The iPhone 4S and iOS 5; My Perspective

My Transition from the 3GS to the 4S

A lot has been written in many many places about the iPhone 4S, and several people have shared their experiences with the latest smart phone from Apple as well. So, I figured that I might as well do so and throw out my own thoughts. I finally received my iPhone 4S last Friday, the 28th of October, and I have now been using it continually since then.

It seems like yesterday when I bought my iPhone 3GS, though it is now about two and a half years since it became the first accessible version of the iPhone and I preordered it. I can clearly recall having to really learn how to use the touch screen by fire, as at the time I got the phone, my father ended up in the hospital for about a week. I was the central point of contact for my family for passing along news, and, thus, I had to learn to type on the virtual keyboard and get used to using the phone right away with no time to play and experiment with it. Although the circumstances left a lot to be desired, it proved to be a good way for me to get acclimated to the iPhone and teach myself to use it effectively. I can still recall sitting in a corner of my father’s hospital room with one of my brothers shielding me from view of the nurses and staff while I typed a text or quietly phoned one of my other family members, as using cell phones in that part of the hospital was frowned upon.

From that point on, the 3GS became a faithful friend I carried on me a good deal of the time. It was musing to me because I could remember some of my sighted friends and family commenting on how their iPhones had become like “a part of them” and a device you found yourself unable to live without. I used to tease them when I heard them make such remarks, but within a few months, I had found myself feeling the same way as them about my 3GS. I literally couldn’t put the thing down at times and even used it when I was in bed.

Thus, I must confess, that I upgraded to the iPhone 4S with a great bit of sadness in me. As crazy as that sounds, having been through so much with that phone, I really felt bad giving it up. Fortunately, my old, faithful friend will now serve my sister in-law, so it does still have a good home and will continue to be used as regularly as it served me.And so a black, iPhone 4S with 16 GB of storage has replaced my 1 6 GB 3GS. At first, with other carriers having picked up the iPhone, I had been on the fence as to whether I would remain with AT&T or switch to another carrier. It is not that I was unhappy with AT&T, but wanted to simply see if I could find a better plan. Smart phones are not inexpensive when it comes to the inclusion of data plans with the voice plan, and I was interested in trying to save myself some money.

To make a long story short, in the end, I remained with AT&T. I kept my unlimited data plan for $30 a month,and though I was not really pleased with the fact that I was not going to save myself any money, Sprint and Verizon didn’t have anything they could offer me that would make it worth switching to them. I know Sprint was also offering unlimited data plans, but the overall cost was not much different than what I am paying with AT&T, and I have not heard a lot of good things about their service coverage in many places.

I preordered the phone on October 7, but because AT&T was so overwhelmed with orders, there was a delay in shipping my particular lot. I was told that AT&T were placing the orders into lots literally based on the time you ordered the phone during the day, and since I had called in the middle of the day, mine was not among the first lots to ship. I had to order the iPhone directly through them because my unlimited data plan was not showing up in the options when I tried to preorder it through Apple. I was not at all pleased with the fact that it took an extra week and a half to ship me the phone, and I will not order from AT&T directly again in the future because of this delay. Still, I do understand the circumstances, and it did give me time to read up on the features of the 4S and be prepared to use it.

Thus, when I received the 4S, it was a snap to set up. Right out of the box, I turned it on, I flicked the mute switch off and on to make sure it had powered up, and then I pressed the home button 3 times. VoiceOver came on seconds later, and I was off and running setting the device up without sighted assistance. The process was easy, and I only had to sync the phone with my Mac Mini to get my applications over. I didn’t set up the 4S as a brand new phone, but I was amazed by just how easily and quickly I got all of my data transferred over from the backup file of my 3GS. Everything came over without a hitch, and I only had to manually transfer the accounts of my Storm8 games after the fact.

