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Updated for watch OS4 and Series 3 – Tim Noonan’s Apple Watch Accessibility with Voiceover Review

Tim with Apple Watch and Voyager Edge Earpiece

This is a live review; as I gain more experience with the new Watch hardware and watchOS 4 I’ll update the document.

Last updated 10 October 2017 to include some additional notes on touch-screen sensitivity and responsiveness, and a section on the Siri Watch face with Voiceover

Introduction

I’ve purchased each major series upgrade to the Apple Watch and have just received a Space Grey Series 3 Sport with LTE.

While the Series 3 speed improvement is welcomed, and acknowledging some enhancements in watchOS 4, overall I’m very underwhelmed by the nominal improvements to the Voiceover experience on the watch, the new implementation of Siri and the long-standing lack of compatibility for Voiceover users between AirPods on the iPhone and on the Watch.

In short, it feels to me that Apple has given no accessibility or Voiceover love to the watch since the release of watchOS 3 over a year ago now. This is disappointing and contrasts with overall enhancements to iOS, iPhone and iPad in that time.

Some New Apps don’t Work with Voiceover

The latest Shazam and Bear writing apps for the Watch don’t appear to work with Voiceover. I don’t know where this problem arrises from, hoping its not the Dev kit.

Is Series 3 faster?

Yes, the Voiceover flicking and touching experience does feel lighter and more flowing, but not dramatically so. Its still nothing like using Voiceover on an iPhone! Responsiveness is quick now for a two-finger single tap, to pause and to resume speech.

The Series 3 watch also seems to wake up on a lighter tap and the double-tap and cripple-tap activation of Taptic Time both seem more reliable and responsive.

Nevertheless, when you do a single tap there is still a second or so delay before the time is announced.

After a week in with the new hardware, I am finding myself flicking more lightly – which I think is a benefit of the Series 3 watch, but also may be the switch from the Stainless Steel model to the Sports model, which has glass in place of Sapphire crystal.

single-tap Two finger swipes between watch faces are also much more responsive compared to the Series 2 watch.

I suspect that if Voiceover sounds could be disabled, that moving around the watch would be dramatically faster, as the sounds always precede and are never simultaneous with the voice output. this adds a major delay before each speech utterance as you flick left and right.

With Just Press Record set as a watch face complication, recording now starts almost instantly, perhaps less than a second. That is much faster than the previous series.

Siri claims to be faster on the Series 3 watch, but with Voiceover I still get “hold on” announcements and pressing in the Crown for Siri still seems to take about as long to get the Siri taptic.

It would be completely unfair to suggest that this isn’t a beautifully engineered and greatly put together hardware device, now in its third iteration.

It feels great to the touch feels great on my wrist and I really like the new Sport Loop band. I’ve always had Stainless Steel versions before, and the lighter aluminium casing makes the watch seem even less obtrusive. The only thing I miss is the solidity and aesthetic texturing of the sapphire glass which has a subtle tactile picture frame like sculpting that is absent on the sports models.

To be clear, My gripe isn’t with the series 3 watch hardware and the design, its with the lack of apparent priority or refinement given to the Voiceover experience for Voiceover Watch users.

  • If its your first Watch, or you are still using the original version, it is a great time to jump in.

  • If you have the Series 1 model, with the old speaker assembly, it might be worthwhile to upgrade too.

In particular for Voiceover users a new speaker in Series 2 and Series 3 watches delivers significantly improved audio for Voiceover and works better when in the shower. There is more bass and more high end in the audio output making Voiceover easier to hear and more pleasant on the ear due to a less tinny and brittle sound.

  • Unless you are eager for LTE, if you already have a series 2, I’d probably hold off another year, at this stage, anyway.

LTE

After receiving my new watch I found out yesterday that My mobile carrier Telstra doesn’t yet support One Number service for Apple Watch LTE for their business customers (go figure) so I can’t review the LTE services on the watch at this time. They do support this service for their non business customers.

Although many of the LTE features sound appealing, the lack of support for true SMS messages if your iPhone is not connected somewhere on the network, is a major short-coming of the implementation. Without being able to reliably send text /SMS messages from the watch, you will potentially be limited to communicating only with your Apple-using contacts.

WatchOs 4 APIs

New APIs and features for developers of watch OS 4 felt slim this year and the lack of audio playback control features to support apps like Overcast, Watch Player and a hypothetical audio book player on the watch are disappointing.

On a positive audio note, though, the upgrades to Watch audio recording and background recording are welcomed and a huge advance for Voiceover users. Enter the latest version of Just Press Record.

Speaking of audio, At this stage I don’t know if the Watch could be used as a walky-talky, but that kind of app and functionality would be really nice.

Although the Siri API has better notes support , Still there is no way to create, add to or retrieve text from Apple notes using the Watch. Very short-sighted in my mind.

Worst Things First – Siri

No Natural Siri Voices for Voiceover Users!

At the September 2017 Apple Event we heard that Siri now has a voice on the Series 3 Watch! Of course, for Voiceover users, Voiceover read out on-screeen text generated by Siri, but never spoke on its own on the Watch.

However, don’t get at all excited yet because it is Not available If You Use Voiceover

  • Siri’s natural voice should absolutely be an option for voiceover usersvia a setting, but Voiceover speech mode must also be kept available at the standard volume. If the Siri voice is available, it should also match to the current Voiceover speech volume.

My limited testing confirms that when Voiceover is turned off, activating Siri uses the same Siri voice set on your iPhone

Siri Responses Blurt Out at Top Volume

Note that I have found a partial work-around by using Hey Siri for the problem described below, but I don’t know how reliable it is.

I use Siri on the watch more than any other feature. I use it to send texts/messages, to add reminders, to create appointments, to open apps, to ask questions.

Both on watchOS 4 and 4.1 beta if you activate Siri via the digital crown, or via its complication, Siri Audio appears to switch to a loud speaker mode and speaks Voiceover Siri responses at 100 percent of Watch/Voiceover volume. causing reduced audio quality.

It doesn’t matter what your voiceover volume is set to, it doesn’t matter what your alerts volume is set to, and it doesn’t matter what setting you have Siri voice output set to in the Siri settings on the Watch. (Voiceover users lose these settings in 4.1 beta.)

Apple describe the Watch as the most personal device they have ever made, but this siri Voiceover interaction actually makes it the most public device I own – shouting out my Siri answers for the world to hear.

