide market. Within a year, we reached 40 countries and sold over 4,000 licenses, of which the vast majority were in the US.

This article ties in perfectly with yesterday's press release from Apple.

The Absurdity of Eating Competitions As 'Sport'

Great 2012 piece by Michele Catalano for the now-defunct American McCarver:

When did eating your weight in nitrates and meat-by products become a sport?

[...]

What does bother me about the whole IFOCE (yes, competitive eaters have their own federation) is that the people who partake in this stuff take themselves so seriously as to refer to themselves as athletes. Eating is not a sport. A competition, sure, but it’s not a sport, in much the same way that high school dance squads are not a sport. Yet ESPN wants you to believe they are, just so they can fill their programming slots with something besides paid advertisements from companies wanting to sell you souvenir coins imprinted with the number of your favorite NASCAR driver. Pounding back food, whether it be hot dogs or burgers or burritos or ice cream, is not a sport. Yes, it takes training and determination and discipline, but so does being a car bomber, and no one considers that a competitive sport.

Relevant today because Joey Chestnut won another Nathan's hot dog-eating contest.

More Health Insurers Adopt Apple's Health Records Feature

Michael Potuck at 9to5 Mac reports on more health insurance companies who have adopted Apple's Health Records API, which allows users to view their health record on their iPhone. Potuck writes there are now 65 participating providers and users will start reaping the benefits of the functionality this fall—this is currently included in the iOS 12 betas, now open to the public.

This feature is exciting from an accessibility perspective. I'm a Kaiser Permanente member, and my health records are stored online when I log into Kaiser's website. The information is available, but it isn't very accessible. The interface isn't exactly user-friendly and my recordfs are presented in relatively small fonts, which makes them hard to find and hard to read. Hence, you can imagine why this Health Records feature is exciting from an accessibility standpoint. Should Kaiser ever bring it to Northern California members—it's available only to Oregon and Washington residents now—then I could use the accessibility features on iOS to make accessing my records more accessible. That's no small feat, especially considering many didabled people have complex health records they need to keep tabs on. The combination of Apple's API and iOS's accessibility features should, in theory, make this much easier and more convenient for them, and for me.

Apple's Rebuilt Maps

TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino dropped a surprise 🔥 scoop this morning: Apple is overhauling its Maps app. According to his report, he spoke with Eddy Cue and "over a dozen" engineers on Apple's Maps team. Apple also let him ride in one of its Maps vans.

On the vans, Panzarino writes:

In addition to a beefed up GPS rig on the roof, four LiDAR arrays mounted at the corners and 8 cameras shooting overlapping high-resolution images – there’s also the standard physical measuring tool attached to a rear wheel that allows for precise tracking of distance and image capture. In the rear there is a surprising lack of bulky equipment. Instead, it’s a straightforward Mac Pro bolted to the floor, attached to an array of solid state drives for storage. A single USB cable routes up to the dashboard where the actual mapping capture software runs on an iPad.

[...]

When the images and data are captured, they are then encrypted on the fly immediately and recorded on to the SSDs. Once full, the SSDs are pulled out, replaced and packed into a case which is delivered to Apple’s data center where a suite of software eliminates private information like faces, license plates and other info from the images. From the moment of capture to the moment they’re sanitized, they are encrypted with one key in the van and the other key in the data center. Technicians and software that are part of its mapping efforts down the pipeline from there never see unsanitized data.

The new Maps will be included in the next iOS 12 beta and will be limited at first to the San Francisco Bay Area.

John Gruber on IGTV

John posted this item to Daring Fireball a few days ago, and I agree with his take on IGTV.

As I tweeted, reading his comments got me thinking about how I've really fallen out of love with Instagram. I still use it fairly regularly, but the ads and the algorthimic timeline, among other "features," have sullied the experience for me. I'll be 37 come September, and I admittedly feel old and curmudgeonly about this—it feels like the service has been skewing towards a younger audience (teen-to-20s) for some time now. In my usage, I follow a few hard rules that hearken back to the "good ol' days": I only post a single photo at a time, I never use Stories, and I do not share memes or screenshots (anymore). Oh, and my account is private; Instagram has always felt more personal to me than something like Twitter, which for me is an essential work tool for me (sharing and networking). For better or worse, this setup works for me and i'm sticking to it.

