Day One for iOS Review

Day One Review: Journaling with labeled buttons.

This review is for the Day One app for iPhone. I have never been the best at the actual practice of journaling. Yet I find myself drawn to a lot of the apps that claim they can capture your life as you live it in various ways. Mainly because I like to see how Voiceover, or NVDA works with them. I have found more mobile apps than ones for PC; mobile is a faster way to record instant thoughts than a laptop I suppose. I will review others in future, but Day One is often regarded as the best of the iPhone apps.

I first encountered Day One when it was fairly new, in the version that they have now designated “Day One Classic,” before version 2.0 which completely redesigned the interface. Much like Evernote (which I am planning a lengthy review of), my fellow productivity nerds were in love with Day One’s graphics and ease of use. So, I downloaded it. I’ll admit I don’t remember all the specifics, but I do remember being very disapointed that the buttons were not labeled well at all. Voiceover at the time (iOS 7 or 8 I think) didn’t have the ability to read what the alt-text of a button might be the way it does now. So I was left just to click on the buttons and see what happened. It was a frustrating experience and I managed to put a few entries in. But the app was sluggish and I gave it up pretty quickly.

Fast forward to the release of Day One 2.0. I read about it on a blog or saw it in a tweet, I can’t remember which. It was supposed to be completely redesigned and streamlined. Ok, I could try to wipe the disdainful look off my face and download it.

Usually when I see the words “completely redesigned UI,” I immediately get worried, because that usually means accelerated and expanded graphical support, support for some strange drag-and-drop feature, or other visual enhancements. Rarely does it mean that the accessibility will be improved, if the app’s UI wasn’t very accessible to begin with. Luckily, Day One was an exception to the rule. I opened up the “new” version and was very pleasantly surprised. They re-labeled seemingly every button and gave them popup hints that Voiceover could read (the iPhone equivalent of tooltips I guess you could say).

So eagerly I started journaling in February of last year. And then life happened and I slowed down. Fast forward though to May when I lost my wife Priscilla, and there were definitely good reasons to journal. So I re-opened Day One, and they had made even more improvements. I could put tags in easier and just write until I was done. I do write in my personal journal frequently and have my Facebook statuses put there thanks to IFTTT. I also do my best to keep a food log, that one could be better handled I’ll admit.

There are only a few issues with the navigation on the journal entry’s screen itself. The step count, weather, and location are all recorded, if you want them to be, but the order they are presented is not so speech-friendly. It lists the numbers first, then the labels for what they are. I’m sure it’s perfectly fine visually, but I did have to do a few checks to see what numbers lined up with which thing. Sometimes I feel like the order of things changes, but I could be wrong about that. After awhile, reading the numbers and trying to line them up in my mind gets a bit cumbersome. Luckily, there is a slight fix. At the top of the Entry window, is a button. The button, however, does Not have a label that Voiceover recognizes, it says, “button, button.” This is the usual way screen readers tell you that they see the button but it’s graphical. There is no tooltip either on this button. So, I double tap it, and discover a popup menu that tells me, at least, the character and word counts and the date and time of the entry with various options to edit and share and things like that.

There is a similarly unlabeled button at the bottom of the entry’s screen that is a selection toggle. I am guessing it’s for starring the entry? I have no idea, because the star doesn’t really help me since I don’t have a ton of entries to look back at.

Those two things are really the only things I can find wrong with Day One. I am very impressed with the button labeling and, for the most part, the layout really lets me switch journals and entries. At least that top unlabeled button gives me the data of the entry if I do have a problem figuring out when I wrote it.

So, I hope you got something from the review here, let me know by a comment or an email. This is my second attempt at this, so suggestions/feedback are welcome.

Thanks, Dave

AnyList, the mark of a great accessible Productivity List App.

There are hundreds upon thousands of ToDo list apps on the app store. Some of them developed by corporations and some of them are developed by just your random individual sitting somewhere who might have a better idea than the next person. The app I’m going to review here has been on top lists ever since its inception.

I’m focusing on AnyList for the iPhone. There is a web app, but I do not use it. This app holds a special place for me because it was the first app that I ever contacted the developers about and received feedback almost immediately as my suggestions were implemented. I don’t even remember how I came upon the app in the app store. I think I was just looking for something to make a grocery list that my wife Priscilla and I could share.

At first, the app was not very accessible but the changes that were needed to make it accessible appeared to be manageable. The first change I asked for was to have some sort of textual notification that items were crossed or not crossed off the list. This was a simple change and was implemented in the next update. It’s amazing how one little change such as hearing your screen reader voice-over say “crossed off,” while standing in the grocery store can make a world of difference. Other changes like button labeling were soon to follow and seemed to be intuitive after I had informed the developers that not all of the buttons were labeled properly. As you will see from subsequent posts, especially on iOS, the issue of button labeling is of paramount importance especially for those of us who read very quickly using our phones. If a button is not properly labeled, then it is simply a nuisance rather than something that can be utilized to move things forward.