  • This needs to be fixed! either automatically, or via a setting.

With Voiceover turned off, using the crown to activate Siri also results in Siri speech at top volume.

The partial work-around is that calling up ‘Hey Siri’ doesn’t activate loud speaker mode and Siri speaks at the same volume as your current Voiceover volume (well at least it does on the 4.1 beta.)

Similarly, using Hey Siri with Voiceover turned off outputs Siri speech at the volume used by Voiceover before it was turned off. Note I have only tested Siri minimally with Voiceover turned off.

Siri Multi-turn Interactions

When you issue Siri a command that leads to Siri asking a follow-on question, Voiceover on the Watch doesn’t handle the interaction at all well. For example if you say “remind me to call John” Voiceover is muted and Siri is waiting for you to answer the question “which John” even though Voiceover didn’t ask that question. Sighted users see it on screen.

Presumably this is an interaction between dictation/Siri listening and the muting of Voiceover speech to avoid echo-chamber behaviour.

From the first release of Siri exactly six years ago today on the iPhone 4S, Voiceover and Siri have never fully and elegantly integrated together, even though Siri is such a key accessibility accommodation

The Siri Watch Face

WatchOS 4 has a new watch face called Siri. Essentially, the idea is that the Siri face will change throughout the day to display different information, tailored to your usage patterns and interests.

The watch face name mainly relates to Siri’s smarts, not to Siri’s voice facilities. So for Voiceover users, you can flick between a range of details displayed; sighted uses roll the crown to move through the information.

You can set two complications for the Siri face, by default a complication to activate Siri and Date.

Calendar entries, reminders, weather conditions and other ‘up next’ style information can appear on the Siri face, as well as timer, stop watch, Home, Breathe etc.

To be meaningful and at all useful, you need to select from the 14 or so data sources that your Siri face draws from. To do this you use the Watch app on your iPhone and after making sure Siri is one of your faces, go into that setting and deselect any sources you don’t want it to use.

I don’t use stocks, don’t want Workout, Home or Breathe, so have deactivated these.

Of course, if the Siri face was smarter, it would already know most of that about me, but we aren’t there yet.

So, now to the accessibility of this face with Voiceover. Overall, my experience with it hasn’t been very positive. Its too cumbersome to move around and too verbose. Also, you can’t glance at it to see what its showing, because Voiceover speaks everything you move to.

Even more frustrating for me is the situation that most times after moving around this face, you can’t then use a two-finger swipe up or down to move to the control panel or check for notifications.

This is another example of a watchOS 4 feature that has been developed, but which has not been at all tailored for Voiceover users.

I expect that this watch face will get smarter and be more proactive as it is used and as new versions of watchOS come out, but for now, it doesn’t enhance my productivity much at all.

Watch and AirPods/Bluetooth

Though I have reported all the below issues to Apple multiple times since the AirPods were first released, there have been no substantive changes to these fundamental audio and Voiceover problems.

1. the situation with using AirPods, with an iPhone and an Apple Watch both running Voiceover is Poor .

There are many excellent aspects of the AirPods as compared to other earpieces and headsets, , which I’m not discussing here, but if you use Voiceover with AirPods and the Apple Watch – then you will likely be disappointed.

As far as I can tell, Voiceover on the iPhone is holding on to the AirPods connection, even after speech has stopped and even after the iPhone is locked. The result of this is that there is no auto-switching of the AirPods to the Watch, as Apple advertises and as happens for non Voiceover users.

So, interestingly, The AirPods aren’t demonstrating the baseline level of device switching connectivity offered by numerous multi-point Bluetooth headsets, such as the Trex Titanium. This is a great disappointment and diminishes the usefulness of an Apple Watch running Voiceover.

If I turn off Voiceover on the iPhone and lock it, the AirPods connect to the Watch and play its output.

There are situations where the AirPods kind-of auto-connect to the Watch or the iPhone, but in this instance Watch Voiceover is truncated and there is not effective hand-over of the AirPods between devices. after a few minutes of this the AirPods often crash.

If you start your watch first, then your iPhone, for a while you will get multi-point behaviour, with both devices speaking through the AirPods. But, once your iPhone locks and unlocks, or some other situation, the iPhone takes over and the Watch starts speaking through its internal speaker again.

Similarly, when you bring up Music or Radio on 4.1 AirPods audio may transfer from your iPhone to your Watch, but unreliably and often switches back and forth between devices.

The AirPods are also sometimes commandeered by the Watch when a call comes in.

Accessibility Setting Request: One Pod for Phone, One for Watch

2. while the AirPods audio lag on the iPhone is reasonably minimal and doesn’t greatly impact efficiency on the iPhone, Lag is quite long on the Apple Watch, perhaps over half a second..

I had hoped the pairing of the W1 chip in the AirPods and the W2 chip in the Watch would eliminate this delay, but there is still a delay.major delay between touching or flicking and audio to the airpods.

3. Voiceover Ducking and Sounds

There needs to be a setting to disable audio ducking for Voiceover on the watch!

The other issue with Bluetooth and in fact all audio on the Apple Watch running Voiceover is that Voiceover aggressively ducks any audio to a much lower volume, even after Voiceover has stopped speaking. When the Watch makes the lock sound the audio ducking is engaged again for another 30 seconds or so.

The second issue that ties in with this is that as you adjust music or audio playback volume on the Watch, Voiceover loudly speaks the volume percentage, once again ducking the music, making it impossible to actually hear the music level you have now set the music to.

Sometimes, in watchOS 3.1 Beta volume changes don’t speak aloud, but this is only in some circumstances.

The up-shot, if you are blind, Don’t plan on using your Watch as an audio player, for watch content, the ducking is way too intrusive and aggressive and is held far too long. It completely destroys music enjoyment.

This aggressive ducking behaviour also makes reviewing recordings from Just Press Record and podcast playback via Overcast or the ‘Watch Player’ app unsatisfactory.

To comfortably listen to audio from the Watch, , you need to turn off Voiceover in order to listen to audio with clarity.

I’d love a Voiceover mute feature, but don’t know how this could be quickly toggled on and off without interfering with other behaviour.

It should also be possible to disable Voiceover sounds on the watch, which can be very loud and obtrusive.

Over the last year I’ve submitted several bug reports to Apple Accessibility about this ducking issue, but so far, no fix in the latest beta cycle and current watch 4 release.

