OS X El Capitan and tvOS still a bag of hurt for people with motion sickness and other vestibular disorders

I’m starting to feel like Apple has a vendetta against anyone with a vestibular disorder. Since OS X Lion, we’ve increasingly seen aggressive animations added to Apple’s desktop OS that can trigger dizziness, motion sickness, vertigo and related symptoms. These include slide transitions when moving between full-screen apps, the ‘morphing’ animation to and from full-screen apps, the slide between Launchpad pages, and entry/exit zooms for Mission Control. iOS 7 then introduced similar animations, along with parallax effects that made people ill. And now tvOS has followed suit.

iOS at least helped users, in providing a Reduce Motion option in the Accessibility section within Settings. Within six months, most of the worst animations were possible to replace with non-aggressive crossfades, much to the relief of vestibular disorder sufferers worldwide. But we’ve seen no such progress on OS X, and tvOS recently appeared with a ‘Reduce Motion’ setting so ineffective that it may as well have played a little sniggering noise when activated.

On the desktop, I’ve now, grudgingly, updated my main work Mac to OS X El Capitan. I’m not having fun.

The main reason is El Capitan kills the one remaining workaround I had that enabled me to safely use full-screen apps. System Integrity Protection, while essential to the security of the Mac, more or less kills off applications that inject code into OS X. TotalSpaces2 is one of them. The app was designed to manage desktops in a manner akin to those in OS X 10.6, but, importantly, included settings to customise transitions.

In other words, instead of getting a full-screen slide when switching full-screen apps or spaces, you could get a spinning cube or some other nutty animation. Or, mercifully, you could replace the animation with nothing at all. This is the sole reason I installed TotalSpaces2. No longer was I made dizzy by OS X’s aggressive default animations — something that could leave me groggy and feeling ill for an hour or even until going to sleep at night. And this isn’t just me — such issues are increasingly common, most likely because of the rapid adoption in the use of animation within desktop and mobile operating systems.

Because of Apple’s changes in OS X, I must now choose between the security of my Mac (turn off SIP and TotalSpaces2 will run) and my well-being; and I assume that in the long run, there won’t even be a choice, given that TotalSpaces2 is no longer a viable commercial product. I’ve long hunted for Terminal commands to disable the full-screen app animations in OS X, but it appears none exist. (Launchpad and Mission Control can be stripped of most animation. Commands for spaces were removed in OS X Lion. Reportedly, Apple engineers responded to a bug report by stating there was nothing to fix. This is technically accurate — Terminal commands are not user-facing. But it removed the one remaining avenue for users to tame a part of the OS adversely affecting their health.)

I also recently discovered an issue with window manager Moom, where windows wouldn’t snap, but would instead skid around the display, triggering motion sickness. It turns out other window managers are affected, and the trigger is activating text-to-speech. Just another OS X bug, presumably, but one that results in a very nasty surprise for anyone with a vestibular disorder. (The rough sequence of events: select text; read back text; don’t realise OS X has thrown a wobbly; attempt to snap window; watch it slide across the screen; end up dizzy for the next hour or more.)

The second of those examples is forgivable (and, I hope, will be fixed). It’s a niche and weird bug that likely won’t affect too many people. But the former absolutely isn’t. To be clear, though, I’m not blaming System Integrity Protection, which is necessary. I’m simply blaming Apple for doing almost nothing in OS X to help people with vestibular disorders.

Full-screen slide animations made their debut in OS X Lion, back in 2011. Since then, we’ve had OS X Mountain Lion, OS X Mavericks, OS X Yosemite and OS X El Capitan. In all that time, and all those revisions, there has been precisely one attempt I’m aware of in OS X to assist anyone with vestibular disorders: a Reduce Motion setting being added to the Photos app. It’s, sadly, largely ineffective, however.

