Fourth generation iPod Nano Really Does Talk

I got one of the new iPod nanos two days ago, and I’m impressed. All I had to do was check one check box, and most menu items, song names, and artists talk. The iPod is very responsive; I can quickly find the artist, album, or song I want though I have over 10 GB of music on the player. I can switch between EQ presets, change the playback speed of audiobooks, shuffle the whole iPod or all the content by a particular artist or any other particular thing I might want to shuffle, turn Sound Check on and off (when it’s on, the iPod attempts to play everything at the same volume), turn CrossFade on or off, find out the title of the currently playing track, and more. I am told when the iPod moves from a menu to Now Playing, and I’m told where I am when I turn it on. The search feature doesn’t talk, but I can use it if I’m willing to count clicks (searching is accomplished by scrolling to the desired letter of the alphabet and pressing the center button, and since the list of letters doesn’t wrap, I can count from either end to find the letter I want). I wish that feature were more accessible, but since scrolling works so well, I can find what I want quickly even without it. Because there’s no screen reader, options involving text (such as reading lyrics or notes) don’t work, and it’s not possible to do things like set the time, but everything involving the playing of music, audiobooks and podcasts works really well. It is unprecedented access to a mainstream device.

I love how easy it is to turn on accessibility. Some people will need to take a few more steps to get everything working than I did, but the process still isn’t difficult. My iPod apparently came with its language set to U.S. English; if it hadn’t, a sighted person would have needed to set the language. I had also already set my computer to use the voice and speech rate I wanted; I did that when I used the scripts to voice file and folder names in Rockbox. If you’ve never done this, you’ll probably want to. In Windows XP, go to control Panel, choose Speech, then press CTRL+TAB to go to the text-to-Speech page. In Vista, go to Control Panel and choose the Text-to-Speech link. On that page, you can choose the voice and speech rate you want to use. That’s all you have to do – there are no special scripts to run and no special commands to learn.

One thing that can be annoying is that if you turn the iPod sideways, Cover Flow turns on. This is a method of selecting music by looking at pictures of album covers, and it doesn’t talk. There seems to be no way to turn off this feature. Your best bet is to turn Hold on when you’re not working with the controls; Cover Flow does not come on if Hold is on. Despite this glitch and the few features that aren’t accessible, Apple is to be congratulated for creating such an accessible iPod.

Brian Hartgen will soon release a podcast demonstrating the use of the new nano. He has already produced one on iTunes 8 where he demonstrates the basic accessibility available with JAWS 10 and Window-Eyes 7, and the additional functionality that will be available in J-tunes version 4 (this version should be released soon). You can download both podcasts, when they are available, from the T&T Consultancy Blog and Podcast page. Jonathan Mosen demonstrates iTunes accessibility with JAWS 10 in his


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