Back in watchOS 2, If, alternatively, you wish to use the Watch music app to play music from your phone, then the AirPods will auto-switch back to your phone once you start music playback, and Watch Voiceover is then output via the Watch speaker. If you pause the music, The AirPods are once-again connected to the Watch. I haven’t done comprehensive testing on watchOS 4 as things work differently now.

So in summary, audio stored on the Watch is currently far from ideal for Voiceover users, but accessing your Phone’s music store works relatively well.

Similarly, you could use Now Playing on the Watch to control audio playback of music and other iPhone audio, but the Watch speaks through its internal speaker.

AirPods on the Mac – Tooth Fairy App

If you have a Mac and wish to use your AirPods with it, I recommend the Toothfairy app that allows you to set a hotkey to auto-connect the AirPods to the Mac. This saves a lot of fiddle.

It also allows you to connect your AirPods in Output-Only mode, so they don’t randomly crash when you envoke Siri on the Mac.

Of course, You’ll then need to bring your AirPods back to the iPhone in the control centre, which takes quite a few Voiceover swipes.

This is where the iPhone audio output rotor setting would come in very handy, but – for now – it disconnects the AirPods, but for some reason, you can’t use it to reconnect them again. To do that, remove them from your ears and re-insert them,

Past Observations and Tips

Author Apology: When I have a block of time I plan to fully refresh this Post/review to remove outdated information. For now though, the most current updates are at the top of the document and you can stop reading once you’ve got the main points that interest you. I’ve also corrected and done minor updates in sections further down the document. If you are new to the Apple Watch, or never dug deep, you might find some interesting tips or gems below.

If you encounter those “Can’t connect to Siri on phone or watch” errors, I’ve found that going to control panel on the Watch and turning Airplane mode on, then off, almost always restores the connection for reliable Siri access. Of course, if this fails, a restart of the watch and phone may be necessary. Also be sure that you have unlocked your iPhone after reboot, otherwise Siri services may be unavailable to the watch.

The display is twice as bright on Series 2 and 3, which may assist low vision users or those sensitive to glare.

As has been widely reported, Watch os3 is much more efficient for loading programs and the significant overhaul of Voiceover and speech efficiency are very noticeable.

These updates have also resulted in the Taptic engine being a lot more reliable while Voiceover is operating, which is fantastic and lays the ground for even more responsiveness of Voiceover on the updated hardware units.

If you liked the idea of the first Apple Watch, but were frustrated by its Voiceover lag, poor gesture recognition and sluggish speech, then I’d strongly recommend revisiting Apple Watch series 1 or Series 2, or 3 !

As explained above, I’m not so certain its worth updating to Series 3 until these Siri bugs are ironed out for Voiceover users, if indeed this is an accessibility priority for Apple.

Updated to include initial findings from 2.1 and notes on using JustPressRecord : 22 February 2016

I have also updated the Siri section below with more reminder examples and multi-step calculations. If you want to use Siri for sending timed items to other reminder lists, I have come up with a two step process to do this on the Watch, contrary to my earlier statement saying this was no longer possible.

Tweet: TimNoonan: I second almost everything in this article, I especially – absolutely rely on Just Press Record on the Watch. https://t.co/KAsirtxj3Y

watchOS 2.1 is now out

I’ve been running the 2.1 version of watchOS 2 release for a while now and here are some notes on what I’ve found.

In truth, I haven’t observed any VoiceOver bug fixes in 2.1 as compared to 2.0.1. Perhaps app loading time is sometimes faster.

General Voiceover improvements

watchOS 2 is quite a bit more responsive and I think the Australian voice is clearer, particularly for the new faster maximum speaking rates.

I have the Australian voice set to 90 percent and it is very fast and clear.

I don’t know that it is louder per se – but I do feel it is easier to understand the Australian Karen voice in noisier environments. Also with the Crown toward my elbow the speaker is facing my hand, which also greatly improves clarity of sound for hearing Voiceover.

Sometimes when the watch starts speaking a long string of information, a two-finger single tap usually mutes/pauses this,after half a second or so. In 2.0.1 I thought this was more responsive, but it seems flicking to the next item is more effective for shutting up long speech strings, such as from a calendar entry complication..

Probably Fixed The issue Using Siri to launch music still launches it within a Siri shell, so focus is lost when the watch sleeps and re-wakes.

probably fixed Hey Siri still wakes up at a different volume to the current setting on the watch, which I think has to do with the app’s setting for Voiceover volume.

The bug where the wrong message content is spoken when you move forward and bak through email messages, does not seem to be present on the Series 3 watch.

Night Stand Mode or “bed side mode” as Australian localisation calls it doesn’t have a particularly great benefit for Voiceover users, and its worth noting that Hay Siri is not available in this mode, Nor can you use the digital crown to activate Siri.

What is nice, though, is that if you have an alarm set, pressing the side button will cancel the alarm and pressing the crown will snooze it. nice not to have to use a touch screen to manage an alarm while half asleep.

I’d like an extra setting in Night Stand Mode to set Voiceover volume to a default night volume. Then you could confidently check the time through the night without making undue noise.

I’d also like that if you pressed the crown or the side button that time would be spoken – for sighted users, pressing one of these buttons brightens the screen for checking the time.

Answering Calls by Watch

I’ll update this section on taking calls over the next week or so, including LTE.

Partial fix to my bug/feature request for Voiceover to keep its focus after watch sleeps and re-wakes.

If you open the music app or the remote app by selecting the app’s icon (e.g. not by using Siri) then when you place the voiceover focus on a button such as play rewind or fast forward, the watch will remember this – even after the watch goes to sleep and is re-awakened.

This is great. It means you don’t need to check and adjust the voiceover focus

This feature also works for the timer and stopwatch (when you are in those apps.

Sadly, that is as far as Apple went (or got) in retaining voiceover focus on watchOS 2. There are places and situations where Voiceover still reverts to moving the Voiceover focus to the first screen element on watch wake, even if you have your watch set to resume last activity:

Unfortunately, when you use Siri to launch music or remote apps or ask Siri to play a song or artist.

Music or Remote loads, but within a Siri shell. Voiceover shows you your Siri command as the first screen element and then the app controls are presented.

One problem is that whatever code Apple use to keep Voiceover focus on multimedia controls doesn’t kick in if you are using music that was launched from Siri.

