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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How do I work around the accessibility issues in Touchwiz with Android 2.2?

Contributed by John J. Herzog

Unfortunately, the upgrade to Android 2.2 has broken many accessible applications and features of the Samsung Epic. This is largely due to the Touchwiz user interface (UI), which is responsible for modifying key apps. After using my phone for a couple of days, I have found issues with Messaging, Call Log, Contacts, Caller ID, music player, GPS, my user defined home screen, and the My Apps area of the Market. Other apps may be affected as well. In this post, I explain the accessibility drawbacks in each of these key apps and describe workarounds to help you get a useable phone.

Messaging on the Epic with 2.2

Problem:

In the stock text messaging app, it is hard to send a message to a person when there is no pre-existing conversation. When you open the app, you are placed in an edit box, and Talkback says, "to," to indicate that this is where you enter a phone number or contact name. While you can still write in this box, you can no longer type the first few letters of a contact's name, then scroll down the list of available matches with the arrow keys. If you try, you get an error stating that you have entered an incorrect address, and that the recipients will not get your message. For me, a person with over fifty contacts in his phone, this bug is a showstopper.

solution:

Download an app called Go SMS by Go Dev Team. It is available from the Android Market and is free to use.

Go SMS is almost identical to the stock messaging app. There is an unlabeled button at the top of the screen; clicking on it allows you to compose a new message. The typing boxes have labels and work normally.

When you launch go sms, focus is in the box where you specify who the message will go to. In this case, you can type the first few letters and use your arrows to scroll through a list of matches. Just hit enter when you find the contact you want, and the text is filled into the message box.

After you finish filling in the recipient, hit the down arrow to get into the message body and type your text. This behaves appropriately as well. Then to send the message, hit the right arrow from here to move to an unlabeled button, which sends the message as it does in the stock messaging app.

Other areas of Go SMS also behave similarly to the stock messaging app. For instance, when you launch Go SMS and use your arrows, you can browse through your conversations with friends. Clicking on a conversation allows you to either send a message to that person or reread all of the prior messages in the thread. There are no unusual quirks here.

Note: If you open the Go SMS from a status bar notification, the New Text Message alert does not clear automatically. To clear it, you must either go into the stock messenger or clear the notification manually from the status bar.

Call log on the Epic with 2.2

Problem:

The stock call log is largely inaccessible. Whenever you click on the call log, you are presented with a list of items that does not speak to you. You can hear a click every time you move, but you do not get any information about who called you, what time the call took place, and so on.

But if you hit enter on any of the items that do not speak, Talkback announces the number for that call log entry, and you are placed in a list of all calls made between you and the number in question. This is inconvenient for two reasons. First, you have to click on each item that does not speak to find out which call it refers to. Seconde, if you make many calls to a particular number, many of the items that do not speak take you back to the same list, so you have to move up and down the list of all calls ever made between you and that number, instead of having a quick overview of individual calls that you can read in sequence.

Solution:

Download an app called Go Contacts by Go Dev Team. It is available from the Android Market and is free to use. The application contains two components, which are both useful to have: Go Dialer and Go Contacts.

When you launch go dialer, you are placed in a list of calls. As you move down the list, Talkback announces each phone number. By pressing the menu key, you get to determine what types of calls are shown to you. For instance, I can click on the option that shows Missed Calls only. There are three other options: Incoming Calls, Outgoing Calls, and All Calls.

One drawback of this application is that it arranges your calls alphabetically. In other words, if you have a missed call from Bob Smith, it appears in the list before your missed call from Doug Jones. This is true even if Doug was the most recent missed call. This is really annoying but I cannot seem to find a way around it for the time being.

When you find a call you want to work with, you can short-press or long-press on the entry in the list. If you short-press enter, the phone dials the number so you can return the call. If you long press enter, you get several options. One is to delete this call from the call log. I choose this often so as not to forget who I called back and who I didn't. Other options are to add this caller to contacts or to create a new contact for the caller. All of these options are accessible and present no problems for Talkback.

