Once again, the National Braille Press (NBP) has managed to release exactly the right book at exactly the right time in its continuing line of publications designed to assist blind consumers in the use of access technology products. With the growing popularity of iOS devices (iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad), not to mention an increased popularity of the Mac as the computer of choice among technology users who are blind or visually impaired, more and more people are becoming interested in the practice of sending iMessages. So, right on schedule, NBP has released A Quick Guide to iMessages with VoiceOver, by Anna Dresner.
The book is a small one (46 braille pages) and, like all NBP publications of late, is available in either one compact hardcopy braille volume or as a downloadable electronic braille file.
What is iMessage?
The anniversary of the first text message was recently noted, marking 20 years now that people have sent simple (or not so simple) text messages via cellular network on their mobile phones. In 2011, Apple introduced iMessage, a text messaging service that has some definite advantages.
Text messages can be sent by pretty much any mobile phone to another mobile phone provided, of course, that each user has a contract with a cellular service. Most plans charge either a certain amount per text message or a blanket amount for unlimited texting; messages that spill over a certain maximum may be sent as multiple text messages.
With iMessage, there is no limit regarding the length of messages sent, and, perhaps of even greater appeal, using iMessage is free. If you have an iPad, for example, and don't want to pay for a phone service to support it, you can send texts using iMessage via WiFi without charge. You need an Apple ID, which you can get by signing up with iTunes whether you spend any money in the iTunes store or not. With iMessage, you can associate your texts with any of your own e-mail addresses or your phone number, and if you have multiple iOS devices (say, an iPhone and an iPod touch or an iPhone and an iPad), messages will show up on all devices associated with your Apple ID.
A Quick Guide to iMessages with VoiceOver makes the whole process easier for users who are blind or visually impaired by providing all of the information needed to use this service. If you have an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad running iOS 5 or higher or a Mac running Mountain Lion, you're ready to get started.
How the Book is Organized
Most of the book is devoted to a discussion on sending and receiving texts on iOS devices (iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad) with a final chapter on using iMessage with the Mac. Dresner points out at the beginning that she is using iOS 6 and specifies when there are distinctions to be made regarding iOS 5. In the Mac chapter, she clarifies that she is running a Mac with Mountain Lion.
Because the iPad layout is distinctly different from that of the iPhone or iPod touch, she clarifies throughout the book the distinctions in approaching screens on these devices.
Since layout is a key component in approaching any iOS application, particularly for users running VoiceOver, the first discussion is devoted to describing the layout of the iMessage screens on each device. Dresner continues her practice of being extremely clear in describing screen layouts, telling you if a given button will be in the upper left-hand corner, at the bottom, on the second iPhone screen, or in the right-hand column on the iPad.
From there, the following sections are clearly labeled: Sending Messages, Receiving Messages, Deleting and Forwarding Messages, Searching Messages, and Configuring Messages Options.
Not only do these titles take the user step by step through the various aspects of sending and receiving texts effectively, but their clearly identifiable labels render the book a convenient reference guide for later use. In other words, if you have read the book cover to cover (easily done in an hour or two), locating just one element of the process later is easy and convenient.
What the Book Covers
As the section titles indicate, Dresner guides you through all aspects of using iMessage. She explains how to render your iOS device iMessage-ready by walking you through how to get to the necessary settings. She explains the processes of sending and receiving texts using iMessage as well as deleting a single message or conversation and/or forwarding texts. Although I've been using iMessage for some time myself, I was particularly grateful for the section on deleting messages since I have a tendency to allow messages to accumulate.
Also particularly useful is the discussion on searching messages, which gives you the ability to search for any word or phrase that occurs within the body of a message or the subject (if it has one), or for the name, e-mail address, or phone number of the sender. In this instance, not only is there an explanation of how the search works, but there are also references to where search buttons and edit fields for these particular functions are located on the various iOS devices.
A special section of interest for families or others who might share a single Apple ID for purchasing music and movies from iTunes is the section on texting with multiple devices. Without giving away the book's information, I'll simply say that a family or other group can share an Apple ID without everyone having to receive the messages intended for individual members of the group.
What the Book Doesn't Do
Because VoiceOver gestures are unique to VoiceOver, an additional section summarizing those gestures would have been useful for newcomers to iOS devices. Granted, NBP has published previous books specifically devoted to using the iPhone and iOS 5, but reiterating the briefest information on such gestures would render the book as friendly to the iPhone or iPad newcomer as to the more seasoned VoiceOver user.
This is a wonderful addition to the growing collection of access technology guides from NBP. NBP would do well to follow its own trend as follow-up guides on other iOS applications would probably be more than welcomed by the blind community. How to build playlists, for example, might be a welcome next installment in this series or, maybe, how to organize one's books, apps, or other files into folders. The list of possibilities is, well, as limitless as Apple's iOS devices themselves.
A Quick guide to iMessages with VoiceOver is available for $6.00 in either hardcopy or electronic downloadable versions from National Braille Press, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, MA 02115. Visit the NBP website or call (800) 548-7327.