Also, it seems you aren’t in a full version of the Music app, since hard press doesn’t work to set shuffle,source and airplay.

The other area where voiceover focus isn’t retained after sleep is in Apps like Overcast which also provide multimedia controls.

At first I thought Overcast worked because when the watch wakes up, Voiceover speaks the control you were last focused on – but then jumps back to the first screen element.

Updated: Voice Recordings with JustPressRecord 3

The great update to WatchOS 3 is background recording on the watch!

Finally, we are freed of the terrible recording sheet recording applications previously needed to use.

Now with the latest version of Just Press Record 3.0 and above you can reliably start, pause, resume and stop a watch recording using Voiceover, with no risk of inadvertently losing the recording. This is great.

With the release of Just Press Record 1.2 there is now improved Voiceover support for the iPhone app, including initiating recording via two finger double-tap and ending with double tap or two finger double tap

1.3 of JustPressRecord now allows you to listen to the most recent 20 recordings on the watch, which are also send includingo iCloud Drive.

Lots of Siri Goodness in watchOS 2 and 3

Hay Siri now works for Voiceover users. This is very nice.

set activate on wrist raise, but in general | accessibility | Voiceover, set speak on wrist raise to off, and you are set to go.

Lift your arm to wake the watch and then just say “Hay Siri where am I” as an example, to learn your location.

Or, tap the screen and then say ‘Hey Siri …’

Sending text messages got easier and more efficient

Press the crown and say “Tell Tim Noonan Isn’t talking to yourself great fun”

You’ll hear “Ok, I’ll send this

flick or touch to check how your message was interpreted. If you don’t like it, double tap on the “Don’t send” button.

At this point you can also activate Siri and say

“Append ps, I love you”

and that will be appended to your text.

You can also use ‘Hey Siri’ to issue an appended post script to your message.

When you are happy enough with the text, just drop your arm, or press the crown, and your message is sent.

I confess it took me quite a while to work out how this new sending mode worked, but I love it for efficiency. I initially thought it was a timeout, but dropping your arm is how the updated manual explains it.

As long as you can cancel out, or it isn’t going to create problems, any activity that can be done in a single atomic action, such as sending a message or creating a reminder, is a good User Experience. You just need to break the habit of pressing crown to exit if you’ve just used Siri.

Setting reminders in specific reminder lists and at specific times

Some of us use more than one reminder list to separate work or projects. You might have family sharing set up and in that instance there is a “family” list that is accessible by all family members.

  • “Remind me to call the gym about my membership”

Creates a Basic untimed reminder that goes to your Reminders list or which ever list you’ve set as your default.

  • “Remind me to update my blog tomorrow”

Sets a reminder and you are alerted about it at 9am the following morning.

  • “Add to my Family List”

Step one of a two step process to set the reminder list the subsequent reminder goes to.

Siri prompts, “ok, just tell me what to add to your family list.”

Press the crown and hold it as you say

  • “remind me to watch House Of Cards on 4 March”

This two step process allows you to select the reminder list, the reminder text and a due date/time.

Siri now answers lots more questions on the Watch including definitions and wikipedia entries

  • Open Voiceover settings
  • “Wikipedia Siri”
  • “Where am I”
  • “Define bluetooth”
  • “What time is it in London”
  • “Start a 30 minute rowing session”
  • “How’s my battery?”
  • “Open the now playing glance”
  • “Turn on flight mode”
  • What will the weather be on 16 October? “
  • Flip a Coin
  • Choose a number between 1 and 5
  • “What is a 15 percent tip on 85 dollars”
  • “What is 265 + 422.5 ”

With the calculation answer on screen you can then do additional follow-on calculations such as:

  • “Plus 15.5 “

You can also use Hey Siri to add to a calculation.

Note that if you generate a Siri error, though, you will lose your accumulated calculation.

You can also say

  • “Turn on do not disturb”

however, it doesn’t change the setting, rather it opens settings and you can toggle the do not disturb setting there.

It is not currently possible to enable or disable mute or Bluetooth via Siri on the Watch.

It isn’t very helpful asking Siri to spell a word on the watch, as there is no way to navigate by characters and the result presents a phonetic representation of the word. However in recent iOS releases asking Siri to spell a word on iOS now actually spells it out at a clear, slow rate.

In Watch OS 3 asking Siri to spell a word while Voiceover is running just gives the definition of the word.

Updates to Post

  • Here is a mainstream article on merits of crown pointing to elbow. Scroll with thumb, tap with index finger
  • here is an interesting pros and cons article by Tamas Geczy on the Apple Watch and Voiceover
  • further to my mention of operating the Watch by ‘nose’ here is a great video demonstrating use of nose, lips and neck for one-handed use of the Apple Watch with Voiceover
  • Outlook is a good app for more comprehensive access to your emails on the watch. Worth experimenting with.
  • updated with my experiences of the Milanese loop band. Still happy with it, but Sometimes sharp and can create false taptic sensations if the magnetic clasp moves over wrist tendons. I’m now trying a Sport band, which I really find super comfortable and less sharp when sleeping while wearing the watch.
  • Late in June, Siri was updated in the cloud so that creating a reminder happens in a single action. Mostly this is great! However, There is no longer a confirmation step when setting a reminder with Siri. This means that you need to include time or your desired reminder list in the Siri reminder request.
  • Added Tweetings Watch App for access to DMs & Mentions
  • now using Watch with Crown pointing towards my elbow; speaker towards my hand – a better listening experience.
  • note that location reminders can now be set on the watch via Siri
  • Tweet: @TimNoonan: when your other hand isn’t free, AppleWatch #Voiceover users can use their nose to interact with the Watch. The speaker also close to ear.
  • note about loving using Apple Watch through my shirt cuff or sleeve
  • included info on why I mostly use the Modular clock face
  • brief notes on benefits of implementing tactile feedback on crown use.
  • updated Bluetooth section with tips on quickly disconnecting a headset from the Watch and dis-recommending Voyager Edge for dual use
  • Added wanting Louder Voiceover volume through Speaker to Wish List. Thanks @SinaBahram
  • Added links to David Woodbridge and Justin Wack Apple Watch podcasts
  • Added a section on Bluetooth and audio and linked to a review of the Plantronics Voyager Edge headset
  • added force quick current app undocumented feature

Note: Other than the final sections listing Watch/Voiceover bugs and my Features Wishlist, the balance of this article hasn’t been reviewed and updated for watchOS 2. It nevertheless contains my experiences, configuration and some solutions to Watch issues with Voiceover use.