While Go Dialer is helpful, you may run into a few accessibility snags. When first opening the app, be sure not to hit the up-arrow. This takes you out of your call log, and into a dialing area of the app. It contains the keys on the number pad, and you can move from button to button using the arrow keys. However, from this dialing screen, you cannot get back into your list of calls. To return to the call log, up-arrow to the top of the screen, and click on the Dial item, which is actually a tab, and should bring you back into your call log. If this fails, go back up to Dial, right-arrow once, then left-arrow again. If all else fails, just exit the app and restart it.

Note: If you open the Go Dialer call log from a status bar notification, the Missed Call alert does not clear automatically. To clear it, you must either go into the stock messenger or clear the notification manually from the status bar.

Contacts on the Epic with 2.2.

Problem:

It is not possible to add a new contact from the stock call log. The stock call log includes an option for adding an entry to contacts by hitting the menu key and choosing add to contacts. This places you in a list of your existing contacts. The next logical step is to arrow to a New Contact button, click it, and start an entry with the phone number from the call log. However, this is the step that is inaccessible as there is no New Contact button that can be reached with the arrow keys. Navigating above the contact list takes you to a search box, where you type the name of a contact you are looking for, and moving to the bottom of the list doesn't produce anything either. So your only real option is to add the number to an existing contact.

Solution:

Download an app called Go Contacts by Go Dev Team. It is available from the Android Market and is free to use. The application contains two components, which are both useful to have: Go Dialer and Go Contacts.

I usually access Go Contacts through Go Dialer because these apps work together. In Go Dialer, I arrow through the items in the call log. Calls associated with contacts are listed alphabetically, with other calls at the top of the list. When I find the phone number I want to add to contacts, I long press the enter key on it. I get a menu of options, including one for adding a new contact. I click on this option, and then edit the contact info as I did in the stock Contact app of 2.1. All the fields are labeled and behave appropriately with Talkback.

caller ID on the Epic in 2.2

Problem:

The option to have caller ID spoken is no longer available. Samsung has removed it. I consider this one of the most annoying accessibility regressions of the Epic. Previously, I could have the Epic announce the name of the caller in place of the ring tone itself.

Solution:

Download an app called Call Announcer by Codean software. It's available from the Android Market in both free and licensed versions; I'm using the free version.

After Call Announcer is installed, I simply go into the app, and check the setting Enable Callback Announcer. This lets the app speak the name of the caller over the ringtone. A quieter ringtone works better; otherwise, the voice may be drowned out by the tone itself. I use the system default which is called Luminescence. Note that, if you put the ringtone to silent, the free version of Call Announcer does not speak the caller ID information.

Music Player on the Epic with 2.2

Problem

In the stock music player, you can scroll through a list of sound files and click on individual items, but you cannot control playback once the music starts. When playback begins, focus moves to a screen with unlabeled buttons. You can find out what some of them do by clicking on them, but this method of trial and error isn't completely helpful since some buttons take you out of the screen and none seems to stop the current song from playing. I was able to stop playback only by using the task manager to kill the app. Also, in the window that is shown while a song is played, the seek control does not respond to the left and right arrow keys, so you cannot rewind or fast-forward within a song.

Solution

Download an app called Android Music by JRTStudio. It is available from the Android Market and is free to use. According to the app description, it is identical to the stock Gingerbread music player.

The app opens on a song list. Arrowing up and down moves focus through the items in that list. Arrowing left and right moves focus to the Artist, Album, Song, and Play List tabs, from which you can also arrow up and down. Clicking on a title plays the song, and all the buttons on the play screen are labeled.

Internal GPS on the Epic with 2.2.

Problem:

The internal receiver continues to have problems getting a fix on satellites. For example, when using Walkytalky with the Epic's internal GPS, Walkytalky does not announce the addresses you are passing by, and it does not alert you to upcoming turns, as the GPS accuracy can be off by 3 to 4 meters and usually more.

Solution:

Use an external GPS receiver with an app called Bluetooth GPS Provider by mobile-j.de. It is yet another replacement app available from the Android Market and is free to use.

