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The very unfortunate discontinuation of FlickType and some reflections on accessibility and innovation

One of the things that most excites me about accessibility is that it has proven Time and time again to be a springboard for innovation. Speech to text, text to speech, curb cuts and ramps, the Segway, and even the typewriter keyboard are examples of how thinking about a problem from an accessibility perspective has lead to incredible innovations that we all benefit from every day. In the digital space, we see numerous accessibility-driven innovations: image/object recognition, and speech to text devices (Hey Siri!) being examples that immediately come to mind. I love innovation and love that I get to work in a field that can be a springboard for that innovation because innovation is something that can improve the world for everyone, not just for those with disabilities.

And so it was with much sadness that I came across the following tweet earlier today:

Tweet from FlickType

FlickType, and its predecessor, sought to solve a very particular problem: how to type more accurately, and with more speed on a tiny screen-based keyboard such as that on iOS devices or even the Apple Watch. Their solution is both elegant and ingenious: essentially map out where the user’s fingers make contact with the screen and determine what that user is trying to type regardless of whether the correct keys are actually pressed or not. Typing on a phone screen, accurately and with speed, is challenging for many people, myself included. In my case, I often attempt to type with my phone in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other and typing one-handed like this is even more challenging. Of course typing one-handed is a particular user preference of mine — I could very theoretically put down my coffee — but for people with the use of only one hand, that option is not available. FlickType didn’t totally eliminate all challenges with on-screen typing, but the accuracy with which it predicts what the user is trying to type significantly reduced those barriers. In my mind, FlickType didn’t think about what is possible, but rethought what possibility could be.

Today’s tweet from FlickType is very sad for me because it is a very modern, and for me very real, example of how accessibility can be a springboard for innovation that can improve experiences for everyone. I’m not sure what will come next for the FlickType team, but whatever they do, I hope they approach their next endeavor with the same passion, drive, and innovation with which they reinvented the experience of on-screen typing. Thank you, FlickType, for all you have done to reduce barriers, and thank you for bravely innovating to get it done.

5 replies on “The very unfortunate discontinuation of FlickType and some reflections on accessibility and innovation”

…and this, right here, is why I am so “anti-Apple”; because it is crystal clear that Apple is the reason why this software is going away on their platform. Closed ecosystems do not foster innovation, they stifle it.

Yes, yes, Apple has done some cool stuff in the past for accessibility – err, at least for non-sighted users (but maybe not for the reasons you’d first suspect), and their giant middle-finger to the developer of this app is a clear sign that their bottom line comes first, users second.

Think about it… exactly how many dongles does a person need to connect a Mac to a projector? And why exactly is it so hard to now connect to an Apple device with a standard USB or 1/4 mini-plug (in the case of headphones)? Why? Because that way you have to buy even more “Apple” products. The lack of choices with Apple devices and the Apple ecosystem is NOT a feature, it’s a barrier to true innovation. And frankly, often their “innovative” products are shiny on the outside, but crap under the hood. And Apple doesn’t want you to fix your stuff, they want you to replace it: planned obsolescence is a key part of their business model as well (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/07/10/apple-airpod-battery-life-problem-shows-need-for-right-to-repair-laws.html).

I get it: VoiceOver beats the pants off of TalkBack, and for non-sighted users, what works works and with little choice you have to take what you can get. But I personally think that Apple needs to be taken down off the pedestal, and recognized for who and what they really are, and it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns.

I never got into this app but I’m sad for all the developers who worked hard on it that it is coming to an end and for the many who could and would not live life without it. I hope there will be something that can help them since it may stop working assuming it hasn’t already. 😀

Yes, this is definitely unfortunate. Their tweet mentions some sort of issue with Apple, a shame that relationship couldn’t have proven more beneficial rather than adversarial.

By Peter Earl Frandsen since I have minor other impairments not just born without sight, which I was, I, for the most part for a lot of typing depend on hardware keyboards. I am thinking you might do this. My problems have to do with either some keys missing on older keyboards, or some commands work and other commands and keys don’t work for my devices. It it is difficult to learn commands and other keys for me, but I have had to reset my devices from time to time in their settings, and since then I have had only partial function of some commands or modifier keys, and due to other physical issues really need a new full functioning keyboard for typing. I would try keyboards if I was you, and thanks.

Peter, great observations and you’re right, hardware keyboards can be a great solution. I’m curious, do you have a particular favorite hardware keyboard? Also, do you know of any that are portable and easily allow for one-handed typing? Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts.

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