When Microsoft revamped Windows Phone as just “Windows 10 Mobile”, everyone was at a surprise. For the first time, Windows Phone would share a very heavy codebase with Windows 10. This meant that the features and resource requirements had to shrink, and Microsoft needed to redesign the user interface from almost scratch again.
Fortunately, Microsoft promised to make the OS compatible with all Windows Phones that came with 8 or 8.1. This included flagships like the Lumia 530-series, a phone model in the market which takes up over 30% of the Microsoft Phone market. Microsoft has learned the lesson of previous migrations, which is good.
What this meant for those who use assistive technologies
Windows Phone’s redesign means that Narrator and other accessibility features had to also be ported from the desktop version. Without getting too technical, this was not too difficult, especially because Narrator was already designed as a tool which relied on Microsoft’s UI Automation to make apps accessible through. Since Windows Phone apps already used the new design language, the ones that worked would do so the same – and apps which included no language for accessibility would continue to perform poorly.
The unfortunate truth
We at Cool Blind Tech have watched the growth of Windows Phone ever since the first release which included Narrator on new and some current devices. This was the Windows phone 8.1 days, and being on a developer build was required at the time thanks to carrier update woes. We recall as the updates finally included touch-typing capability and more accessibility options.
Unfortunately, at the time, very few Windows Phone apps had accessibility built in. In fact, if you’re a developer interested in or already making apps for the Windows platform, click this link to learn more.
This was a problem because some of Nokia’s own setting screens were completely unusable. Cortana later introduced the ability for apps to “launch” various actions, so we were able to use Netflix, as an example.
The game does not change with Windows Phone 10. (Or if you prefer, Windows 10 Mobile.) You still have a large number of inaccessible apps — from my own personal list, Pandora/ Spotify are still inaccessible, while Swarm works with workarounds, and Netflix is passable as “OK.”
The big surprise! we can live on the Edge!
While Microsoft’s Edge browser and e-mail apps have issues with the Windows 10 release for desktops, Microsoft Edge works really with Narrator at the moment. With a flick up/down gesture, you can move between types of page-specific items, such as headings, links, or tables. (This choice list, unlike other platforms, still cannot be customized.) Narrator will also not announce the level of the heading being shown, although keep in mind that this might change before final release.
New Narrator features
Since Windows 10 Mobile (as I shall call it forth) is based on a similar core as the desktop counterpart, the settings screen also look very similar. (Down to that offline maps choice.) As a result, Narrator now has its own settings screen. Here, a few new options now reside:
- An option which toggles whether the narrator cursor moves the on-screen cursor.
- A toggle for sounds and whether they’re heard.
- A toggle for hints.
- Finally, the touch-typing toggle which was present in the last 8.1 update as well.
This is progress! With Narrator now having its own settings screen, we expect Microsoft to include advanced options.
Narrator’s new lock screen behavior
When you lock your phone, you will hear “Windows Default Lock Screen” – this is similar to what you might see with Windows 10. Instead of double-tapping the lock screen’s window, you can now only unlock by swiping up with two fingers. This is great, though the behavior was present before, just not exclusive.
Cortana’s new interface, though buggy and crashy, works.
We also expect Cortana to become more ironed out with time, however at present it can read the main screen which has information on your interests. Sometimes her voice search function is a bit sluggish, but the phone used here was also a low-end Lumia 635. It’s encouraging to see Microsoft working on designing their apps with accessibility. The Windows Store is also very, very narrator friendly, and uses a new layout which does not have an “app bar” but instead uses regular hamburger “drawer” menus. Narrator works well with the store, and if you’re familiar with the one from 8.1, you’ll see similarities.
This piece is meant to provide information on the current state of Windows Phone 10, as many have asked. It is in no means finalized or might be inaccurate depending on other changes. We must say that by this point, Windows Phone has hit the same “level” of accessibility as it had before in 8.1, if not slightly better. This is a good sign and points to something more encouraging. App developers must be aware of why universal, accessible design is so important. If Windows Phone had good app support, it could pass as a good competition within the market of accessible devices. Accessing the notification center still seemed impossible with Narrator, and we tried numerous gestures to “pull it down” or open it without success. A command list at the time of writing for Narrator could not be found (or some type of gesture practice function.)
I, as the writer of this piece, must also stress that this is not a review of Windows Phone’s latest version, only a small overview of progress. Microsoft, keep walking down a more accessible path. We know it can be accomplished.