This leads me to believe at least one of the following must be true:

  • Apple doesn’t care about people with vestibular disorders. Accessibility increasingly means aiding those with poor/no vision, and occasionally people with hearing and motor issues. It doesn’t, in Apple’s view, mean making its software suitable for everyone.
  • Apple is ignorant of vestibular disorders, despite people like me banging on about them like a broken record for the past four years. It doesn’t have enough relevant in-house knowledge, and so does nothing.
  • Apple is fully aware of these issues, but doesn’t consider them enough of a priority to even add a single Reduce Motion switch to OS X in the fourth major update to its desktop OS since the problems appeared and were flagged. This despite many millions of people having related conditions.

None of these is particularly appealing, and I increasingly feel like I’m screaming into the void. There is, as already noted, an exception: iOS. There, it seems the team has fully taken on board much of the advice people have given and, most importantly, acted on it. iOS 7’s problematic animations were eventually mostly dealt with through Reduce Motion (a few outliers remain), and new features are eventually tamed to the point they’re at least more usable (such as the new app switcher). But elsewhere, Apple’s efforts in this area of accessibility are dismal and the company must do better. Whether it will is another matter — and I’m increasingly getting to the point where I feel like nothing is going to change.

Contact Apple about accessibility issues

To report accessibility problems to Apple, you can email accessibility@apple.com.

Further reading:

Kirk McElhearn has also responded to this article with additions of his own, complaining about issues relating to font size and contrast, and how developers don’t think about accessibility issues nearly enough.

Rob Griffiths posts on Many Tricks about workarounds we figured out for Moom (which may also work with other window managers).

February 4, 2016. Read more in: News


SumOfUs + iPhone 7 campaign = a big bag of stupid

You have to take activist websites with a fistful of salt. Many are well-meaning, and some manage to instigate real change. But much of the time, they’re a means for people to think they’re engaged in activism, when they’re really only clicking ‘I agree’ before returning to gorge on YouTube videos of penguins being challenged by a rope.

Nonetheless, I have a modicum of respect for a few of these sites, although in the case of SumOfUs, it would be more accurate to say that I had respect. And that’s because its new campaign, Keep the standard headphone jack in your iPhones!, is asinine clickbait of the type usually reserved for Forbes and Business Insider. Perhaps they should all join forces!

The campaign starts off in a calm and measured manner, with a photo of some headphones and the thoughtful, reasoned headline:

Apple is ditching the standard headphone jack to screw consumers and the planet

This is the sort of thing guaranteed to bring on board execs at Apple.


The petition text itself then begins (emphasis as per original web page):

Apple is about to rip off every one of its customers. Again.

Again. Apple just can’t stop ripping off everyone of its customers. Bought an iMac? Idiot! Apple ripped you off! Again. Even if you’ve never bought anything from Apple before, because Tim Cook probably has a time machine and will dump you in an infinite loop, in order to keep making that purchase and ripping you off — forever. That’s how nasty and evil Apple is.

If the rumours are true,

This being a great way to kick off a campaign, because, as we know, every Apple rumour has a 100 per cent hit rate.

the new iPhone 7 will have a non-standard, proprietary headphone jack — making every pair of headphones on earth useless.

This is true. As soon as Apple introduces a non-standard headphone jack, it will also emit a specialised EMP burst of some kind from every new iPhone, rendering all old headphones useless. They won’t work on other kit, and there’s no way whatsoever Apple would release any kind of adaptor that would allow you to use old headphones with the new input.

Not only will this force iPhone users to dole out additional cash to replace their hi-fi headphones, it will singlehandedly create mountains of electronic waste — that likely won’t get recycled.

The second I get an iPhone 7, I and every other iPhone 7 owner, will immediately throw out all our old headphones. SumOfUs has spoken.

There’s only one reason for this change:

The march of technology? Trying to make the iPhone better? Realising a port has run its course, and wanting to do something different?

to leverage Apple’s market share in order to extract even more profit from its customers.

Ah — of course! Silly me!

With virtually no third-party manufacturers ready to fill the new market gap, Apple stands to make a killing while we — and our planet — pay the price.

No third parties will be able to make Lightning headphones! And OUR PLANET WILL SUFFER. Presumably, iPhone 7 will also come with a built-in laser that automatically blasts nearby trees into oblivion while Siri cackles menacingly.

Apple, don’t repay iPhone users’ loyalty by ditching standard headphones and fuelling the e-waste crisis. Bring back the standard earphone jack.

