Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Access to iTunes 9.0 is here!

This past Wednesday, Apple held a media event to showcase new products. With a musical theme, Apple announced many exciting developments, particularly of interest to people who are blind. With the introduction of the Voiceover screen reader for the iPod Touch and an updated Voiceover interface for the iPod Nano, as well as accessibility updates to the iPhone OS utilized on both the iPhone and iPod Touch, Apple clearly demonstrated its commitment to universal access across its product line. In an ironic twist, in fact, the blind community got much of what we have been asking for in terms of access to these devices, while the larger sighted world did not get what they most expected--a camera for the iPod Touch. To my knowledge, this has never happened before.

It isn't all roses and candy, though. Apple also released iTunes version 9.0, which, while introducing many desirable features, such as the ability to share tracks from several computers in the same household and an expansion of the genius playlist options, also broke accessibility to the iTunes store. Access to the iTunes store has become more difficult and cumbersome on the Mac platform, and it has become all but unusable under Windows.

I have personally been a mac user for a while. (I got a Mac when Tiger first came out with Voiceover, then had some time away, then returned with my current MacBook in 2007.)  I in particular, and Serotek in general, have been very excited by Apple's commitment to universal access across their entire product line. Those of you who follow our blogs and podcasts know that we are thrilled that access for the blind has reached nearly every Apple product. We aren't talking about just token access either, but real access that allows blind Mac, iPhone, and iPod users to be very productive with these very high profile and very mainstream devices.

That said, accessibility has taken a back seat in this release of iTunes. To say the least, we are disappointed that iTunes has taken an accessibility hit, especially on the Windows side, and especially in light of Apple's otherwise excellent commitment to universal accessibility.

Just like Apple, Serotek believes that the blind community deserves access to the modern digital lifestyle. We have, over the course of our existence, steadily broken down the walls of our blind ghetto and championed the cause of universal access to mainstream digital products and services. With such a similar philosophy, it's easy to see why Serotek has been beating the Apple drum since the release of the 4th Generation iPod Nano.

Our slogan, "Accessibility anywhere", isn't just a great tag line. It's something that we at Serotek believe passionately, and it's what gets us up in the morning. We use this stuff ourselves every day. We understand that our computers and music players aren't just used for work anymore. The digital lifestyle is more and more pervasive, and if we are to truly be a part of the larger community and finish breaking down those walls, it is imperative that we have the ability to participate fully in our modern digital world. As a company passionate about our right to accessibility of the digital lifestyle, we believe that access to the market leader in the digital music player space is essential. It's even more essential because Apple's accessibility philosophy so closely parallels ours.

We wanted access to iTunes under Windows, just as we had before version 9.0 was rolled out, and we wanted it as soon as possible. So, rather than waiting for Apple to fix the problem, we fixed it ourselves. We have done this by providing the accessibility framework for the iTunes store. Beginning now, any blind person has the ability to access the iTunes store using the latest version of Apple's media management software, with complete access to its entire interface. The ability to use the iTunes store under iTunes version 9.0 is available to any user of System Access or System Access To Go. So, whether you own our stand-alone product or use our free, Internet-based solution, you can take full advantage of all that iTunes has to offer. We therefore invite and encourage all blind people to use our services to access the iTunes store. And with www.satogo.com, you can even use it free--just like any sighted person can.

As exciting as this is on its own, our work hasn't stopped there. The work we've done for iTunes actually goes far beyond solving the iTunes problem. It has the potential to be much more far-reaching.

The new version of the iTunes store is built with Webkit, the engine that runs Apple's Safari browser. As you may be aware, Webkit (and, consequently, any Webkit-based browser, such as Google Chrome or Apple's Safari) has been conspicuously inaccessible on Windows. In adding accessibility for iTunes, we have put the pieces together to make Webkit accessible. We will furthermore be contributing this accessibility code to the Webkit community. This means that Webkit- based browsers for Windows have the very real potential to be accessible to us with only a minimum of effort by browser developers. This means more choices for us all, and more choices are never a bad thing.

We at Serotek are happy that the walls between our community and our specialized products, and the sighted world at large, are tumbling down. It's an exciting time to be blind, and we see real, radical, and wonderful changes in what accessibility means. We are excited to be at the forefront of these changes, and we are enthusiastically tearing down the walls that divide us from our sighted brothers and sisters.


Unknown said...

Perhaps you should do a bit more testing before patting yourselves on the back? While the iTunes Store for the most part reads fine, there's a glaring bug that you haven't touched yet. If there is a form on an iTunes Store page, such as that used when registering a new iPod for the first time, you cannot type in the edit fields. You can interact with every other form control, but attempting to type in the edit fields yields nothing at all, as the HTML navigation keystrokes are still active. Even clicking on the edit fields with the physical or virtual mouse does nothing to fix this.
Perhaps a bit more actual testing is in order before you gush all over yourselves with congratulations? You do seem to enjoy patting yourselves on the back often enough already.

Mike Calvo said...

Hello Jake:
Actually a company's goal is to publish and publish loudly about what it does. We have found the issues you speak of and they were just not possible to fixed because of the total lack of accessibility in the current webkit version. This is being addressed by Apple so what you have is what you get. It should take Apple about a month or so to update iTunes according to published info. While the edit boxes and the dropdown lists aren't working as well as they could, this is still, 100% better than any other AT company is providing.
Oops! I did it again, I gushed. Smile.

Anonymous said...

W Jake way to be a fan boy must be sad because your wonderful Jaws isn't reading the itunes store to you. How much did you pay for Jaws again?

Unknown said...

Guess what, buddy, I didn't pay a dime for jaws. Know why? I use a Mac. So I didn't pay for jaws, don't use jaws, don't want to use jaws. The only reason I even encountered these bugs at all was because I was helping a friend setup a new iPod Touch, and yes that friend does use jaws. Speaking of which though, guess what we had to do? Use system access to read the form, memorize exactly which fields were which, and then pull up jaws to type in it since SA flat out would not allow typing. So in the end we had to pull up jaws again anyway, now didn't we?
These issues weren't mentioned by Serotek, who made out that their access to the iTunes store is perfect when it is not and did so in such a self-gushing mannor that it came off as blatantly foolish. As for me, personally... well, my access to iTunes 9 is just peachy.
Oh, and btw, I'm a paying SA mobile user for those times when I do need to fix others' Windows PCs. Way to go making suppositions. But I think consumers have a right to the truth, and frequently Serotek does not seem to tell it anymore and hides it behind a perfect face.

Mike Calvo said...

Hi Jake:
I am sorry you feel that Serotek is less than truthful in our posts lately. You are a consumer and I will always respect your opinion.

We never said iTunes access is perfect however, it is still better than any of the other products on the market at this time. Apple is the one that should be making iTunes perfect but we believe that if Serotek can at least put a bandage on the problem, then we will do so. So in that spirit that's just what we did. I am sorry that we have struck such a nerve with you Jake and I hope that we can please you again in the future.