When iOS 13 was first released on September 19th 2019, the question that was asked the most was simply, “Should I update?”
Of course, the answer is always “Not straight away”, as a wait and see approach is always the sensible option. This is especially true for those of us who rely on accessibility features in order to use our iPhones or iPads. The initial release of an operating system such as iOS inevitably introduces some bugs, but the question is are they small, annoying problems that we can live with until they’re fixed, or are they show stopping faults that makes using our device almost impossible.
Although smart phones are sometimes thought of as a frivolous toy or a distraction for the anti-social, the truth is that a smart phone is an incredibly useful tool, particularly for people with disabilities. I use my phone for so many things: navigation & mobility, reading, enjoying media and shopping to name just a few. And services such as Be My Eyes and Aira can be essential at times. The potential loss of access to this functionality is exactly the reason that we should be cautious about jumping onto any new update. Let the early adopters, the brave or the foolish test it out first and then decide if it’s something you really want to do.
Of course, you may not have a choice. If you’ve bought a new Apple device, such as an iPhone 11, then it will already be running iOS 13. Should you be worried? Well, lets take a look at iOS 13 and it’s latest update 13.3 to see what’s new and what’s broken.
Please note, earlier this year Apple gave the iPad it’s own operating system called iPadOS. At it’s core iPadOS is iOS but with added features or functionality to take advantage of the iPads bigger screen, and in the case of the iPad Pro, the USB C port. As iPadOS is built from iOS many, if not all, of the points I make in this article also relate to iPadOS13.
Before I start I would like to acknowledge the fantastic team over at AppleVis.com for there excellent articles on iOS 13 and specifically the bugs and fixes in the latest update. Also, many thanks to those of you who have told me of your experiences with iOS 13 on Twitter.
Which Devices Are Compatible With iOS 13?
Before we take a look at the pros and cons, let’s find out if your device can even run iOS 13. Here’s the list of compatible devices from Apples website.
iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro,iPhone 11 Pro Max
iPhone X, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR
iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus
iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus
iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus
iPod touch (7th generation)
iPadOS is compatible with these devices.
12.9-inch iPad Pro
11-inch iPad Pro
10.5-inch iPad Pro
9.7-inch iPad Pro
iPad (7th generation)
iPad (6th generation)
iPad (5th generation)
iPad mini (5th generation)
iPad mini 4
iPad Air (3rd generation)
iPad Air 2
If you are unsure what device you have, go to Settings, then General, then About. You will see your device model and details there. And, of course, you can also just go to Settings, General and Software Update to see if iOS 13 is available.
What’s New In iOS 13?
There are many new features and tweaks in iOS 13 that may tempt you to update and you can read more about them on Apples website here, but for convenience, here’s a quick summary of the more interesting ones.
If you have ever used Invert on your home computer or smart-phone then you’ll be familiar with what Dark Mode does. Usually, if you open an app like Settings or Safari on your iPhone you’ll be greeted with a retina burning bright white background with black text. If you enable the new dark mode feature this will change to a dark background with light text. It’s definitely easier on the eye and unlike classic Invert mode will not invert images.
Sign in with Apple.
This new feature will allow you to register or sign in on participating websites and apps quickly and securely. Unlike the commonly used Sign In With Facebook options, Apple Sign In does not track you in any way and will not monitor any app or website details. Just tap on the Sign In with Apple option and all details will be filled in for you. No forms, no passwords to remember and privacy too.
Siri has been improved to be more helpful and the new Siri voice is promised to be more natural sounding, particularly when reading longer sentences.
Announce Messages (iOS 13.2).
When using AirPods or other supported headphones, Siri can now read any incoming messages to you and you can speak your reply directly.
More Screen Time Features. (iOS 13.3).
You can now limit who your children can communicate with and who can communicate with them with this new feature in Screen Time.
Apples new subscription based streaming media service offers audio description for all shows and in multiple languages.
You can now pair two sets of supported headphones and share what you’re listening to with a friend.
The Shortcuts app is now fully integrated into iOS with more features and running your own shortcuts is a nicer experience.
Apple claims that apps open up to 2 times faster in iOS 13. Also, downloads from the App Store are now faster thanks to smaller app sizes. FaceID is also promised to be 30% faster.
Slide To Type Keyboard.
This is a new way to type on the on-screen keyboard that could really speed up text entry. You simply slide your finger around the keyboard and it will predict the word you want. Users of FlickType will be familiar with the concept.
Now, the features above are the ones that are most talked about by the mainstream, but for us, people who use the accessibility features, there’s also some interesting new additions. You can find an excellent article by Scott Davert over at AppleVis here, but here is some of the ones I’m most excited about.
Customize VoiceOver Gestures (And More).
This is a feature that I loved on Android and now it’s available on iOS, but it’s even better.