It than took a quick call to AT&T to activate my 4S. I was told to shut it down, wait 5 minutes and then turn it back on. According to them, it would then join the AT&T network to have service. I did exactly that, and, well, as advertised, I was texting contacts while I went out to dinner with family and made my first call from the car. Within an hour after having the phone dropped off by Federal Express, I was using it, folks.

Without a doubt, most likely because of the much faster processor in the phone, the 4S is a lot snappier and responsive when it comes to VoiceOver. In some cases on the 3GS after upgrading to iOS 5, responsiveness became a bit sluggish, and I would have problems, for example, loading the App Store, the iBooks Store or even my contacts. It wasn’t that the 3GS became difficult to use by any means, but the 4S was definitely a major improvement from the user experience. Everything just works, and the improvements to VoiceOver are even more noticeable on the 4S.

Some Accessibility Features

I’m not going to talk about every new thing, but here are some comments and observations on some of the new accessibility features in iOS 5 and on the iPhone 4S.

As I said, the fact that one can now set up the iPhone right out of the box without connecting it to a computer and without sighted assistance is truly remarkable and just a cool experience. You don’t have to sync with iTunes and turn on VoiceOver through the Accessibility pane in the Summary tab of your iPhone in iTunes. The triple press of the home button once you power up the phone activates VoiceOver, and you have speech right away for the setup process.

The new voices and additional languages are also neat to mess with. You have both the compact and high quality voice options those who use Mac OS X Lion will be familiar with to choose from. This includes, for English speaking people, a jazzed up version of Samantha, a male British voice, and a female Australian and, my personal favorite, a female Irish voice. Note that you will probably have to connect your 4S to AC power in order to have the high quality voices become available to you in the VoiceOver area of your iPhone settings. From all reports and from what I experienced, they did not show up as a choice in the language section until after I plugged in the phone and waited a while. It is a matter of personal choice and opinion as to whether you will like the new sound to Samantha or the other voices.

I am not a photographer of any kind myself, but there is a new feature in iOS 5 that is pretty cool for someone who is blind. If you use the camera and want to take a picture of someone, VoiceOver will actually tell you if there are faces in focus. I was quite amazed by this, and though taking a picture of twin 4 year olds was a challenge within itself, this feature did impress me.

As for VoiceOver itself, the “item chooser” you Mac users know so well has come to the iPhone. This is a very nice way to search and have all of the items on a screen be listed so that you can more easily find what you are looking for. You activate this with a 2 finger triple tap on the screen or, with a keyboard, by pressing control-option-i.

Also similar to running Lion on the Mac, when using a keyboard with your iOS 5 device, you can use single letter navigation to more easily navigate in Safari. For example, typing the letter, h, will take you to the next heading on a page, or the letter, t, will take you to the next table. If you add the shift key, you will go to the previous element of that kind. BTW, you also have control of what elements you can include on the web rotor now, along with several additional elements that were not available in previous iOS versions with VoiceOver.

Another feature that comes from VoiceOver on the Mac is that it’s now possible to custom label items. In other words, if you encounter a button or some other element that does not have a label or is not labeled properly and you know what it should be, if you double tap with 2 fingers and hold until you hear a tone, an edit field appears and you can then type in the label you desire and VoiceOver will remember that from that point on in that application. If you are using a keyboard, control-option-slash will activate this feature.

Siri, My New Friend

OK, so a lot has been written about the new Siri Assistant, which is the “big feature” that has come to the iPhone 4S. To be honest, this was the deal breaker for me. I wanted the 4S mainly because of Siri.

Well, I can tell you that it is one COOL feature. I have used it so many times for a variety of reasons, and I’ve been dazzled, amazed and amused by the results. It’s really one of those things you have to experience to fully appreciate. I was really one of those people who initially thought that talking to my phone would be something I’d hardly do, but it is literally an addicting feature that makes this phone so much more valuable.

There are a few things that one must understand first. Let’s be clear about Siri, folks. She is still in Beta. She does not always work all of the time and it does take use and experience to really understand how best to get the most out of the feature. Sometimes, the server is unavailable, and other times, it seems that Siri doesn’t work at all. Here are a few tips I can offer from my experiences thus far.

