My Journey Making Binaural Apps For The Blind
Lessons learned making the world’s first fully accessible 3D Audio Recording Apps For The Blind.
Making Hooke Audio products 100% accessible to visually impaired users has always been a no brainer for us. We have worked hard over the last 6 months to make #HookeVerse completely accessible on both Android and iOS. Today we travel to Perkins School for the Blind to share #HookeVerse and all of the incredible opportunities it can bring to blind users. Check out #PerkinsProducts here: http://www.perkinsproducts.org/store/en/And an article on how Hooke Verse can be a camcorder for the blind: http://observer.com/2015/08/hooke-audio-verse-camcorder-for-the-blind/#soundmatters
Posted by Hooke Audio on Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Three years ago I left my career as a theatrical sound designer and composer to start my own microphone company. At the time I was frustrated by how under appreciated sound was in storytelling. Exhausted by constantly trying to make sound more than just a supporting cast member, I realized that to get people to care about sound the same way they do HD video and instagram filters, I would need to start at the source. In this case, the smartphone.
Change the Way You Record The World
Before Hooke Audio (www.hookeaudio.com) there was no way for consumers to upgrade or enhance the way they recorded sound on their smart phones. It’s as if every video you watched online was in black and white and you had no idea that content could be consumed in color. On today’s smartphones, capturing a video means just opening the microphone. You have no ability to adjust mic gain or equalize your recordings. And as a result, you are consuming a massive amount of music, viral youtube videos, instagram posts, podcasts, tweets, snaps and web series all in crappy, compressed single channel audio.
Sound Matters For All
I was sick of consuming content in such poor quality audio. And I knew I wasn’t alone, there were sound designers, composers and audio professionals all over the globe who agreed that the sound quality on our mobile devices could be improved. However, there was demographic who agreed with me even stronger than audio professionals: the blind.
For visually impaired listeners, recordings that shed sound’s direction serve “no purpose”. I learned this quickly in the summer of 2015, when Justin Thornton (now head of our accessibility team) decided to reach out on Twitter.
A Camcorder For the Blind
At the time, I’m not sure either Justin and I had realized what we had just stumbled upon. All the while I was trying to tell the world that sound mattered, here was Justin and rest of the blind community not only validating this sentiment but expressing how long overdue a tool like Hooke Verse was. I always wanted to bring binaural 3d audio recording to smartphones because I knew it would enhance the way we remembered our lives. What I didn’t realize was, for the visually impaired, bringing binaural 3D audio record to smartphones would be equipping them with their first mobile video camera.
Soon after, the Observer wrote this awesome article (http://observer.com/2015/08/hooke-audio-verse-camcorder-for-the-blind/) on our mission and we hit the ground running, working hard to develop not only the World’s first fully wireless binaural 3D audio microphone, but the world’s first 3D audio recording smartphone apps that were 100% accessible to the blind. I wanted to make the Hooke Audio app the most accessible recording app on the market.
Not An Easy Task
We knew that getting people to care about sound would be a big ask. At every step along the way, my team put accessibility and ease of use at the forefront. Take the Hooke Verse for example, they’re not just microphones; they’re headphones too. Consumers would never add a piece a gear to their lifestyles (in this case microphones), but they might be willing to enhance it. So putting binaural 3d audio microphones into a pair of bluetooth headphones was our way of getting our foot in the door. In addition, transforming the way we record the world would need to be as easy as opening an app whether you are blind or sighted.
In order to accomplish this, we’ve essentially built 4 apps. 2 on iOS (whether you are opening WITH VoiceOver enabled or without) and 2 on Android (again, whether you are opening WITH VoiceOver enabled or without). Ensuring that every user is happy with the controls and functionality has been an unbelievable learning experience.
For instance, should a blind user adjust mic gain by utilizing direct touch or simply focusing? See, direct touch is a VoiceOver feature which enables users to perform functions using two, three even sometimes four fingers. In some instances it can be much more convenient than focusing on each element individually. Watch the video below to fully understand what I mean.
Feedback is Everything – Updates Are Everything
We’ve only been launched for two weeks, but in these two weeks we have gained very valuable insight into how our blind users expect to operate a recording app like this. Take direct touch for example, this is something we implemented in hopes of making the experience more user friendly. Sadly, we were mistaken. The area in which direct touch spans is too large and often hinders a users interaction with the app. It was a fault of ours, but a good fault to learn from. In our next update we will eliminate direct touch and make the microphone level adjusters focusable.
By far one of the most amazing relationships we've formed over the past year is with the National Federation of the Blind. Today, for the first time ever, we demoed the #HookeVerse for two visually impaired smartphone users. Check out their reactions as they hear #mobile #3daudio for the first time! A moment we will never forget.
Posted by Hooke Audio on Monday, October 19, 2015
We’ve had sighted users love the app’s user experience and others that were not so impressed. Same goes with blind users, but we are confident we can find a functionality blueprint if you will that will make the Hooke Audio app accessible to all.
Receiving this valuable feedback from our blind users has caused us to totally re imagine the way our apps function in VoiceOver mode on iOS and Talkback Mode on Android.
With that being said, I’d like to share with you the new “Accessibility Tips” which will now AUTO LAUNCH upon every app open to make sure all of our blind users can identify all controls. These will be implemented in our next app update. This is a great feature we never would have implemented if it weren’t for all of your great feedback these past two weeks:
Accessibility tips for blind Hooke Audio users:
- To adjust Hooke Verse recording level, locate the microphone gain slider and swipe up or down with one finger.
- To adjust the level of what you hear, use the physical volume buttons on your phone.
- To enable or disable video capture, double tap on the camera icon. The camera button will then tell you if the camera is disabled or enabled.
- To start/stop a recording, either press the multifunction hardware button on the Hooke Verse or double tap with two fingers anywhere on the capture screen.
- To view audio or video recordings, double tap the gallery button.
- To view your Hooke Verse’s battery level locate the Battery level text on the capture screen.
- To view the time counter while recording, locate the time counter on the capture screen
- To access controls for sharing, deleting, or playback of recorded files, double tap on a file name from the Gallery screen.
- To return to the capture screen, perform the VO scrub gesture or double tap the back button.
- To access the accessibility tips or contact Hooke Audio support at any time, locate the settings button and select “contact us” or “accessibility tips””
This is a groundbreaking technology. This is the World’s first bluetooth binaural microphone. What we are doing is incredibly new and it will take a few updates before we have it in a state that everyone is happy with.
This is the beauty of apps, they can always be updated.The issues we’ve found can and will be resolved in our next app updates, I am confident of that. And that’s what is so exciting about this journey. Making an app focused microphone means the work is never finished, features can always be added, bugs can always be improved.
Guys like Justin confirm that what we are doing is truly special and needed. I am not going to give up on making the World’s most accessible recording app and I know Justin won’t either.
This is just the start, I am incredibly excited for the road ahead.
A special thanks to the AppleVis communities great feedback over the past two weeks, we are very eager to share with you our next update!