The developers of AnyList caught onto the idea of textual indications wherever possible. Instead of having a little pencil that just was graphical, the words “edit notes” or something similar showed me where I could put in a comment about whatever item I was changing. It doesn’t have to be all 508/WCAG appropriate, it just needs to work.

There is a recipe and meal planner section of AnyList, but I do not use it so it will not be included in this review. However, Priscilla and I went on to create several dozen lists that we shared between us which ran the gamut from everyday grocery shopping to things we needed to pack in case of an emergency; that list was created in September 2013 when Boulder, Colorado was flooding. The app has a number of things going for it but here are some highlights:

  • shareable lists
  • ability to show or hide crossed off items with a button that is properly labeled
  • ability to edit items on the fly
  • ability to add items on the fly based also on previous search suggestions which appear below the edit box.
  • two-member developer team which responds to inquiries very quickly
  • very reasonably priced premium subscription which unlocks all features
  • skill now with Amazon Alexa so that things can be added wherever your Echo can hear you. I use this quite frequently and have it synced up to my shopping list.
  • The ability to design lists that have built-in categories or to simply give you a blank slate so you can design your own list with as little or as much complexity as you like.

You will notice from the unordered list above that not all of these relate specifically to accessibility. However, the fact that the app itself is extremely accessible makes it that much easier to use the features that I have written down. This should be the model app for anybody wishing to create their own type of to do list app. Judging from the continued popularity and integrations that AnyList has received, the visual appeal must be such that it is still extremely nice to look at and operate.

Until Next Time,

Introduction: Is It Productive to Review Productivity Apps?

Dear Reader,

The following is a description of myself as I relate to the tech and accessibility worlds. Next I will talk about the purpose of this blog.
My name is Dave Bahr and I am totally blind from birth. I have used screen readers (software that speaks out loud what is written on the screen in webpages and on social media) since about the age of four. I have seen the now defunct WindowEyes grow from version 2.0 until its demise last year. That was my primary screen reader and I was certified to teach it at the 96th percentile. I have since switched to NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA).  It is free and open source and is actively maintained by a very passionate group of users who know a lot more code than I do.

This blog and my consulting services around it relate to something that I did not discover I had a passion for until about 2013. I was reading the book Getting Things Done by David Allen because I had heard about the system of lists and ways to keep yourself organized. I then began to do what most people do when they discover Getting Things Done (GTD for short): investigating every possible app and program that might just make my life easier. There is no one system for GTD nor is there any program or app that will solve everything for everyone. David Allen himself admitted that the system was made to be flexible and malleable and that the book was for guidelines and “best practices.”

I was hooked. Not necessarily on the system itself; my ability to maintain and update lists is far from exceptional. I was hooked on the idea that one could organize ones life in so many ways. you could do a mindmap, a flowchart, a Kanban board, sticky notes, notebooks, and so on and so forth. Wow! How could I organize my life so that it might finally make sense?

If any of y’all have an answer to that question, let me know in the comments.

Where was I. Oh, right, so I started downloading and subscribing to free trials of a ton of productivity software. Things like Remember the Milk, Todoist, Wunderlist, Nozbe, NirvanaHQ, IQTell, and Google Tasks. They all seemed potentially useful in some way or another with using the GTD system (or the best I could make of it given my ADD and busy life at the time). Then I realized where I have a niche. Everyone reviews these types of apps from a visual standpoint, but not a lot of people that I know of review them from an accessibility perspective. So, that is the goal of this blog. To take a lot of apps that people love and put them through tests of accessibility to see how they stand when you are under a blindfold, so to speak.

I have a PC and an iPhone 7. I tend to use my phone more than the PC for productivity work, but I do like it when an app has a web version or a Windows equivalent that I can mess around with. I am going to start off by reviewing an app that is extremely accessible on the iPhone and then move to one that is extremely inaccessible on the iPhone so you get a contrast. Then things will probably just be put up on a weekly basis as I see new apps or old ones that I think should be reviewed.

A quick note on terms. There is a big debate about accessibility vs. usability. You could make something that follows all the accessibility guidelines in the world and it still might not be usable to a screen reader user. You could ignore all the accessibility guidelines in the world and build the app of your dreams and, by coincidence, however you built it could be accessible to the blind screen reader user. So, I would say, for my purposes, that I am more on the usability side of things because my knowledge of the WCAG guidelines and 508 compliance is not the greatest (and I’ll be the first to admit it). But the two words accessibility and usability tend to be thrown around, and some people have very rigid definitions of them. I am not one of those people.

So, I hope you like the idea of this blog. We will see where things go with it. On to the reviews.