The one that, currently, no-one knows whether or not it’s actually going or gone anyway.

This is right out of the Apple corporate playbook. A few years ago it swapped out the original iPod-dock connector with a new one, making countless cords, cables and chargers obsolete — for limited performance improvement.

“I don’t understand any of the benefits of the new Lightning connector, and will ignore its gradual rollout across a much larger range of Apple products, thereby making it a good thing in the long run. Also, Apple is evil because it embraced USB with the original iMac and didn’t stick with ADB. AND WHERE IS THE FLOPPY DRIVE IN MY NEW MACBOOK, TIM COOK?”

The screws in Apple products can’t even be opened with a traditional screwdriver — making it harder to repair a product you paid for.

SumOfUs is going to have a major shock the next time their new car/television/almost any piece of modern electronics breaks.

This decision will also have huge ramifications for climate change. According to the United Nations, up to 90% of the world’s electronic waste is illegally traded or dumped each year. We need to bring more care and attention to this growing issue — not aggravate it through reckless, profit-driven decisions that will deliver countless perfectly useable items straight to the landfill.

“Hey, Martin, do you have that generic piece of actually important and broadly relevant information about illegal electronic waste trade we can cut into this? I’ve just realised we’re 200 words deep and are 98 per cent froth. That’s at least five per cent too much froth, even for an anti-Apple tirade. Thanks.”

Tell Apple to respect its customers and our planet. Keep the standard headphone jack.

So here’s the thing: I actually agree with that last bit — and I’m not alone. Kirk McElhearn outlined for Macworld why the jack should stay, and it’s hard to argue with the points he and others make, notably: thinner devices than the iPhone 6s have a standard headphone jack; a Lightning headphone adaptor would likely need to be a DAC (and could be expensive); one port means no simultaneous charging/headphone use; and it’s an expected ‘default’ these days that exists on pretty much every major piece of consumer and computing tech.

But that doesn’t mean SumOfUs should clickterbate all over a site that’s supposed to be responsible. Still, you can guarantee that if the iPhone 7 shows up, headphone jack intact, the site will nonetheless claim victory, even though its likely impact would have been akin to the level of intelligence and rationality shown in its campaign: zero.

January 6, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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Apple TV games must support Siri Remote unless they rhyme with Hitar Gero

I missed this a few days ago (9to5Mac), but it turns out Guitar Hero finally showed up on the Apple TV App Store. Announced during the new Apple TV reveal, I wondered how Activision would get the thing working when Apple about-faced on a rule allowing devs to require an external controller for their games. The thought of Guitar Hero on the Siri Remote (which, frankly, isn’t much cop for gaming full-stop) baffled.

The answer is Apple’s seemingly subtly changed its rule that all games must support Siri Remote, by adding in white ink on white paper “unless you happen to be a massive company that already had a huge IP in development that wouldn’t work solely with the Siri Remote, OBV“.

It’s the right decision, of course. Apple blocking Guitar Hero from Apple TV would be stupid. But it’s maddening that other developers are not afforded the same flexibility.

November 16, 2015. Read more in: Apple, Gaming

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Why Slide Over on the iPad needs work

The concept of multiple-app multitasking is something that’s very much stuck in people’s minds as the ‘proper’ way to do computing. It never used to be like this. A computer would run an app. If you were fortunate to have relatively powerful hardware, you could switch between several apps. But computers became increasingly powerful, the interfaces became more complex, and displays got bigger. Now, you can pepper your screen with tiny windows from a dozen apps, flicking your eyes between them.

People argue this is great, because it enables you to be productive, but it also reduces your focus. And focus is one of the things I really liked on first getting an iPad. The device became whatever app was running. And when I started using the iPad for creative tasks, I wasn’t repeatedly distracted by something wanting my attention. (This has been eroded somewhat by notification systems, but they can easily be silenced.)

