Thursday, June 13, 2019

Advances in Accessibility

Both Google and Apple have had their developers' conferences for the year where they unveiled all kinds of new features. What stood out to me, in particular, however, were the advances in accessibility.

Let's start with Apple. This article from Tech Crunch goes into a lot of detail about the various accessibility advances coming up in Apple's various operating systems to be updated this fall: Apple’s global accessibility head on the company’s new features for iOS 13 and macOS Catalina.

Voice control is the first big advance discussed at the keynote. It purports to allow seamless movements between navigating, using apps and creating and sending content. The video shown at the keynote makes it all look quite usable.

And to learn more about other existing accessibility features in Apple software and devices, check out this article from iMore: Apple: Accessibility is a Human Right.

This CNET video from YouTube gives a good summary of Google's recent announcements at its annual I/O conference. The first part covers mostly accessibility features including text to speech using a phone's camera, AI assisted voice control, live captioning, etc.

Of course one of the downsides to Apple's offerings is that they're limited to Apple devices: iPhones, iPads, Macs, etc. As these devices tend to be more expensive, that can limit their reach. Google makes apps available on multiple platforms and the Android operating system runs on a wide variety of devices ranging from very cheap to high end. The problem is that Android Q may never run on most of the devices currently on the market. And, for now, some of the features are limited to Google's own Pixel devices.

Another major player in the accessibility arena is Microsoft. They produce apps like Seeing AI which is available for iOS (not yet for Android) and allows a user to point the device's camera at text and have it read aloud. It also attempts to identify objects in photos. When I tested it, it identified a red flower and my dog with a toy in his mouth as a brown dog with a frisbee - close enough. But when I asked it to identify a mountain range, it could only identify the clouds. It seems to default to grey a lot with colors and wanted to make my dog green. It was spot on with currency and identifying products by their barcode.

There's an entire section on the Microsoft website devoted to Accessibility In addition, they have a YouTube channel devoted to Accessibility Training called MSFTEnable which includes a number of training videos exploring how to use many of their accessibility features.

There is progress being made and tools we can all use to make our websites, trainings and resources more accessible to everyone.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Testing Voice Assistants 2019

In Facebook memories today, I was reminded of a fun little test I ran 3 years ago comparing the responses of various voice assistants to some possible Valentine's Day queries and interactions. Here were the initial results:

Fun with AI on Valentine's Day: Pt. 2
1) What's a good gift for my boyfriend for Valentine's Day?
Alexa: no response
Siri and Google: list of websites with gift suggestions for guys on Valentine's Day.
2) Where's a good place for dinner on Valentine's Day?
Alexa: no response
Google: lists of websites with recommended restaurants for Valentine's Day in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, NYC, etc.
Siri: list of 12 restaurants in Billings with reviews on Yelp.
I'd have to say it's a tie between Siri and Google. Siri nailed the local and provided recommended restaurants within a mile of my location. But not all fit with the Valentine's Day theme. I wouldn't pick Pug Mahon's for a romantic dinner. It's not open today. 😉🍺
Google picked up on the romantic theme. If I were a Google exec with a private jet, I'd have a world of possibilities.

And here are the results from 2019:

Happy Valentine's Day
Alexa: Ah, that's sweeter than a box of chocolates. Happy Valentine's Day to you, too.
Google Assistant: Happy Valentine’s Day! If you want to say “I love you” to someone special, you can try saying it in Mandarin. It’s pronounced "wo ai ni" 💗
Siri: Happy Valentine's Day
Cortana: Happy Valentine's Day to you!

What's a good gift for Valentine's Day?
Alexa: Hmm, I don't know that.
Google Assistant: List of websites with gift ideas for Valentine's Day but also included some suggestions for possible search refinements, e.g., What do you get guys for Valentine's Day?
Siri: List of websites with gift ideas for Valentine's Day (those at the top for women. Apparently more people search the web for gifts for women than for men).
Cortana: I'm sorry I can't help out with that one, but I found this on the web. List of websites with one for her followed by one for him. Very egalitarian. 😄

Where should I have dinner on Valentine's Day?
Alexa on Echo Show: 10 Creative Valentine's Day Date Ideas video from USA Today
Google Assistant: Listed 3 nice restaurants within 6 miles.
Siri: List of 5 restaurants within one mile. One was fast food and another, Pug Mahon, was recently closed. 
Cortana: I'm sorry I can't help out with that one, but I found this on the web. List of websites mostly with recipes and a couple with reasons why you should never go out for dinner on Valentine's Day. I guess it answered the question.

Will you be my Valentine?
Alexa: That's sweet to ask but I already have a strong connection to your WiFi.
Google Assistant: I found a few places within 0.8 miles (??)
Siri: I don't have an answer for that
Cortana: Of course I can be your virtual Valentine. Would you like me to sing a love song to celebrate? 
(And goes on to sing, yes sing!)
Red is the rose in yonder garden grows, and fair is the lily of the valley, clear is the water that flows from the Boyne, but my love is fairer than any.

Conclusion: Google Assistant is probably the most efficient at answering questions and providing the kind of information one is looking for but it's lacking in fun.
Alexa is fun to interact with but results differ depending on whether you're interacting with just the voice assistant via Echo or a visual interface on an Echo Show or Spot. I think you'll often get more useful results with a visual interface.
Siri continues to be an also ran. The choice of genders and nationalities offers some personality but it continues to lack the ability to meet what I would consider basic expectations from a voice assistant.
I'd never used Cortana before and was surprised by both the natural voice and quality of responses. But singing a love song verged on creepy to my mind. Flashbacks to "Her".

One additional note: I tested Google Assistant, Siri and Cortana all on an iPad. So, while it is disappointing at first glance that Apple's entry into the AI/voice assistant race is rather lackluster, iOS users do have other options through apps. You can also access Alexa through an iOS app. I'm assuming most of these, aside from Siri, are also available to Android users through the Google Playstore.