At its Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced that iOS 14 will have a new accessibility feature that can alert deaf and hard-of-hearing users to 14 different sounds.
Apple’s new accessibility feature, which will debut in the iOS 14 update of the operating system when it releases this fall, announced during Apple’s virtual Worldwide Developers Conference, will alert deaf and hard-of-hearing users by text to doorbells and door knocks; fire, smoke, and siren alarms; and other specific environmental sounds (14 in total), including shouting, a baby crying, a dog barking, a cat meowing, and running water.
Apple isn’t the first electronics company to incorporate non-speech sound recognition technology into its products; Samsung added a similar feature to its devices years ago. The company’s efforts also build on the work of previous innovations by sound recognition technology companies including OtoSense, Audio Analytic, and AbiliSense.
Wavio, founded five years ago by three Deaf individuals, is another sound recognition company that has fore-fronted accessibility. Its CEO Greyson Watkins said that the team’s experiences as Deaf people and their consumer research have influenced their development of their sound recognition technology.
Wavio’s technology, which goes much further than Apple’s feature, recognizes over 500 “critical and convenient household sounds that we are prioritizing based on consumer research and unmet needs.” That includes beeping, coughing, crashing, crying, fire, gunfire, cries for help, ringing, and shattering, among others — a list that will continue to grow as its dataset develops.
Wavio’s technology can also pinpoint a sound’s location, while Apple’s feature may not. Wavio’s CEO said that’s an important factor in capturing sounds in spaces where people are not present, including when they aren’t at home.
“We heard so many stories about people accidentally leaving the car idling, water running, or stove on and then leaving the room,” Watkins said. “So Apple’s use of their internal mic is absolutely helpful for sounds nearby a device, but may not be as efficacious when it comes to capturing sounds outside of the immediate room the user or device is in.”
Apple’s move shows the potential for broader adoption of assistive technologies at bigger firms. Although Apple’s update will only include 14 sounds, it lays the groundwork for additional sounds to be added in the years to come. If successful, the feature could potentially replace other existing assistive devices for deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers, like flashing fire alarms, reducing the costs that they bear to make their homes more accessible to them.
Apple has also added other accessibility features to iOS 14 that will affect deaf and hard-of-hearing users — like Real Time Text conversations, which will enable callers to text chat during a voice call, and an update for FaceTime to allow for a larger screen when users are communicating in sign language.
The company also added “Headphone Accommodations,” which will essentially turn AirPods Pro into hearing aids as it “amplifies soft sounds and tunes audio to help music, movies, phone calls, and podcasts sound crisper and clearer,” according to the press release.