Introduction

I’ve had my Apple Watch for a couple of months now, it is the stainless steel 42 ml with Milanese Loop. I turned 50 exactly a week after the try-ons were offered at Apple Stores and a week before ship date. Just seemed destiny that I should have one ๐Ÿ™‚ Being in Australia meant I was able to do a Watch wear before I placed my Apple Watch order.

Amongst other things, I’m a blind technologist and Voice User Interface designer/Consultant. I’ve been working with technology and developing ways to make it accessible since 1982. I work with businesses to optimise the usability and accessibility of their digital services and mobile apps.

Here I’ve written about aspects of the Apple Watch which I feel are interesting and that weren’t immediately obvious from other sources. This review is definitely not a ‘getting started’ or ‘how to’ for new Apple Watch users.

Some great feature demo podcasts have been produced by David Woodbridge for the Applevis community and by Justin Wack on the CoolBlindTech network.

David Woodbridge has subsequently posted a great and concise article on the Apple Watch and third party watch apps.

This is a Live document. Rather than numerous short posts, I have been amending and adding to this post as new experiences and ideas turn up. I’ll update the last updated date and highlight changes at the top of the post.

My partner Alan is not blind and sometimes I’ll relate his non Voiceover Apple Watch experiences as comparison and contrast.

My Feelings So Far

The Apple Watch is a magnificent example of true inclusive user interface design.

Accessibility is an interesting term, and has many connotations. I like working with and supporting organisations who are interested in inclusivity and who consider how they can include a wider range of users in their product and service design. Apple exemplifies this philosophy, particularly in the Apple Watch right from its first release.

For a 1.0.1 release of a product, the Apple Watch is very good. Even more impressive, though,is the reliability and functionality of the accessibility features in particular Voiceover.

I have done a couple of restarts and resets when items can’t be activated or when I’m stuck somewhere, but it is still quite stable overall. Only once has the Watch stopped speaking altogether, requiring a restart.

Note, Reset is performed by holding the crown and side button in together for five or so seconds and the Apple Watch will restart.

One of the bigger problems folks are encountering is real difficulty in hearing Voiceover output from the in-built speaker in semi-loud or loud situations. This is discussed later on. I have a lot of quieter environments I work in, so this issue hasn’t impacted me as much as some others.

I have now set the Watch so the crown points towards my elbow and the speaker towards my hand – overall a more focused output from the speaker to my ear.

After all the major Voiceover bugs in iOS 8, before the release of iOS 8.3, the Voiceover accessibility on the watch is remarkably refined. And, I suspect there is lots of very exciting Voiceover goodness to come in future releases.

It is particularly exciting to have new physical controls in addition to a touch-screen for navigation and reading!

It is also very exciting to contemplate the possibilities for the Haptic linear actuator for non-visual silent communication.

It is fair to say that while Voiceover use isn’t janky, it is a bit ‘sluggish jerky’ and slow to move around really efficiently and I am hopeful that a more fluid user experience will arrive in Watch OS updates for Voiceover users.

This far in, with my usage of the Apple Watch I do feel that the Watch is less efficient than I would like, especially when you are trying to quickly get to a specific app, or back to notifications etc.

I hope this will change, but there are times when I would have got the job done faster using my iPhone.

That said, I am very much liking the Watch and enjoying having it at hand, no matter where I am.

I like that the touch screen is quite robust, even allowing me to flick and tap, through my cuff or shirt sleeve depending on the fabric.

Overview of my watch and supporting accessories

  • Stainless Steel 42 MM with Milanese loop band.

    I chose the 42ML model because it is a comfortable fit for my wrist, has a larger screen for touch gestures and because it has a larger battery.

    Although I was considering getting a Sports Watch for cost reasons, I fell in love with the Milanese Loop band and love how it is infinitely adjustable throughout the day for activity, comfort and fit.

Update: After using the Milanese loop band with my watch for a few months, at times I found it was a little uncomfortable, if set to tight. The edges could be a little sharp on the skin. Alan my partner says it also pulls hairs in his arm quite a lot. Also I found that if I napped with the watch on, the band was quite sharp and not overly partner friendly.

Also, With my wrist size – small-to-medium – the other somewhat annoying problem Alan and I both notice with the milanese loop is that the magnetic clasp is often resting over the little finger tendon. in the wrist. This quite often resulted in a hand movement or wrist twist causing the clasp to rock or move over the, tendon creating a fantom taptic sensation. I’d go to Check the watch, but no notification there. Over time this undermines confidence in taptic sensitivity.

Yesterday I got a black fluoroelastomer sport band, and I confess it is very very comfortable to wear and is especially un-annoying if you nap or sleep wearing your watch. I’ll still wear the Milanese loop when I’m out, it looks and feels very smart, but at home I’m enjoying the Sport band for now.

Having owned braille watches in the past, I know how easy it is to knock or clip your watch as you go about your day and I felt the sapphire glass would help minimise any accidents.

  • iPhone 8 256GB

  • AirPods

  • Plantronics Voyager Edge Bluetooth 4.0 multi-point earpiece – in white. I am no longer able to pair this earpiece, and as discussed in greater detail, it is dis-recommended by me for Voiceover use on the Apple Watch.

    it falls short in a few areas. It does not simultaneously play audio from both devices.

    I discuss Bluetooth and voice capture in more detail later in this article.

To round out my super portable office

  • Rivo credit-card sized pocket Bluetooth iPhone keyboard v132

    This is a great companion to an iPhone – allowing pocket access to most voiceover features in place of the touch screen, plus alphabetic input. It is not perfect, but with a watch, earpiece, iPhone and a Rivo you have a hands free ultra-portable pocket office always available.

  • MacBook Air 11 Inch early 2015

    As a blind person screen size is not a key factor, so the latest Air with extra RAM and a CPU upgrade completes a fully portable office for my speaking, travelling and consulting work.

Undocumented Features

Go To Sleep Now!

To immediately put the watch to sleep, place your hand over the watch face

This is very useful if you set the Speak on Wrist Raise to off, as it also disables the sensors that sleep the watch when you drop your arm.