Apple has subsequently brought this system ‘back to the Mac’, with its full-screen mode, but only now has the idea of using apps side-by-side headed in the other direction. With iOS 9’s Slide Over feature, a temporary overlay can be dragged in and then dismissed, enabling you to quickly get back to your original app. Split View gives you a full two-up view, which is far more flexible than how iPads were yet still retains a sense of focus, for example enabling you to simultaneously view a writing app and reference material, but not 50 other apps as well.

Slide Over’s more of an oddball. It’s designed for temporary access to something, without entirely removing attention and focus from the original app you were using. But it’s the interface that troubles me. Drag in from the right and the Slide Over column appears. Compatible apps appear to be listed randomly. There’s no search. You therefore have to scroll through the list to find whatever you want, in a manner alien to almost everything else Apple offers.

On launching an app, everything works fine (well, mostly), and when you bring back Slide Over again, the app will be ready and waiting. Close the app by dragging downwards and you’re back into randomsville, with the exception of apps you’ve previously used, which are listed from the bottom of the column upwards, in order of previous use.

I imagine Apple’s thinking is Slide Over should only be used with a very small number of apps, and the previous three are visible when you view their icons in the scrolly column. That’ll be enough for some people, but not anyone who uses a wider range of products. Even now, I have 32 compatible apps in the list. What happens when many dozens of apps are compatible? First-use of Slide Over will be atrocious. Finding anything will be a massive pain. Here’s hoping iOS 9.1 or a subsequent update brings some kind of search or filtering for Slide Over, otherwise it’ll never reach its full potential, and forever be merely a feature stymied by your inability to perform a basic search.

October 8, 2015. Read more in: Apple

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How I got back Slide Over on my iPad Air

I’m generally loathe to provide tips on weird iOS wobbles, because too many of them feel like voodoo. But after a week of Slide Over failing on my iPad Air, I managed to get it back, and I figured my method might help other people.

Slide Over is a new feature in iOS 9. On iPads other than the iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, and the upcoming iPad Pro, it’s the only means of getting two apps on the same screen, without jailbreaking. The way it works is through you pulling a narrow column across a portion of the screen by dragging inwards from the right-hand edge, in line with the Home button. You then select an app, use it, and dismiss it by dragging rightwards.

Only that stopped working for me pretty quickly. No matter how I dragged, Slide Over refused to make an appearance. All I ever managed to see was the little left-facing arrow temporarily display on the screen edge, noting precisely where I should be dragging from, if my fingers had the audacity to be in slightly the wrong place.

I reasoned that Slide Over must have gotten stuck somehow. Perhaps this isn’t what happened, but it seems logical enough. One thing I did know for sure is Slide Over failed shortly after I installed and tried to use updates for a selection of newly compatible apps. So I went into the App Switcher and swiped up on every single app, in that way that sets knowledgeable tech people’s teeth on edge, given that this is something you should never have to do on iOS.

I restarted the iPad. No dice. And the apps were all back in the App Switcher anyway. So I nuked them all over again, with much gusto, opened Notes, and tried dragging from the right. I saw a ‘glitch’ of Slide Over, continued dragging, and there it was, like it had never been away.

It’s hard to know what went wrong and whether it’ll stop working again, nor whether this fix is anything but luck. (Certainly, one other person I know with this problem tried quitting all the apps and restarting, and hasn’t yet gotten Slide Over back *.) I also wonder whether a specific app was to blame, such as Pixelmator. That’s a superb iPad app — highly recommended — but it’s also extremely resource-hungry. On my iPad Air, it sometimes fails to launch, due to heavy RAM requirements. On that basis, it wouldn’t surprise me if the combination of underlying demands plus Pixelmator plus Slide Over just proved too much for the feature. But I don’t really fancy testing the theory by messing up my iPad again, when I need it to write about iPad things.

Still, now I can at least get back to complaining about Slide Over’s shortcomings, rather than it not working.

* UPDATE: I heard again from the person who the fix didn’t work for. Turns out one of the Slide Over-compatible apps had a broken download and dimmed icon but still, for some reason, appeared in Slide Over. After logging out, restarting, and logging in, the app was gone. Slide Over then worked. Clearly, there’s an issue with Slide Over getting ‘stuck’ when iOS finds things it cannot properly deal with.

October 7, 2015. Read more in: Apple

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