On New AirPods

Mark Gurman and Debby Wu, writing for Bloomberg:

The Cupertino, California-based company is working on new AirPods with noise-cancellation and water resistance, the people said. Apple is trying to increase the range that AirPods can work away from an iPhone or iPad, one of the people said. You won’t be swimming in them though: The water resistance is mainly to protect against rain and perspiration, the people said.

Slated for 2019, the earbuds will likely cost more than the existing $159 pair, and that could push Apple to segment the product line like it does with iPhones, one of the people said. Apple is also working on a wireless charging case that’s compatible with the upcoming AirPower charger.

The company has also internally discussed adding biometric sensors to future AirPods, like a heart-rate monitor, to expand its health-related hardware offerings beyond the Apple Watch, another person said. The current AirPods will be refreshed later this year with a new chip and support for hands-free Siri activation, Bloomberg News reported.

My set of AirPods are still going strong. So delightful and so quintessentially Apple.

Apple Launches 2018 Midterm Elections Section in News

Apple PR:

The 2018 Midterm Elections section helps readers follow the latest on the elections with breaking news, exclusive highlights and analysis from reliable sources selected by Apple News’ team of experienced editors. Readers can quickly get up to speed on the most relevant topics and candidates by accessing the new section in the Apple News app from a banner across the top of the For You tab, as well as through Top Stories and the Spotlight tab.

“Today more than ever people want information from reliable sources, especially when it comes to making voting decisions,” said Lauren Kern, editor-in-chief of Apple News. “An election is not just a contest; it should raise conversations and spark national discourse. By presenting quality news from trustworthy sources and curating a diverse range of opinions, Apple News aims to be a responsible steward of those conversations and help readers understand the candidates and the issues.”

Like my buddy Stephen Hackett, I find it curious the New York Times is omitted from the initial crop of "diverse publishers" Apple is sourcing its coverage from. Maybe they'll be added over time, who knows. In any case, like Stephen, I'm not much of an Apple News junkie, but maybe this new section will change that. I'm definitely going to check it out.

On Integrated Classrooms

Great Seattle Times op-ed by Ilene Schwartz on the value of blending general education and special education students. She says University of Washington researchers have found evidence showing “children with and without disabilities do better in inclusive classrooms.”

As someone who worked in Pre-K special education classrooms for nearly a decade, I can confirm this is true. I also studied early childhood development, and can attest to the fact inclusive settings are ideal. Typically and atypically developing students can learn a lot from each other if afforded the opportunity. With the right kind of support, special education students can thrive in mainstream classrooms. This isn’t to imply special day classes are bad; they certainly have value, but the ideal scenario is to integrate as much as possible.

AirPower's Delay Explained

The always-intrepid Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:

An executive at an Apple partner that manufactures third-party wireless chargers for iPhones, who asked not to be identified, said that the multi-device charging mechanism is challenging to build because it likely requires different sized charging components for the three types of devices, which would all overlap across the mat.

The AirPower charger is also more advanced than the current competition because it includes a custom Apple chip running a stripped down version of the iOS mobile operating system to conduct on-device power management and pairing with devices. Apple engineers have also been working to squash bugs related to the on-board firmware, according to the people familiar. They asked not to be identified discussing a product that hasn’t been released yet.

AirPower's failure to ship after close to a year must frustrate Apple executives. As for my expectations, I'm not particularly hankering for it at home. Where I think I'd definitely like one is for travel—the ability to simultaneously charge my iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods would relieve me from having to pack a trillion cables and charging stands in my baggae. I've been meaning to buy second sets of chargers to set aside specifically for travel, but buying one AirPower mat may be a better solution.

Accessible #3: Steven Goes to San Jose

Recorded inside Apple's Podcasts studio at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, Steven interviews three special guests about their work and what Apple's WWDC announcements mean for accessibility. He sat down with Apple's Senior Director of Global Accessibility Policy & Initiatives, Sarah Herrlinger, AssistiveWare CEO David Niemeijer, and WWDC18 student scholarship winner John Ciocca.