Accessibility features are often glossed over by the media — not so much because they’re useful to only a small group of people, but usually because there’s just nothing noteworthy going on in the accessibility section.
With iOS 5, though, we’re given new features that are useful to the blind, the deaf, and yes, the rest of us as well. Those are custom vibrations and LED flash alerts.
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If you’re running iOS 5, you can access these options in Settings from the General > Accessibility menu.
With custom vibrations, we can change the standard vibration and assign vibrations to individual contacts — just like we’ve been able to do with ringtones all along. Apple is providing a handful of pre-made vibrations, but it also provides a custom vibration recorder which has you tap in a pattern. It’s more fun than it sounds.
This means that we can now identify who is calling us in a loud nightclub or when our phones are on silent. It’s a small gain, but if you’re used to deciding whether to take your phone out of your pocket based on which ringtone is playing you’ll probably quite like this new feature.
The LED flash alert is a fantastic feature for deaf users — when you can’t feel the vibration, this will definitely make sure you know something’s happening on your phone. It uses the LED flash that lights up the room for your photos, so it’s hard to miss.
I know it’ll be handy for me — I keep my phone on silent when I’m working because visual notifications are less intrusive then audio notifications. I regularly miss calls because the screen turning on wasn’t obvious enough to get my attention.
These are small changes. They’re not even designed for most of us. But it’s interesting to see how there’s still room for improvement in the small details, like the humble and long taken-for-granted vibrate setting. Quietly slipping into our phone operating systems alongside the big “wow!” factor announcements, these gradual interface and usability improvements are making our devices more usable in a way that’ll affect us on a day-to-day basis more than a camera grid ever will.