I think this is a great compromise, so long as you actively cover the watch when your task is done.

Voiceover Crown Navigation Mode

Two finger triple tap

Turn this on To use rolling the crown to navigate Voiceover items – as an alternative to flicking right and left on the screen.

Default is off.

Remember to switch back for adjusting volume and fine adjustments of times in the workout app etc.

I think the reason this is currently undocumented is because more work is planned for Voiceover and crown navigation.

Note: Sadly I was optimistic about advanced navigation enhancements for Voiceover users.

I keep wanting to press in the crown after rolling to an item I want to activate.

However, so far as I have found, you still need to double-tap on the screen to activate the item you move to with the crown.

I also love that you can fast roll to jump ahead two items or maybe more with longer faster rolls.

What is missing in crown navigation mode is some kind of tactile feedback as you scroll, so you ‘feel’ feedback as you move to each successive voiceover element. I hope this is on its way, though wonder if the slight sluggishness of Voiceover output could make such haptic feedback trickier.

When crown navigation mode is off, such as when in mail, the crown can be used to skim through a list of messages quickly or the text of a long email – but in this these instances, voiceover speech is uncoupled from the fast scrolling facility. This is the standard crown operation for sighted users.

Several blind Apple Watch users are exploring what the crown can do, I’m hopeful more is on its way!

I really love this Crown Navigation feature – it is like using a tuning dial to change the station allowing you to slowly or more quickly move from one Voiceover element to the next, such as getting quickly to the last element on the screen.

When you are otherwise occupied, this is much more intuitive and manageable than on-screen gestures, and will be even more so if tactile feedback is incorporated into crown navigation.

Force Quit Currently running App

Long-press side button to bring up Power Off/Lock screen, then long-press crown .

My Current Watch Set-up

Watch Face

Overall, I like the modular watch face best, in particular because it has a larger complication which provides full details for an appointment such as duration and location. Great for giving directions to a taxi or Uber driver.

If I am doing a presentation I also include the timer on the watch face, so I know how much time I have left during the presentation.

It allows for five complications, which is very flexible.

Some of the other watch faces speak seconds as well as minutes, which could be nice if doing audio work. However, I’ve found on the Utility face that flicking away from and then back to the time can announce the last spoken time and seconds. If you touch the time, it seems to be correct.

Speak on Wrist raise, – off

set on iPhone Watch app > General > accessibility > Voiceover > Speak on Wrist Raise

This avoids the watch speaking every time you move your arm.

tap the screen to wake it up.

place your hand over the glass to immediately put the Watch to sleep.

This mode gives you more time to engage with the watch, even when you drop your arm to a lower position, which otherwise would usually put the watch back to sleep..

Task interruption is never good UI design, this feature helps you complete short tasks without the watch shutting down prematurely.

This setting appears to override the activate on wrist raise setting, when Voiceover is activated.

Return to Last Activity

Though it is a little slower to get to the time display – and hence Glances and Notifications – I’m experimenting with this setting that wakes the watch up where it went to sleep.

In the majority of watch screens, the time is reported on the top right corner, so if you touch there, you can hear the current time, even when not in the clock face. It is in small print and can sometimes be a little tricky to activate with touch.

Also note that as you flick or scroll through those screens, the time isn’t included in the flicking order.

If the watch wakes up in an app, pressing the crown twice quickly returns you to the watch face in most instances

If you prefer the default setting where the Watch wakes-up to the clock face, a rapid double press of the crown from there will return you to the last open app.

A day or so after getting my Watch, I switched to wake up to last context, and used it like that for a week. I felt quite in tune with the watch using this setting.

When I started writing this blog article I switched back to the default and have returned to clock face for about a week. On reflection I feel like this mode was a less intimate and efficient experience with my watch. I’m now back to wake at last context.

I’ll see if this approach works better, there are efficiency downsides to both.

I still have not found a wake on setting I find ideal.

It has some down sides, but I have been staying with the digital crown towards my elbow, and the speaker and microphone toward my hand. Although I still think that ergonomically the classical watch orientation with the watch buttons towards the hand is the best option – for physically operating the Watch controls, as an audio user it is just logical to have the speaker pointing towards you, rather than up your sleeve.

One significant advantage of switching the crown toward the elbow is that the speaker and the microphone are then towards your hand – this makes watch listening and microphone targeting easier – though the Microphone seems to be quite omnidirectional and you don’t need your mouth close to it, for it to capture your voice.

Bluetooth Audio and Private Listening

I mentioned I ordered a Plantronics Voyager Edge – in white – so I would have private and clear access to the Apple Watch Voiceover output.

For iPhone use, it is a pretty good headset overall and for calling and listening, it is considered the best all-rounder available. A Bluetooth headset has to balance battery life, audio quality for sending and receiving audio, comfort and relatively unobtrusive aesthetic design.

The best review I’ve found for the Plantronic Voyager Edge is from The Wire Cutter

In recent times I haven’t even been able to pair the headset with the Watch, and others have mentioned this too.

The following notes are from when I did have the headset and Watch paired.

With the Voyager Edge paired to both the Watch and the iPhone, if the iPhone starts outputting audio, the output from the Apple Watch is effectively muted and lost, until the iPhone is locked again and releases the A2DP channel. When you can’t look at the screen of the Watch – and the Watch voice output is muted – you can’t access or engage with the Watch.

This also means that if the Watch is paired to the headset, and you answer your iPhone with the headset, the watch is rendered unusable until the call ends and you lock your iPhone. this is an unexpected downside of pairing the Voyager Edge with both devices. I’m exploring alternative solutions, but progress has not been particularly promising so far.

In the last day or so, I’ve found another problem with the Voyager Edge when paired to the Watch and the iPhone. For some reason, using Voice Dream Reader to listen to an audio book, the audio keeps pausing every couple of seconds, when the Watch is paired, even though it is asleep and generating no audio to the headset.

If you want a great Bluetooth headset for your iPhone, you can’t go past this headset, but if you want it for both devices, I sadly have to dis-recommend it.

Also, the firmware updater is not Voiceover accessible and I had to use Chrome to download the updater, using sighted assistance.

Tip: One way to relatively quickly gain audio output from the Watch speaker is to have settings as my last visited Glance, turning on Airplane mode, which disconnects from the Bluetooth device. Turning Airplane mode off again seems not to automatically re-pair to the headset.

