From your pocket to new horizons – the accessible technology we look forward to in 2022

Developments in smartphones and smart home devices, augmented reality headsets and inclusive autonomous vehicles, accessibility of technology is going way beyond screen readers and magnifiers. In this post, we explain what this means to blind and partially sighted people and why it is so exciting!

 

In your home

2022 is going to be a huge year in our smart home. You know the feeling of apprehension when buying a new ‘smart’ product for your home, wondering if it will work with your voice assistant of choice? Thanks to recent developments in the smart home space, some of these issues may finally be resolved to give you an accessible home no matter which assistant you choose to use.

The smart home concept is ideal for accessibility, enabling us to adjust our thermostats or set the oven temperature all with our voice! However, the truth is that you often need a plethora of apps and smart skills, just to get your product working with a single smart speaker. This year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), we saw a demonstration of a new protocol for smart home devices that might just be able to transform this situation from one of bewildering confusion to one of complementary convenience.

The Matter protocol is the result of a growing partnership between Apple, Amazon and Google to remove some of those common frustrations found when trying to get smart home devices configured with more than one voice assistant. Matter will be available for manufactures of devices, like light bulbs later in the year, and should significantly improve the accessibility of your smart home when it hits the shelves.

We are also seeing more connected devices in the home that can be controlled in an accessible way. Smart body scales and blood pressure monitors are now quite commonplace and can be used effectively with a screen reader or large text preferences on a phone.
Combining this with the range of more affordable smart power outlets, lights and thermostats announced over the past couple of months, it is not hard to see why the smart home is becoming so exciting for everyone.

 

In your pocket

Galaxy Z Fold with accessible text on screenSmartphones have dominated our bags and pockets for well over a decade now and while it is tempting to think of newer more expensive devices as little more than a slightly faster version of previous models, there are other less obvious developments and trends. that are starting to become apparent.

Foldable phones are a recent trend in the smartphone industry and whilst they are currently expensive, prices are steadily coming down together with optimised designs for magnification purposes. Additionally, this year we are seeing foldables going beyond the phone, reaching out into our computers to give even more space to fit content at just the right size.

Smartphone manufacturers have been working on the foldable concept for a few years, whereby you have a phone that can either fold up into a much smaller portable device or you have a phone that can unfold into a small tablet.

Last year, we got to look at Samsung’s Galaxy Z foldable line up and they provide features which are great for accessibility. The larger Z Fold 3 provides an expansive space for magnification whilst the smaller Z Flip 3 offers a nostalgic open and shut method to answering and ending phone calls, which is so much more tactile than using an on-screen gesture to answer the phone. The price is still high – with the cheapest Z Flip 3 costing £999, but prices for these foldable devices should continue to go down.

With each new device comes new accessibility features, so watch this space in 2022!

Galaxy Z Fold 3 device with magnificationIf the new flavour of foldable phones does not tantalise your tastebuds – fear not! 2022 is expected to serve up a pallet cleanser of affordable phones, bringing flagship features such as enhanced navigation to everyone.

These may include devices such as newer iPhone handsets comparable to the current iPhone SE from Apple. Google is expected to announce a new Pixel 6a, that will come equipped with the same Tensor chipset that debuted in last October’s flagship Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro smartphones. This might not sound exciting but having access to these improved specifications means you can use the newest navigation and text recognition tools in new ways, more quickly and more reliably.

 

In your office or at school

Whether you go to work or go to school, there is no doubt that technology is infiltrating your daily routine. Where laptops are concerned, the foldable display trend continues to bring us a compact laptop from Asus, that when unfolded, offers an expansive 17-inch display with a detachable keyboard – perfect for magnification.

Galaxy Tab S8 visibility enhancements on screenJust as with smartphones though, other devices are not left out in the dark. The rise of ARM processors means that powerful computers needed for your workflow are getting smaller and more affordable.

In the education sector, Microsoft’s recent announcement of Windows 11 SE should soon provide schools with a lightweight operating system offering better consistency, featuring familiar accessibility tools like Narrator and Magnifier inside cost-effective hardware.

Tablets also look to be getting some attention in 2022, with Apple rumoured to be launching an iPad Pro with MagSafe accessories. Samsung has also just released the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, featuring an expansive 14.6-inch ultra-high definition display that is really interesting for accessibility, especially given how light this tablet is to hold in the hand.

What it all means

So, 2022 might still not be the year of intergalactic space travel; however, there are already autonomous vehicles available to ride in some parts of the world. Combining this with foldable devices and a smart home that might start working for you, 2022 really could be a year that feels like we are living in the future.

For those of us with visual impairments, who can take the most advantage of these new features and can use voice controls to usher in an age of inclusive home appliances, 2022 tech products really should show that accessible mainstream technology is reaching out to touch the horizon, improving the daily lives of visually impaired people.

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