Book Review: Twenty-Six Useful Apps for Blind iPhone Users, by Peter Cantisani
National Braille Press has once again produced a unique book containing timely information reagarding a piece of popular culture. The iPhone, of course, represents "popular culture" whether you're blind or sighted, and that is in itself a happy bit of synchronicity. Apple's iPhone, iPod, and iPad devices have become wildly popular in the general population and equally so among people who are blind or visually impaired. The iPhone has made an indelible mark on the face of assistive technology because of its out-of-the-box accessibility.
Getting Started with the iPhone, by Anna Dresner and Dean Martineau (reviewed in the June 2011 issue of AccessWorld
), provides blind iPhone users with a wonderful introduction to the iPhone and all its on-board apps. As great as that functionality is, if you have an iPhone— or even know someone who does— then you've figured out that much of the iPhone's allure lies in the seemingly endless flow of additional apps one can install on the device.
National Braille Press has approached the topic of third-party apps with its new book, Twenty-Six Useful Apps for Blind iPhone Users, by Peter Cantisani. The book is exactly what it announces itself to be, an offering of 26 apps—no more, no less. Why 26 and not, say, 27 or 36 is never stated, although Cantisani does state from the outset that there are hundreds of thousands of these little gems to choose from, with more being developed and released every day. Cantisani has streamlined the selection process for the rest of us by highlighting a mini-smorgasbord of fun and useful apps from a variety of categories. Aside from the criteria that the apps must perform some useful function and be reasonably accessible, there is no single or common denominator tying these apps together. In other words, 26 is as good a jumping-off place as any, and the 26 provided here are a lovely and eclectic mix.
In an attention-capturing introductory chapter titled "Life with Apps," we see Peter Cantisani using his iPhone's apps as an integral part of his routine. The phone provides a wake-up alarm and weather report, enables him to check if his bus is running on time, read a book, take notes at a meeting, and much more. The reader is quickly hooked on the concept of iPhone apps as a treasure trove of utilitarian possibility. The book assumes that the reader is already familiar with the fundamental functions of the iPhone and its gestures. An introduction to the App Store is provided, instructing the reader in finding, downloading, and updating, and then we're off to the business at hand, the 26 apps themselves.
Each app is covered in its own chapter. For each app, the name of the developer is given along with the price, amount of memory required, and category (utility, music, news, etc.). About half are free and only a very few are priced at more than $5. Most require very little of your iPhone's memory (usually under 20MB), with the Navigon MobileNavigator GPS app being the most notable exception, requiring 1.69GB for the North American version.
For each app, a basic introduction outlining its purpose and general accessibility is given, followed by an overview for executing the app's functions. The author tells us where on the screen essential buttons are located, and points out when those buttons are not labeled properly for VoiceOver. While instructions provided here do not constitute a step-by-step user's guide, there is typically enough information for getting started, and sometimes more. For one particular app, Aurifi (the only game represented in the book), Cantisani specifically instructs the blind user to turn VoiceOver off for a more satisfying experience.
As stated earlier, the 26 apps selected for this book are an eclectic mix. Cantisani is a musician, so it's no surprise that he's included apps for a four-track recorder, various music-collecting and radio apps, and even an app designed to turn your iPhone into a metronome! Along with the music apps, Cantisani covers apps for downloading books (both human voice recordings and those enjoyed via text-to-speech), an app for collecting podcasts, and apps that make it easy to stay current with news and events. There are cooking apps for obtaining recipes, learning cooking techniques, and finding useful conversions (e.g., how many teaspoons equal a pint), and one that even generates your shopping list for preparing a particular dish.
Transportation and independent mobility are hot topics for most blind people, and there are great apps included in these areas, too. The NextBus app, for instance, is an amazing find, enabling the user to check bus schedules and track whether a particular bus is running on time. The Sendero GPS LookAround app, designed by Sendero Group, does exactly what its name promises: "look around" your current location to determine points of interest and/or nearby streets, and to get your current address. The other GPS app covered in the book, the Navigon MobileNavigator, is a mainstream, more full-featured GPS program. At $59.99, it's also by far the most expensive app in the collection.
There are four apps in the collection specifically designed with blind audiences in mind: those for identifying money, labeling and identifying documents and other items, obtaining information about current surroundings, and downloading books recorded specifically for people with print disabilities.
If you're looking for brilliant prose, this isn't the book for you. Errors in grammar, punctuation, and word usage that might well remain under the radar for a typical reader are more prevalent here than in many National Braille Press originals. That said, if you're looking for clear directions for downloading apps that will do everything from building personalized radio stations to taking blood pressure, this book is a must-have.
Twenty-Six Useful Apps for Blind iPhone Users is available in hardcopy Jiffy-Braille, on CD in ebraille, and in downloadable DAISY and Microsoft Word formats.
To order, visit National Braille Press or call (800) 548-7323.
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