  1. Disable VoiceOver hints.

    This will prevent VoiceOver from speaking after you hold down the home button and, thus, interfering with your own voice. It took me a while to figure this rather obvious point out.

  2. Choose your words carefully.

    It’s all in the wording. Sometimes, you have to be specific in what you are asking and how you are asking. For example, “What did the Giants do?” was not as effective for me as asking, “What was the Giants score today?”, or, even better, “Google Giants score.”

  3. Toggle off VoiceOver.

    In some cases, it is more effective to toggle off VoiceOver to use Siri. The downside to this, however, is the results are not spoken and you will then have to toggle VO back on to read them.

In the
section of the site,
I have placed a document that has some tips for using Siri, including its use for dictating text.

A few Other Observations

The Reminders App

The Reminders App is new to iOS 5. This is an application one can use to set quick reminders for any reason one can imagine. The cool thing about the reminders is they can be location based. In other words, you can have reminders go off when you reach a specific destination, such as when you get to work or when you get home. You can also set a date and time for a reminder as well.

One of the things that happened to me, though, is I was not able to initially set any new reminders. It drove me crazy for a few days because people were telling me there was an “add” button that you had to double tap in order to set a new reminder. For the life of me, I simply could not find this button and a sighted person told me that the button was grayed out on my screen.

Well, it turns out, after a quick Google search using my new friend, Siri, that this seems to happen with some new iPhone 4S models and even after upgrading to iOS 5 on other devices. You don’t have a default reminders list, but only a “Completed” list. So, you have to create a reminders list by finding and double tapping the edit button when you do a search for reminders in the Reminders App. Once you do, an option for adding a new list will appear, and once you create the list, you then will discover that you can add new reminders.

Here are some examples of reminders you can create with Siri. You can, of course, manually create them in the Reminders App itself following the screen options, but to me, it’s more fun and efficient to use Siri.

  • “Remind me when I get home to call my brother.”
  • “Remind me when I get to Rick’s to give him the money I owe him from dinner last weekend.”
  • “Remind me on Monday at 2 O’clock that I have to call my eye doctor.”
  • “Remind me that I have to finish the blog article for Macfortheblind on my iPhone 4S.”

The Weather Widget in Notifications

Notifications, to me, are a lot more convenient in iOS 5. They no longer interrupt what you are doing with a screen that you have to close. Now, they have their own separate screen. You still will get an audio notification of the event, but you have to first move your finger to the status menu where your network, battery status and time is shown, and then swipe down with 3 fingers. This will place you in the notification area, and what you will find there depends on what you have set up to show there. You can configure notifications in the Notifications section of your iPhone Settings to choose what applications will announce and how they present notifications for you, as well as if you want them to be announced when the screen is locked.

The weather widget is something that you can have shown on the Notifications screen. I like having this, but the thing that I wanted to note here is that it does not necessarily show you an extended forecast of any kind. Instead, when you locate that notification with your finger, it announces current conditions only. In order to get a more detailed forecast, you have to double tap the current conditions and you will then be presented with the full forecast. This is, btw, the same thing that happens if you ask about the weather with Siri. You’ll have to double tap the shown result, which is usually just the current conditions, to see the extended forecast.

Battery Life

As with any new device or software upgrade, bugs are bound to be found. The iPhone 4S and, particularly, iOS 5 is no different. There have been plenty of things written on this subject, but also as an unfortunate reality, many of the “bugs” reported are turning out to be very limited or, in some cases, the result of user error or ignorance. It is unfortunate that, for instance, some folks among the blindness community have a disturbing habit of personalizing problems with their phone or software and presenting it as the most important and egregious error Apple had made or overlooked. My advice on this topic is check around on the Apple related forums before you decide what you are experiencing might be a bug or is, instead, device specific or something you are not doing correctly or doing incorrectly.

