By this point, Android users are quite accustomed to the version number of their beloved screen reader jumping from minor to major numbers without much consolation. For example, our jump from 3.5.x to 4.0 only introduced lollipop specific device compatibility, nothing too tangible for the average user.
Earlier this month, Google published a form which requested Talkback users to submit their honest feedback to the company. The questions asked ranged from the usability and functionality of the screen reader, to specific changes which should be considered.
Needless to say, many people completed this survey, and it seems to now bear fruit with resounding results. Google pushed a new version of Talkback to beta channels, with the version number 4.2.0. Some users are facing difficulties grabbing this release, since it seems as though Google is only pushing it slowly out to everyone.
Google released an official change-log just a few hours ago as of this writing. It is pasted below, with additional comments for clarity.
- More gesture customization available. All gestures can now be customized with all actions.
This means that similar to Spiel, you could change the granularity gesture to a swiping up (to move it to the next item) and down (for previous) command.
- Assignable keyboard shortcuts.
- Option to suspend and resume TalkBack by long pressing both volume buttons. This must be enabled in TalkBack settings.
This gives people a very easy way to suspend Talkback. You no longer have to use a context menu, you can simply use the volume keys and suspend it on the fly.
- Optional new local and global context menus. These can be shown as a
regular Android list, the default is the circle style in this release.
- Optional screen dimming. If enabled the screen brightness will be reduced
to almost zero when TalkBack is on and not suspended. The first three
minutes after screen dimming is enabled it can be turned off by quickly
pressing both volume button three times. During this time there are
instructions on the screen on how to disable screen dimming for users who
are not familiar with TalkBack.
- Sliders, or SeekBars, can now be controlled with the volume keys like
- EditText movement with volume control has been improved. Volume keys will
now move cursor in EditText if it either has accessibility focus or if it
has input focus and there is no accessibility focus on the screen.
This is pretty big of a change. Previously, Talkback users had to have the text box under the talkback cursor to edit.
- Checkboxes in preferences should now announce the correct value on
- Autoscrolling have been tweaked and will not mostly scroll lists.
These are great new features, and no doubt bring Android accessibility rapidly forward. From browsing through the eyes-free mailing list, there are a few other items to note which could be important:
- Some people are reporting issues with dictation feedback.
- The annoying bug where Talkback announced every deleted letter without interrupting its speech seems to be fixed.
- People are reporting issues with editing using physical keyboards, specifically with the cursor movement.
There are two ways you could install this beta. If you are OK with the issues and stability problems that can plague any beta release, feel free to do so. Depending on your use case, one method might be easier than the other.
The first method is to use our sideloading guide and install the new Talkback APK file. To do so, use “Adb install -r apkname” as the command with ADB. This will install the newer version over your existing talkback release.
The official Google-sanctioned method is to sign up for the beta. First become a member of the Eyesfree mailing list. Remember that you do not have to opt in to receiving posts from here.
Once opted in, click this link to join the Play Store beta
Whether it’s Samsung’s new Galaxy Talkback, or the shear effort people put into the Talkback survey, Google did listen. This release is major, and unfortunately your device must be running android 4.1 or above. This should not be a major issue for many users, as 4.0 and below account for a very small fraction of Android users nowadays.
Expect a demo and discussion of this Talkback beta on the next episode of The Android Crew, which is due to be released by the end of this month.