Apple announces new software accessibility features to aid people with disabilities

The updates are coming later this year, the tech giant said.
The updates are coming later this year, the tech giant said. Photo credit: Supplied / Apple

Apple has announced a slew of upcoming software updates that could benefit the one in four New Zealanders that are living with a disability.

The Cupertino-based tech giant revealed the new functionality ahead of Global Accessibility Awareness Day on Thursday, May 22.

That includes 'Door Detection', a new 'last metre' navigation feature for users who are blind or have low vision, and Apple Watch mirroring on iPhones.

"Apple embeds accessibility into every aspect of our work, and we are committed to designing the best products and services for everyone," said Sarah Herrlinger, Apple's senior director of Accessibility Policy and Initiatives.

"We're excited to introduce these new features, which combine innovation and creativity from teams across Apple to give users more options to use our products in ways that best suit their needs and lives."

Door Detection is designed to help users locate a door when arriving at a new destination by telling them how far away it is and describing the door out loud.

The feature will work regardless if the door is open or closed or whether it can be accessed by pushing, pulling or turning a knob, as well as reading signs and symbols around the door. It will also identify revolving doors.

The functionality will be delivered using LiDAR - a scanner that uses reflected light to measure distance - which is currently available in the iPhone 12 and 13 Pro models and some iPads, the company said.

Door Detection is being added to Magnifier, Apple's built-in app designed to support blind and low vision users, which can already detect how far away from other people users are as well as zoom in on writing that may be hard to read.

The Apple Watch will also become more accessible for people with physical and motor disabilities with the Mirroring feature, which helps users control the watch remotely from their paired iPhone.

The iPhone's assistive features like Voice Control and Switch Control, as well as voice commands, sound actions, head tracking and external Made for iPhone switches, can be used as alternatives to tapping the display. 

New quick actions also builds on AssistiveTouch, which gives users with upper body limb differences the option to control their watch with a gesture or a clench.

That will include a new double-pinch gesture to answer or end a phone call, dismiss a notification, take a photo and play or pause media.

However, the one in six Kiwis who suffer from hearing loss will have to wait to get the new Live Captions functionality, which is rolling out to iPhone, iPad and Mac users in the US and Canada first.

As the name suggests, live captions can be added to any audio content, including phone and FaceTime calls, video conferencing, social media apps or streaming media contents.

It can also be used when having conversations with someone next to you, with adjustable font sizes for ease of reading.

In FaceTime, dialogue is automatically attributed to the speaker, making group video calls easier to understand while, on the Mac, users can type a response and have it spoken out loud in real time to others.

This is all done while maintaining privacy, Apple said, with captions generated on device and not sent over the internet in any way.

Other new functionality coming includes Buddy Controller, where users can ask a care provider or friend to help them play a game and Siri Pause time, where users with speech disabilities can adjust how long Siri waits before responding to voice commands.

The software updates are coming "later this year", Apple said, but didn't provide any further timelines.