Appreciate these apps

Steve Griffiths, Accessibility Development Executive, RNIB rounds up useful apps and reveals RNIB's website and app of the month. 

Georgie keeps it simple

The Georgie smartphone apps first appeared in summer 2012. They are aimed at blind people who don't want to have to deal with the complex screens and functionality that many modern smartphones have. Georgie was expensive, starting at £149 for the core set of apps, and with additional groups of apps available for £25 each.

In February 2014, Georgie was quietly re-released as individual apps through the Play Store costing between £1 and £20.

Finally Office for iPad

Towards the end of March, Microsoft released the long-awaited Office for iPad. There are free versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint which can be used to view existing documents. If you want to create or edit documents you need an Office 365 license, which costs from £6 per month.

The interface for the apps is similar to later versions of Office, but with a much reduced set of options - five selectable tabs, each leading to a single line of commands beneath it.

The apps have minimal accessibility with VoiceOver – the tabs and commands are labelled, and it’s possible to read documents. However, editing is hard, and I haven’t yet discovered a way of finding more detailed information such as whether a piece of text in Word is a heading, or an Excel cell contains a formula.

The overall opinion seems to be that the apps are good, especially Excel, but they’re not worth paying £6 a month for. If you already have the Office 365 subscription and an iPad, grab them. But if you buy a new iPad, it comes with Apple's equivalent apps (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) for free, and it's definitely worth checking these out first. I’d say this goes double for a VoiceOver user.

Windows phone talks

While Windows phones have had good low vision options in them for some time, they have been let down by having no speech output.

During April, a beta (test) version of the new Windows phone 8.1 software was released to developers. One of the big changes is the inclusion of a screen reader, called Narrator.

RNIB is involved in testing and feeding back to Microsoft on how good Narrator is. It's unfair to say too much about it, because there may be big changes between now and when 8.1 is released to everyone. But, it's certainly true to say that it has the potential to be a real competitor to TalkBack on Android devices, while still lacking the polish of the iOS VoiceOver speech.

Another of the big changes in the new software is Cortana, an intelligent assistant similar to Siri and Google Now. Like Narrator, it’s on a par with its Android equivalent, but not as useful as the Apple offering – and Cortana isn’t as witty as Siri can be, either. You have to have location services turned on to use Cortana, even for information requests that are not location-dependent, which seems an unnecessary intrusion.

Office for free

OpenOffice has much the same functionality as Microsoft Office (minus Outlook) but is free, so it’s a popular choice for people trying to keep their computing costs down. Another reason for checking it out is if you don’t like the ribbon interface, as it still uses menus.

The problem with earlier versions of OpenOffice was that it was very tricky to get working with a screen reader. You needed to install extra bits of software and change settings before you could  use it, and without expert help it was difficult to get it working.

Version 4.1 of OpenOffice was released at the end of April, and includes built-in iAccessible2 support, which means it should work with latest versions of NVDA and JAWS. The next version of Window-Eyes is also expected to work with it.

You can find out more and download OpenOffice from: openoffice.org or download it directly.

Website and App of the month

Each month RNIB invites a blind or partially sighted person to write about a website or an app they find particularly useful. We post the results on our TechKnowMore blog.

The website of the month

WonderBaby, is aimed at parents of visually impaired children. It's a US site, but still contains a lot of information that is useful to UK families. Check it out at wonderbaby.org.

The app of the month

Nokia pocket magnifier, lets you use your Windows phone’s camera as a magnifier.  Unlike many such apps, this one has no adverts, just a clean and simple interface with large control buttons. View the pocket magnifier app now.  

If you want to submit a review of a website or app email: digitalaccess@rnib.org.uk.

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