Battery problems are something Apple has acknowledged as a known bug. In iOS 5, some folks are experiencing significant battery drain and are not getting a great deal of battery life out of their iOS 5 device, whether this be an iPhone 4S or an upgraded device. I have experienced this issue with both my 3GS and now with my 4S.

The point is it’s known to Apple and there is already a iOS 5.01 update in Beta being tested now at the time of this article, November 5, 2011. So, I wish that a few folks would stop posting on the blind iPhone users mailing lists like this is a personal affront or is a Federal case in nature? It’s an inconvenience and it can be annoying, but it’s not the end of the world and an issue to cause one to proclaim lamentations over having bought an iDevice or, specifically, an iPhone 4S. It will be addressed by Apple shortly.

In the mean time, There is a very informative and helpful article that has several tips on how to improve battery life on your iOS 5 device. I have implemented some of the suggestions that were best for me, and I’ve already noticed a noticeable improvement in my battery life on my iPhone 4S. The article was written by Christopher Breen of Macworld and it can be found
I didn’t make all of the changes written about in the article, and I’d suggest only turning off the things that will least effect you and your situation. This is, at least, a help until Apple does release the 5.01 update to address the battery usage problem.


In some ways, I am reminded of the time right around the release of Mac OS 10.7 Lion when there was so much misinformation and ignorance pervading the blind Mac user email lists. With Lion bringing some significant changes to the OS and some to VoiceOver, so many things were blown out of proportion, and it created a sense of fear in some who decided not to upgrade because of the negativity that seemed to get all of the attention. It always seems that it is the nature of the beast in which the bad things are talked about the most.

Fortunately, the level of misinformation and personalization is not as high with iOS 5 and the iPhone 4S, but it is still out there. If you, as the individual, do not like the changes in iOS 5 or are experiencing issues just about everyone else is not, it really should not then be written about on public mailing lists as if everyone else should feel the same way as you or will have the same issues as you. It really does a disservice to the community as a whole.

To me, my purchase of the iPhone 4S has already been worth every dime. I can’t say enough good things about the device and about iOS 5 itself. If you are on the fence as to whether or not to take the plunge to buy a 4S or you are uncertain about upgrading your iDevice to iOS 5, just do it. You won’t be disappointed or let down in either case. I am learning new and amazing things about the 4S every day, and I have, for the lack of a better term, fallen in love with the iPhone all over again.

Once again, Apple has taken the lead and set the benchmark in accessibility and in providing the blind yet another means towards independence. VoiceOver on the iPhone is just as impressive and impacting as it is on the Mac. I can still hardly believe the ease in which I can use the touch screen, and I still enjoy the reactions of some sighted folks when they observe me use the phone. Particularly with the recent passing of Steve Jobs and acknowledging all he has done for the world of technology and the blind as consumers, I am all the more grateful for my iPhone 4S. Simply, I cannot recommend this device enough to give it justice.

This entry was posted in Accessibility, General, iOS Devices, iPhone. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The iPhone 4S and iOS 5; My Perspective

  1. sbcardinal says:

    What kind of case do you have? I’d like to have something to wrap for Christmas for my son, and want to make sure I choose wisely. Sounds like I’ve found the right person to ask! Thanks.

    • John says:

      I just started using something like an OtterBox case. It’s not an actual OtterBox, but it is the same idea. It protects the phone quite well, but has openings for all of the connecters and buttons and the mute switch. I also have a generic case with a magnetic flip top in which I put the phone on my belt. A little overkill, I know, but for the money I spent on the phone and the value of the device, I want to be sure it will not easily get damaged. So far, the combination has worked out fine.

      The case that protects the phone itself adds a little bulk, but not as much as I expected. It’s easily to pull the phone out of the case I hang on my belt, and the protective case of the phone does not interfere in any way with the use of the phone at all.

      • sbcardinal says:

        Thanks for the quick answer! I was worried about protecting the phone without limiting accessibility and think your method of doubling up is what I needed to think about. Off to shop!

Leave a Reply