I think a nice feature/work-around would be to have the shutdown menu disconnect Bluetooth audio, though this may be unsuitable for some use cases.

Because of the shortcomings of the Voyager Edge, if I had the budget or could get review units, I’d really like to compare with the Jawbone Era 2 and the Motorola Moto Hint, though these are both reported to have some short-comings in Microphone audio quality for the Era and battery life and sound volume issues with the Moto Hint.

The Jawbone Era 2 claims Simultaneous Multipoint support, leading me to think that it may support concurrent audio output from two devices at once. However, I would need to try this out, because I thought the Voyager Edge would do the same.

Also, even if concurrent listening to two audio streaming sources such as Voiceover from the Watch and the iPhone is achievable, I suspect most headsets don’t allow headset profile and A1DP profiles to sound concurrently, so if you were to take a call on your iPhone, your Watch would most likely be inadvertently silenced, as it is using the Voyager Edge..

Regarding the above headset microphone call Audio comments, it is worth noting, however, that the Apple Watch appears to take all its audio input via its in-built Microphone for phone calls, Siri and for dictation. The watch’s Bluetooth stack appears to either not have, or does not currently implement the Bluetooth Head Set Profile (HSB); commonly used for bluetooth phone calls. This means the audio input quality of a Bluetooth headset is not a concern if the headset is solely used for Watch output.

The Watch does implement the Bluetooth a2DP audio streaming profile, which is used for music playback and for transmitting Voiceover audio to a Bluetooth headset.

It is good to find that the latency from the Apple Watch to a Bluetooth earpiece is quite short, making flicking etc a reasonably pleasant and efficient process. Paring my Watch with my Jawbone Big Jambox, latency is decidedly sluggish, as it is for Voiceover output from my iPhone.

When I paired my Watch with the Big Jambox speaker for a presentation, I was unable to adjust watch volume on the speaker, it kept resetting to what ever the percentage on the watch was set to. This was frustrating.

I also sometimes have trouble adjusting the volume via the Voyager Edge BT headset, and think this is related.

In a noisy environment it is essential that volume can quickly be adjusted, preferably by buttons on a Bluetooth headset, and obviating the cumbersome two-finger double-tap and hold volume change gesture.

As an interesting aside, in Watch OS 1.0.1, the Apple Watch appears to own all its inputs – no external keyboard, no external microphone, no camera – The Watch Is The Input Device! The Bluetooth settings screen does refer to Health Devices, which presumably may send some data to the watch.

My Favourite Watch Apps so far

Drafts 4

the new Watch version is greatly improved – it is the most efficient way I know to capture dictation into a file, including adding to it via dictation or prepending it with dictation.

This is simple but flexible and great for quickly tracking client work/hours..

the Watch app opens with two buttons, one for capturing dictation into a new draft and one for viewing your Drafts inbox.

When you double tap on capture it automatically takes dictation and places it in a new draft, no confirmation is required or possible at this step.

When you open the inbox you see the first line of each draft and the modification time. You can double tap to open any of these draft headers to hearย the full text of the draft.

With a draft open you can hard press to append or prepend text, delete it or archive it. If archived, it doesn’t show on your watch – the watch only shows items in your drafts inbox – the inbox is where they go to after you create them.

Drafts are shared via iCloud synch across your iOS devices.

On your phone you can perform numerous actions on the open draft including reminders, email, sms, dropbox twitter, Facebook etc.

The latest iPhone version has dramatically expanded support for external keyboards, allowing any key combination to activate text expansion or to run scripts on the open draft.

The developer is extremely responsive and very Voiceover focused. He has incorporated all the Apple watch and many iPhone suggestions I made following the initial release.

Simple Mic

A great iPhone app that has a remote control recorder app on the Watch.

Open the app and you can remotely start your iPhone recording and stop it, all from your watch.

Twitterific

This is a great Apple Watch app,

I largely ignore the Twitterrific Glance, and don’t find it offers much for Voiceover users, but the app and the notifications are both great on the watch.

Tweetings App

Another app that has good iPhone support is also now on the Watch and allows DMs and Mentions to be accessed from the watch. Nice.

Overcast

This Watch app is very cool, allowing you to select podcasts for playing, pause, skip etc. Also adjust speed and other settings, all from your phone. Very very nice.

Wish List

(Partially implemented) Adjust Settings with Siri

Using Siri for do not disturb, mute and perhaps turn off bluetooth audio device would be great.

  • You can now use Siri to activate flight mode;
  • you can say “Siri do not disturb” and it takes you to settings and you can toggle the setting there
  • Bluetooth disabling doesn’t work via Siri in watchOS 2

Tactile Time Telling

On a few occasions now when delivering presentations, I have sadly chosen to replace my Apple Watch with my braille watch for the purpose of being able to silently do time checks throughout my presentation.

I once had a Tissot Silen-touch watch with a touch screen and vibration facility. As you moved your finger around the bezel, it would silently vibrate when you touched the hour the little hand was at, and would vibrate several times to indicate the minutes. I forget exactly how it worked, but would love a similar feature on the Apple Watch!

Louder maximum Voiceover Output from Speaker

As this Tweet articulates:

SinaBahram: If I had to sum up in 1 reason why I’m not getting an Apple Watch: volume! Seriously Apple, my 1995 radio shack watch was louder. #a11y #fb

For many situations the speaker at 100 percent volume is ok, but in loud environments the ergonomics of getting the speaker to the ear and clearly hearing the Watch is not as loud as I’d like.

To this end, I am now using the Apple Watch with the crown towards my elbow and find the directionality of speaker output more conducive to easy listening.

For Ergonomics – after reversing the orientation in this way – I’ve found that placing my left hand on my chest, with thumb and index finger spread to rest on each collar-bone, ideally positions the watch speaker and it is quite comfortable to operate, the watch including using the right index finger for adjusting the digital crown.

I am not certain, however, but it seems possible that the Watch OS 1.0.1 release may have the maximum volume louder than the original release.

Also,I like many blind users have set Voiceover speed to 100 percent, and if it were slowed down, comprehension in noisy places would be increased, but at present speed adjustment can only be set via the Watch iPhone app.

Both for true private listening and because of volume limitations, I still feel that a Bluetooth earpiece is a necessary or at least a desirable piece in the Apple Watch toolkit for a Voiceover user.

