A slew of Apple’s accessibility features were just introduced and we love the direction the company appears to be set on taking with the upcoming iOS 18 update. On the list of releases announced by Apple, there is an eye-tracking feature, music-haptic feedback setting, and vocal shortcuts that could allow individuals with atypical speech patterns to still make use of Siri to accomplish various tasks on their devices. The iOS 18 accessibility features are nothing short of astounding and could change the lives of millions of users with different impairments that prevent them from making full use of technology. The Apple iOS 18 update is coming “later this year” but the company hasn’t specified when that will be. 

The Apple Worldwide Developer Conference 2024 is scheduled to take place from June 10 to June 14, 2024, so we should either have the Apple accessibility features out by then or receive an update during the event.

Apple accessibility features

Appreciating Apple Accessibility Features—Making Changes That Matter

The iOS 18 accessibility features were introduced via a press release by the company on May 15, 2024, and have been well received by the public so far. Apple’s accessibility features are all set to put its people first and while you could pause to wonder if the announcement was made earlier than planned to distract from the backlash the company is facing for a recently released advertisement, you still have to appreciate the forethought behind these innovations. From the eye-tracking feature releasing for the iPhone to Apple’s vocal shortcuts, these forward-thinking tools are going to be very impactful for users who want to regain a sense of independence. 

“We believe deeply in the transformative power of innovation to enrich lives. That’s why for nearly 40 years, Apple has championed inclusive design by embedding accessibility at the core of our hardware and software. We’re continuously pushing the boundaries of technology, and these new features reflect our long-standing commitment to delivering the best possible experience to all of our users.”

—Apple CEO Tim Cook

iOS 18 accessibility features

Apple announces its upcoming iOS 18 accessibility features for iPad and iPhone users.

Apple’s Eye-Tracking Will Allow Users to Navigate The Device with Their Eyes

Said to be powered by artificial intelligence, the eye-tracking feature on the iPhone and iPad will create a hands-free experience that can benefit those with limited mobility in their limbs. Individuals with physical disabilities will be able to use the front camera to set up the tracking feature and calibrate it for their personal use. Once the device is ready, the user will be able to navigate through any app on their iPad and iPhone, interacting with them through the movement of their eyes. The Apple accessibility feature talks about the “Dwell Control” element that will make these actions possible, allowing them to make select physical buttons, swipes and other gestures.

The Cupertino company states that all the collected data will only be stored locally and not shared with Apple, which is a reassuring statement. The Apple eye-tracking feature is a big step forward for users across the globe.

Apple vocal shortcuts

Image: Setting up Apple Vocal Shortcuts

Apple Vocal Shortcuts Also Mentioned among Apple’s Accessibility Features

Apart from the eye-tracking feature, iPhones and iPads will also get a new speech-recognition tool that will allow them to assign custom utterances as the trigger words for launching various shortcuts on their device. Many individuals have limited use of their vocal abilities and can’t make the traditional sounds that one might use to ask Siri to set an alarm or open the notes app. Apple’s vocal shortcuts will allow these users to customize their devices to adapt and respond to stimuli that they are comfortable with providing, which is another great idea from Apple.

The “Listen for Atypical Speech” feature helps with the learning curve, allowing the device to listen and learn the user’s speech patterns on the go. For those with progressive conditions that affect speech, the device will be able to learn to adapt as the users’ condition evolves, making it so that they don’t have to constantly set up new voice cues. The on-device machine learning capabilities will add to the device’s learning over time.

Apple iOS 18 update

Music Haptics: iOS 18 Accessibility Features

Another feature scheduled for the Apple iOS 18 update is the music haptic tool. According to the World Health Organization, over 430 million people or 5 percent of the world’s population require rehabilitation for their disabling hearing loss. This number is expected to grow significantly in the coming years and while there are many different challenges they face, one small but important loss they experience is their access to music. Many individuals who have struggled with hearing tend to enjoy music through the vibrations that are created when it is played loudly enough and this is what the Apple accessibility features hope to address.

The Apple iOS 18 update will support a Taptic Engine in the iPhone that will play “taps, textures, and refined vibrations to the audio of the music.” These vibrations and beat patterns will allow those who are hard of hearing to experience music in their own way. According to Apple, this accessibility feature will work for millions of songs available in the Apple Music catalog and developers who want to incorporate it into their apps will have an API (Application Programming Interface) available to customize. The Apple eye tracking tool and all these other accessibility features appear to have covered significant ground in support of its users.

eye tracking feature iPhone (1)

Image: Dots on the screen that will move to represent the motion of the vehicle

Vehicle Motion Cues To Address Motion Sickness

Next on the list of Apple’s iOS 18 updates is one that promises to address motion sickness for those who struggle to look at a phone screen while they’re in transit. Apple recognizes that motion sickness is commonly a result of the disconnect between what a person is feeling and what they are seeing, and reading or looking at a device often makes it worse. When you have a long bus ride or a more tiring train journey in front of you, feeling uneasy can make it that much more draining. 

The feature will arrive automatically with the Apple iOS 18 update and users can turn it off if they don’t require the assistance. The feature is designed to assist the device in recognizing when the user is in a vehicle, bringing dots up on the screen to represent any change in motion to help reduce the sensory conflict the user experiences. How effective this will be in helping with motion sickness is something we’ll determine after release, but it is an innovative cure nonetheless. 

Additional Updates on the Apple Accessibility Features

The Apple eye tracking features and Apple vocal shortcuts are far from being the only innovative accessibility tools coming up. Apple CarPlay has Voice Control arriving for spoken control access, and the Sound Recognition tool will alert those who are hard of hearing about any external sounds it recognizes. The Color Filter tool on CarPlay will make the interface easy to use for those who have a hard time with the small text and excessive colors. Apple Vision Pro also doesn’t intend to be left behind as the visionOS is set to receive systemwide Live Captions and vision accessibility tools.

The iOS 18 accessibility features will also update the VoiceOver tool to include new voices and customization options and the Magnifier tool will add a new Reader Mode that can be launched more conveniently via the Action button. The Braille Screen Input will have Japanese added to its list of languages and the controls will be much easier to use. Small changes like increasing the size and changing the color and font of the Hover Typing text preview along with additional vocabulary support for the Voice Control are among the many considerations that the company has taken into account.

Every single example of the Apple accessibility features signals the company’s commitment to making their devices easier to use for a large audience and it could also bring in more users who had been stranded by modern technology for quite a while. The iOS 18 accessibility features are tools we’re really looking forward to witnessing in real-time and other examples from the industry such as Neuralink’s work with restoring control over technology, to Google’s upgrades to accessibility, are heartwarming. It’s good to see the world grow to become more accommodating to the diverse population that resides in it.