I am super stoked to be able to write this post and announce to the world that, after several months of collaborative work between myself and the developers of the Alchemy Synthesizer Mobile Studio for iOS, this powerful music creation software can be enjoyed by VoiceOver screen reader users as well. The beginning of our joint work didn’t look so rosy, however.
How it all began
Back in February one of my friends mentioned Alchemy Mobile on Twitter and I, being curious as usual, went to the app store to download it. Upon first look it seemed that the app was usable with VoiceOver, however, I quickly discovered that this impression stemmed from the fact that I as a blind user was not aware of the parts of the user interface that were either not accessible or didn’t make sense when listened to with VoiceOver. As a blind person you don’t know what you don’t hear, right? 🙂
Still, I fell in love with the sounds this synthesizer could produce and by reading the descriptions on the Internet realized that it had many more possibilities that I was missing on.
So, I went to the Camel Audio’s website and opened the ticket against the app. You can view our whole email exchange. Suffice it to say that the developers of the Alchemy Mobile synthesizer were easily convinced and we quickly moved from customer support gallantries to the actual testing and the implementation of accessibility features. Thanks Andy and especially Bob for making this happen!
The real hero
I want to give a huge shot-out to Bob de Vos and the rest of the developers on the Innovattic app development team, who built the Alchemy Mobile Studio app, for taking accessibility not only as a development challenge but also as an opportunity to design a great non-visual user experience for a highly graphical user interface of the app.
What you didn’t see in the support ticket I cited above were the multiple emails we sent to each other sweating over accessibility labels, accessibility hints, order of text strings, best accessibility traits, correct accessibility methods for various controls, etc. Bob and his team went even so far as to make the introductory tutorial fully accessible for VoiceOver users.
Bob’s own article about the accessibility features on iOS captures team’s findings really well and serves as a great reminder that “accessibility in the trenches” isn’t that hard if you put your mind to it.
What Alchemy Mobile features work with VoiceOver?
You can hear the demo of the synthesizer and the accessibility features in the podcast below. By the way, the introductory tune was recorded by me using Alchemy app!
Here is the summary of what you can use as soon as you download the app:
- Drum and keyboard pads work in the same way as in Apple’s Garage Band, i.e. using the “touch and play” approach.
- “remix” and “xy” pads speak values along the x-axis and y-axis when you tap-and-drag in those areas (More on using these pads with VoiceOver in the podcast).
- All UI controls, such as buttons, sliders and toggles, provide accessibility labels, accessibility hints and accessibility values, where appropriate. Many of them will change dynamically depending on the context.
- Choosing, saving, downloading presets, songs and loops is completely accessible.
- Creating preset templates Works really well.
Anything else I need to know?
Yes, a couple of things..
- Make sure the version of the Alchemy Synthesizer Mobile Studio you are downloading is 2.3.1 or later.
- If you have questions, suggestions or ideas please ping me on Twitter.
- Keep in mind that you will need to spend a little bit of time in order to understand the interface of the app. I hope that with all the accessibility enhancements the learning process will be much easier though.
You will find, as I did, that Alchemy synthesizer is a great challenge to your creative mind, so just have fun with it!