How accessible can mobile apps be?
Today, mobile platforms represent a new frontier for accessibility. For many people, devices like the iPhone are a boon for people with disabilities, making powerful technology fully portable. For many apps though, accessibility is still lacking.
In the 1990s, making desktop computing accessible was a big battle, and one which software developers such as Microsoft grappled head-on, to great success today. The desktop web battle for accessibility is still ongoing.
The extent to which different mobile platforms can deliver accessibility for apps (and therefore users) sits with platform companies themselves: Apple with iPhone and iPad, Google with Android, and Microsoft with Windows Phone 7.
Apple has been praised for the extent of accessibility in the iPhone operating system itself, and the ease with which app developers can integrate accessible features. Out of the box it includes a screen-reader, which proves incredibly helpful for users with low vision.
Traditionally Google has not put a huge focus on accessibility, and Android is no different. It has accessibility hooks in place, but it's up to the user and the app developer to take advantage of them. For example, there is no screen-reader available, but one can be downloaded.
While traditionally Microsoft has been a big advocate of accessibility tools, in Windows Phone 7 the company has completely dropped the ball. App developers wanting to implement accessibility in their apps essentially have nowhere to turn.
So where does that leave app developers who want to provide accessible mobile experience? One option is to focus on iPhone and keep an eye on the other platforms. Another option is focussing on mobile web apps, which utilise each platform's accessibility features, as and when they become available.
This is an area which is sure to develop quickly and mobile computing grows in importance.