Deborah Kendrick

Sometimes acquiring new technology skills helps pave the way to a higher academic degree, a new job, or a promotion. And sometimes, even for people who are blind, it’s just, well, kind of entertaining.

National Braille Press will soon be releasing Judy Dixon’s newest book, 31 Cool Things You Can Do with Your iPhone: From Fun to Practical to Entertaining, and while she includes some serious and practical components, her suggestions will mostly help you kick back and just have a little fun with your iPhone.

Cool Things

Did you know there is an app to help you hang a picture, find a dropped screw (or other piece of metal), or discover which planes might be flying overhead?

Maybe you know about the Shazam app, but did you know there are other ways to identify what song is playing in the supermarket or, even more fun, get lyrics to any song? The lyrics app is called Genius and I tried desperately to challenge it. No matter how obscure my song request, Genius delivered. You can email lyrics to yourself to emboss for karaoke night, or just look at them on your iPhone screen to study and be amused and amazed!

Dixon includes apps to help you have a conversation with someone in another language, identify a bird singing in your backyard, or play the piano on your slippery iPhone. (This one was entirely new to me and so much fun that it was hard to get back to the book!)


Since the title promises 31 cool things, each app is numbered. Each app is introduce with the following information:

  • App Store name
  • Name that appears on your phone after you've installed it (extremely helpful)
  • Developer
  • Price (most are free)
  • Space required
  • Whether it appears as a widget on your Today screen or is Apple Watch compatible.

Dixon then provides a brief, but detailed, examination of how the app functions, where its components are located on the screen, and, of course, what works well and what doesn’t for those of us using VoiceOver. As usual, Dixon has put each app through its paces and has found the steps necessary to use it so we can just go directly to the fun of downloading and playing with the apps that interest us most.

Some Bonus Information

In some cases, Dixon has added what she calls "User Tips" at the end of an app's entry. Typically, these are solutions for accomplishing a task for the app in question, but that will also be useful in other iPhone situations as well. For example, if you have wondered how (or once knew and have forgotten how) to access the app switcher, navigate a table, or make a Siri shortcut, you can find concise directions in this book. When a User Tip is included, it's often just after the explanation of an app for which that bonus information will be useful. It appears as an added convenience, in other words, to help you get right to the business of enjoying the app.

Caveats and Conclusions

While most of the identification apps are presented with at least one detailed example, all apps are not treated equally in this regard. For an app that describes videos on YouTube, a complete example is provided. For an app that locates lyrics, a popular song is used to illustrate the function. A disappointing exception to this is the UniDescription app, which provides access to information about national parks. While an example is cited, Dixon doesn't provide any quoted content from the app, which leaves us without much of a sense of the app's flavor. Dixon offers enough information to pique the reader’s interest, but doesn't provide the same level of detail that you'll find elsewhere in the book.

One very useful app included in the "Home Office" section of the book describes how to deposit a check. Since I use a similar app for two other banks (both quite different from one another), I noticed immediately that they are also not quite the same as the bank included in the book. In other words, if your bank is not Wells Fargo, you can get a general idea of how to deposit a check with a bank app, but you won't be able to depend on the steps here to guide you precisely through the process as you can with most other apps in the book.

That small caveat aside, should you buy this book? Absolutely! It’s a small book, one braille volume, and whether you are interested in yodeling, printing #10 envelopes, or making a quick video of that hilarious thing your guide dog does, this book will be one you will pull out for quick reference again and again.

Product Information

31 Cool Things You Can Do with Your iPhone: From Fun to Practical to Entertaining, by Judy Dixon, is available from National Braille Press, 800-548-7323, in hardcopy braille or electronic formats including BRF, DAISY, and Microsoft Word.

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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Deborah Kendrick
Article Topic
Book Reviews