January 2017 Issue  Volume 18  Number 1

Product Evaluations and Guides

A Review of the Mystic Access Apple Watch Tutorial

Like the iPhone before it, the Apple Watch has gained a following among users who are blind and visually impaired, due to the availability of the built-in VoiceOver screen reader. If you're an iPhone user who's into fitness or who just wants to have instant access to what's happening on your phone, the watch may be a tempting accessory. Even for an experienced VoiceOver user, though, a new piece of hardware with its own software means there's a lot to learn. The Audio Tutorial for the Apple Watch from Mystic Access aims to make getting to know your watch easier.

Like the other educational offerings from Mystic Access, the Apple Watch tutorial is a long-form audio program, organized by topic into sections and subsections, like a book's table of contents. This structure gives users the ability to choose whether to hear the entire tutorial, or navigate directly to a particular topic. Since it's available in DAISY or MP3 format, the tutorial can be played on an iOS device, a computer, or a DAISY-capable audio player, such as the Victor Reader Stream. At standard playback speed, the Apple Watch tutorial runs more than 4.5 hours.

Written and voiced by experienced accessibility teacher, Lisa Salinger, the tutorial aims to be a comprehensive guide to getting to know, and learning to use, the Apple Watch. Salinger begins by addressing potential watch purchasers, suggesting who might want such a device. She then introduces the hardware (a supported iPhone and an Apple Watch), and software (the current version of the watchOS 3 operating system) you'll need to work through the tutorial. You'll then learn about watch accessories and bands, and get a hands-on orientation to the watch hardware. The organization of these introductory sections is a bit muddled: we learn about watch bands before inspecting the contents of the box, for example, but this is a minor concern.

Early on, Salinger suggests you should feel free to skip around in the tutorial, rather than approaching it in a linear manner. This is good advice, not only because different users have different needs and levels of knowledge, but because there are so many ways to customize the watch to your own use. In fact, a substantial portion of the tutorial describes settings and other configuration options. If you're impatient to begin a watch-based workout, or to feel a message notification on your wrist, you might find yourself jumping two-thirds of the way through the material, to a section that covers using your watch. Others might choose to work through the tutorial from the beginning; early sections introduce wearing options, VoiceOver gestures you'll need to master, and how to use the hardware buttons.

Next up are a number of long sections that take you through almost all settings on the watch and in the iPhone's Watch app that's used to configure a number of watch/phone integration options. Salinger's table of contents is detailed, and she does a good job of introducing each section, allowing you to quickly decide whether the section contains the material you want by listening to a few seconds of audio. She also incorporates short "time out" sections, in which she reviews what has come before, and encourages listeners to reflect on what they've learned and take a break if they're feeling overwhelmed.

Toward the end of the tutorial, Salinger begins demonstrating the uses of the watch to track workouts, hear message notifications, check the weather, play music, and use Siri to control the watch and phone. Because so much of the tutorial is devoted to setup, the sections focused on using the watch feel like a treat. But if you navigate through the material, rather than listening from the beginning, you can have your desert first!

The tutorial is thorough and well-written. No important watch feature or setting is left out, and Salinger sprinkles tips and hints throughout the material that show she is an experienced Apple Watch user. Salinger, who has produced audio programs and podcasts for other organizations, speaks in a clear, slow voice, pausing frequently. Her pace may feel too slow for some users, but that's easily remedied by playing the Apple Watch tutorial on a device, or in an app that allows you to adjust playback speed. I used Voice Dream Reader on my iPhone to play the tutorial at 165%, a comfortable speed for my listening style.

The tutorial includes speech from Salinger's Apple Watch and her iPhone, throughout. She has chosen different voices for the two devices, so it's easy to know which one is speaking. She doesn't fall into the habit of some narrators, who tend to repeat what a device has just said, which I appreciate. All speech is distinct, but you might need to turn your listening device's volume up a bit to catch the Watch's audio. It's probably most effective to use headphones to listen, especially if you experience any hearing loss.

This tutorial is produced entirely from the perspective of a VoiceOver user. Salinger says early on, and I agree with her, that many users with low vision will find it far easier to use an Apple Watch with speech than with zoom and the few contrast settings Apple offers. For that reason, the tutorial does not offer detailed guidance for those who want to use the watch without VoiceOver.

The Bottom Line

If you're serious about the Apple Watch and want to get the most from it as a VoiceOver user, this Mystic Access tutorial is a great way to dig into every nook and cranny to find features you might not know about. Though Apple does provide VoiceOver-aware documentation for the watch, it is neither as detailed, nor as focused on the lived experience of watch ownership as is the Mystic Access tutorial. At nearly $40, this audio program isn't cheap, but neither was your fancy Apple Watch. Watch owners who are not fully comfortable with new technology will feel comfortable in Salinger's patient hands. If you're a geek who enjoys teaching yourself about your gadgets, you will get less from the tutorial, though Salinger's inclusion of tips and real-world experience take the material beyond beginner level in some areas.

Product: Audio Tutorial for the Apple Watch (available in DAISY or MP3 format) from Mystic Access, 716-543-3323
Price: $39.00

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