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Mobile Web Accessibility: Android vs Apple

These days, mobile devices have become more or less full-fledged computers. They can run third-party programs not originally installed on the device, called apps, and an overwhelming majority of these apps can be used with screen magnification, and are accessible with built-in screen readers.

Accessibility Features (Screen reader, Screen magnifier)

A sighted person uses a touchscreen smartphone or tablet by tapping icons or sliding a finger across the screen to control the device. For those with visual impairments, both iOS and Android provide two accessibility features built into their operating systems to help make usability easy: a screen magnifier and a screen reader.

All new Android devices come pre-installed with TalkBack, the built-in screen reader app. Due to its independence from the Android operating system, TalkBack can be improved and updated with greater regularity than Android itself.

With a new Android phone or tablet, you can start TalkBack on the fly. Follow these steps.

  • Find and press the Power button on your device, usually located on the upper right side edge.
  • Put two fingers on the display, at least an inch apart. Keep holding them there until you hear an audible prompt asking if you would like TalkBack enabled.
  • Hold your fingers against the screen until it reports that TalkBack is successfully initialized.
  • You will be guided through an interactive tutorial — Explore by Touch — the first time you start TalkBack. The TalkBack Settings menu option allows you to pause this tutorial at any time and resume where you left off, or to restart from the beginning.

For iPhone users, to access the accessibility features on an iPhone, follow these steps:

First off, for users of VoiceOver, touch the screen in various places until you hear the selection you want, then perform a one-finger double-tap to call up the selection.

Open the Settings menu by selecting the Settings icon on the home screen of your device.

Select General > Accessibility.

The first option under Vision in the Accessibility Settings pane is VoiceOver. Toggle VoiceOver on or off using this option.


As mentioned earlier, both operating systems come inbuilt with default screen reader apps. But for people with visual impairments, these screen readers aren’t enough. For instance, if a person who is blind wanted help identifying the denomination of currency notes he or she is holding, there’s an app for that. Thankfully, it’s available on both iOS and Android.

TapTapSee is a mobile camera app designed specifically for people who are blind and those with visual impairment. It’s powered by the CloudSight Image Recognition API. TapTapSee uses your device’s camera and screen reader to take pictures or videos of anything and identify it for you out loud.

If you want to take a picture, double-tap the right side of the screen. If you want to take a video, double-tap the left side of the screen. In just a few seconds, TapTapSee can analyze and identify any two-dimensional or three-dimensional object. The device’s screen reader will then read the object identification.

Ease of Use

Android OS is used by many phone manufacturers. This means that although the operating system is largely the same, there may exist some discrepancies in how certain functionalities appear. There’s also the matter of which Android version any particular phone may be running. 

iPhone and iPad owners can download and install updates directly from Apple’s website when they release new versions of their operating system. The result is that you can benefit from any improvement in functionality while staying current. Android updates are only available when the manufacturer of the phone and the carrier decide to release the update. Due to the fact that device manufacturers are able to customize the version of Android they install, extensive testing is required before an update can be approved. The carrier must then approve the update and release it. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen in a timely manner, or even at all.

Due to this, three different phones might run three different versions of Android, with three different accessibility levels.

Operating system

Most mobile accessibility is enabled by a combination of low-level programming capabilities and higher-level screen readers, magnifiers, and other apps. Android definitely excels in this arena. Updates to VoiceOver, Zoom, and other accessibility features must wait until the next version release or update. It is possible to update TalkBack and BrailleBack, the most popular Android accessibility apps, at any time so they can add new features or fix known bugs.

The Google Text to Speech Engine is pre-installed on Android. You can download new voices from the Google Play Store. Once the new voices have been installed, select Text to Speech Output from the System Settings menu, then choose a new voice. You can also change the voice rate and pitch.

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