It can be found by going to Settings, Accessibility, VoiceOver, Commands. Here you will see you can now assign your own actions to gestures. For example, if you find the rotor option to fiddly then you can change it to a 2 finger swipe left or right. It’s a really powerful feature and it doesn’t stop with touch gestures. You can also customise Commands for braille input devices, keyboards and even handwriting.
Also found in the VoiceOver settings is Activities. This is another welcome addition as it gives you the power to quickly set different VoiceOver preferences, for different situations. You can use the rotor to select your saved VoiceOver settings or they can be changed automatically when you open a specific app. For example, if you would like a different voice to read your emails at a slower speech rate then just set it up in Activities. Then whenever you open the mail app your new VoiceOver settings will take effect. When you close the Mail app your previous VoiceOver settings will be restored. You have the ability to change various settings such as voice, speech rate, volume, verbosity and various braille options such as cell status and input and output options.
As the name suggests, this feature allows you to control your phone using your voice. Once enabled, you can say commands such as ‘Swipe Right’, ‘tap button’, ‘lock screen’ and many more. Although not really a feature for the visually impaired, Voice Control does work with VoiceOver enabled and could mean you never need to touch your phone again…
More Helpful Camera Hints.
The camera app will now give you more information such as if the camera is level, who is in the frame and any objects it may recognise.
Usually when a new update to iOS is released you’ll find not much has been changed when it comes to the accessibility options, but with iOS 13 it seems as though accessibility has been given the attention it deserves.
Bugs & Whats Been Fixed In iOS 13.3
Sadly, as mentioned earlier, bugs are inevitable with every new update and iOS 13 is no exception. Some 3 months on from the initial release we now have the 13.3 update and although some bugs are fixed, there are still some issues. Again, the great team over at AppleVis have an excellent article on the update which you can read here. Here’s a list of the fixes they found.
• VoiceOver focus no longer jumps to an unexpected location in the list of emails in the Mail app after taking an action such as delete, mark as unread or move.
• After setting an item to be watched, such as the progress of a download, when the status of that item changes it is now displayed in braille.
• The spoken guidance and haptic feedback given to VoiceOver users when taking a photo is no longer present when viewing already taken photos within the Camera app.
• After an action in one app results in another app being opened, VoiceOver users should now be able to consistently locate the Status Bar by touch.
• The misspelled Words tool is now available from the VoiceOver rotor in Safari text fields.
• The Misspelled Words rotor item is no longer present when viewing a conversation in the native Mail app.
One interesting, or perhaps that should be annoying, aspect I have found when it comes to the latest update is how some bugs seem to be fixed for some users but remain for others. Notifications staying on screen and needing to be swiped away is one such example, VoiceOver talking over Siri or while dictating seems to be another one. This inconsistency is more than a little baffling. Personally, I’m currently not experiencing these issues but have heard from many people who are. Again, as mentioned earlier, most of these bugs can be classed as irritating rather than serious, but there is still one issue that may make iOS 13.3 an absolute no-no for low vision users.
Before Dark mode was available, I would use the Smart Invert feature on my iPhone. Although I do use, and rely on, VoiceOver, I still do look at the screen and find that the harsh white background on most screens is just too much for me. Smart Invert solved this by ‘inverting’ the background to black and text to white, much like the new Dark Mode does. However, in iOS 13.3 it seems that Smart Invert is very inconsistent and often leads to some very unusable colour combinations. This can affect everything from the on-screen keyboard, apps and websites and while you can usually resolve the problem by reverting to Classic Invert or temporarily turning of Smart Invert etc., performing these workarounds every time you encounter this problem is infuriating. If you do rely on high contrast to use your phone, this issue could well be enough to delay on updating to iOS 13.3.
So, Should You Update?
There have been some occasions, thankfully few, where bugs or design changes have made a device practically un-usable for those of us who rely on accessibility features. The initial release of iOS 8 springs to mind. Telling people not to update when this happens is a no-brainer. However, most of the time it’s a difficult question to answer because we all use our devices in different ways and while I might be willing to put up with a certain bug, others may not and it could really impact their experience or productivity when using their device. The key is to make sure you get as much information as you can before you take the plunge. Thankfully, we have so many great resources available to us in the form of podcasts, websites, social media groups etc. that you should never have to update without knowing what to expect.
Also, never feel pressured into updating. If you’re happy with what you’re using, then stick with it. Unless there is a new feature you desperately want or a serious security problem that could leave you vulnerable, there really is no rush to jump on to the newest update. Personally, I am using iOS 13.3 and, yes, there are some issues here and there, but nothing that is particularly worrying for me or makes me want to roll-back to a previous version.
Should you do the same? Well, that depends on you. Read as much as you can, talk to as many people as you can, and then, whatever you decide, rest assured it’s the right decision.
Co-host & audio producer on the Double Tap Canada radio show. Occasional contributor to Double Tap TV, full time shed resident.