By default, android phones do not let you connect with bluetooth gps receivers. Here is a brief overview of the steps needed to run bluetooth gps provider with the Epic. For more detailed information, refer to the post on using GPS receivers with Android phones:

1. Install Bluetooth GPS Provider from the market.
2. Do not start the app yet.
3. Go into Settings, Applications, then Development. Check the Allow Mock Locations box, and press Back several times to exit Settings.
4. Click on Bluetooth GPS Provider to start the app. Be sure that your receiver is on, and select it from within the app. In the future, you can just open Bluetooth GPS Provider, and click Start. Once the Start button has been pressed, do not click the Back button; if you do, you close the application. Instead, hit the home button to move to your home screen, then to Walkytalky, leaving Bluetooth GPS Provider running in the background. Walkytalky now gives you appropriate information as you use it.
5. Turn off Bluetooth GPS Provider when finished. Go into the Bluetooth GPS application and hit the Stop button. This will prevent Talkback from repeating that there is a bluetooth gps problem when you turn off your receiver.

User Defined Home Screen on the Epic with 2.2

Problem:

You can set the eyes-Free Shell as your default, but the phone keeps going back to TW Launcher, which is part of Touchwiz. This, however, doesn't happen with Mobile Accessibility. I follow the steps to set Eyes Free Shell as the default home screen, but when I restart the phone or when I long-press Back, TW Launcher opens, and pressing the Home button doesn't open the Eyes Free Shell. I have to go through the process of setting the Eyes Free Shell as my default again.

Solution:

Download an app called HomeSmack by TeslaCoil Software. It is available from the Android Market and is free to use.

Unfortunately, there is no fix beyond telling the phone you want the Eyes-Free Shell to be the default home screen. What HomeSmack does is offer an easy way to change the default home screen, letting me reestablish which one I want to use without my having to dig through the settings. Nevertheless, my Epic insists on defaulting to TW, and nothing I do changes that.

My Apps Area of the Market on the Epic with 2.2

Problem

It's not possible to access the My Apps area in Market, using the keyboard. When you open the Market app and press Menu, My Apps is one of the available options. Pressing the physical enter key on this option returns focus to the list of apps on the Market main screen; it does not open the My Apps list. Since the Epic doesn't also have a selector, there is no alternative hardware key to activate My Apps, and the soft d-pad of the Talkback keyboard isn't available because My Apps appears on a menu screen.

Solution

There is no alternative app for this problem. The solution is to guess where the option is on the screen and tap it with your finger.

The menu options (Search, My Apps, Settings, and Help) appear across the bottom of the screen. Whenever the physical keyboard is open, the phone is in landscape orientation, so these options are on the screen above the number row.

To find My apps, touch the number 5 or 6 on the physical keyboard; then slide your finger directly on to the screen from there. I'm not at 100 percent, but I find it most of the time.

conclusion:

The Samsung Epic with 2.1 was a fine choice for a screen reader user. Since its upgrade to froyo (2.2), I no longer recommend it to a blind user. Many of the critical apps do not work well with Talkback or Spiel. Messaging, managing your call log, adding contacts, checking caller ID, listening to music, using GPS, maintaining the user defined home screen, and accessing My Apps in Android Market are all near impossible without replacement apps from the market. Furthermore, if you use alternative applications to read texts and respond to missed calls, the system notifications alerting you of these events do not clear automatically. If you really must have an Epic, be sure you are a user who is comfortable using the android market to find and install apps; otherwise, I recommend either Mobile Accessibility from Code Factory or a different phone altogether.

9 comments:

  1. How many of these issues may be resolved by just using Code Factory's MA solution? Would any of these recommended apps work better than CF's application or perhaps work well in conjunction with Mobile Access?

    I'm with T-Mobile and am considering looking to upgrade from my old WinMo 6.0 phone and thinking about a Sprint qwerty device.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have the Samsung Intercept from Sprint running Android 2.2. I've never had any of these problems. The only drawback is it has a slow processor (800mHz.)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just wanted to say thank you for posting this. My girlfriend is slowly losing her vision and has sprint with an epic 4g. The apps you've posted here have helped very much.

    I can't help but wonder, why in the world would samsung actually remove the call announcer? Did someone over at samsung say, "Hey, blind people don't use phones, let's just remove the call announcer and leave the tts and screen reader lying around because we don't know what they do anyway."

    ReplyDelete
  4. Too many bugs :( But there's always a solutions :)
    That's why i love my Android smartphone..
    Thank's for share :D

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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