I haven’t given up hope that Apple may be designing a Bluetooth earpiece, to match the watch, but perhaps the demand for such an accessory is not sufficient.

Update: Apple did indeed create the AirPods, but, as outline at the top of this review, they are not designed to be helpful to Voiceover users of the watch.

On the topic of volume adjustment, the two finger double-tap and hold and then sliding up and down the screen is definitely difficult to reliably and efficiently adjust volume on-the-fly. Not only is it laggy, but sometimes the volume bounces around, even after lifting one’s fingers from the screen.

I think a new interaction mode would be valuable for tuning Voiceover settings here the digital crown could adjust volume or speed.

I understand that the two finger double tap sequence activates Zoom, if it is enabled, but it would be most useful to have an additional gesture for Voiceover users that perhaps allows various options to quickly be set.

Simple Voice Note Recorder from Siri

No sight of this in watchOS 2 but third party recorders are becoming available. Time will tell if they can be efficient and reliable enough for rapid capture and later review of voice notes.

I’d love to just be able to get Siri to capture a voice note for me, no fiddle, no having to open a special app.

  1. Hold in the crown;
  2. “Record John Smith’s phone number is 0412 345 6789”
  3. Release crown.

Ideally a facility to capture the voice note and the dictation translation would be fantastic. This could be a great third-party app I feel if Apple opens up the API to capture audio!

Auto Speaking Heart Rate Monitor

There is some improvement here with watchOS 2 but I haven’t exercised it well at this point.

As a blind person with an interest in fitness, I really would love a speaking heart rate monitor as I row or otherwise exercise. Currently this can be checked on, but I would like to be told my heart rate as I’m exercising and as it changes. This would allow for greater efficiency when doing interval rowing.

Also, since the VO focus is lost, you aren’t returned to the heart rate when you wake your watch up after sleep.

Another mode that would be great is being notified when your heart rate reaches a specified value.

Sighted people have numerous heart rate monitoring options available to them, including via different gym apparatus. The Apple Watch is an ideal alternative when you can’t read other displays.

Kilojoule Localisation

Now supports kilojoule measurements in Workout,but some messages still report in calories so there may be some minor tweaks still to come.

In Australia we use the Metric system of measurements and the iPhone and most of the Apple Watch is localised to this. The obvious exception is the Activity and Workout apps which always refer to Calories as a fitness energy measure even though I entered my weight and height in Kilograms and Centimetres.

Realtime tap communication

The Digital Touch feature was one of the primary “rationalisations” I concocted in order to justify getting an Apple Watch ๐Ÿ™‚

In reality, with Voiceover, digital touch is cumbersome and clunky – it is a lot of steps to get into the right place to send touches etc, and if more than one set of touches is sent, you get notifications and have to move through them to receive the touch messages.

You can’t identify where or from whom the touch is originating unless you open notifications and perform extra steps.

I’d love to receive a preceding touch pattern identifying the person sending digital touch – somewhat like the vibration patterns you can assign to callers on your iPhone.

Digital touch is a great idea and has huge potential for non visual non auditory communication between two or more people.

For example, as as a professional speaker, I had hoped that digital touch might allow my partner or a co-speaker to communicate with me while I am presenting or facilitating a workshop. Sometimes there are dynamics occurring or the event organiser wants to signal wind-up or questions in the room.

When you don’t have eye-contact and hand signalling available to you, Digital touch is a potential answer for so many situations, and presenting to groups is just one use case.

(partially fixed) Note that Currently the tactile heartbeat receiving feature doesn’t work when Voiceover is running.

Current Voiceover and other bugs I’ve found

Partially updated to reflect watchOS 2

  1. [Partially Fixed] Voiceover focus loss after wake

    Voiceover loses its focus point when the watch sleeps and re-wakes, even if you are remaining in the last task. This is a particular bother for apps like remote, or Overcast where you pressed pause, for example, and then wake your watch up only to find the Voiceover cursor at top of screen.

    Any unexpected state change is problematic UI, and means that you are unable to efficiently keep checking your heart rate, pause media etc without first flicking back to where you were before the Watch shut itself down.

    I think this is probably the most important fix to make the Watch comfortable and efficient to use!

This has been fixed in part in watchOS 2 but only for select Apple apps and when Siri isn’t used to invoke the app.

  1. [FIXED] In mail app and other situations, when you exit from a message’s details, you are returned to top of list, so prior place is lost.

This is a real efficiency killer!

This has been addressed in the mail app in watchOS 2, still checking other contexts.

things get confusing as the list of mail messages is updated and synced – you need to be careful that message actions are made on the correct item in the list.

  1. (FIXED) In mail and Notifications, it is not possible to activate an action after flicking down to it. e.g. to clear a notification or to trash an email.

  2. Sometimes, though it isn’t consistent, it isn’t possible to open a notification by double-tapping on it. Maybe has to do with number of notifications in list?

  3. [FIXED] When activating notifications, it would be great if newer notifications got focus, presently it is the oldest.

I think this has largely been addressed in watchOS 2 though some other notification bugs do exist.

  1. (FIXED) Other Voiceover users have reported getting stuck in the Clear All Notifications screen, and have had to restart their device.

  2. (FIXED) if the notifications screen is empty, Voiceover takes a long time to speak and you need to flick and tap the screen a few times – only to hear their are no notifications. Annoying but not crucial.

  3. (FIXED) Possible bug in Apple Watch: Getting stuck on the last glance – by John Lipsey on the Applevis forum

  4. Time wrongly read as Date

    I received a text as follows:

    Hi Saturday 7.30pm ๐Ÿ™‚

    Apple Watch Voiceover read it as: Hi, Saturday the thirtieth of July pm

    Note: I have language and region set to English-Australia, meaning dates are conventionally written in form dd/mm format.

This seems not yet to be fixed in watchOS 2.

  1. (FIXED) Minutes reported as seconds and Hours Reported as Minutes by Voiceover in Workout app

    When setting a time goal, the adjustable item for selecting duration of a workout reports as seconds, not as minutes. Also, as minutes in place of hours.

This seems to be fixed in watchOS 2

Tick Tock Apple Watch 1S My Hopes and speculations of what is next

One Year In with my Apple Watch Originally written in April 2016. Updated 25 October 2016 following release of new Watch hardware and OS. Last year I wrote and progressively updated an extensive blog post on Apple Watch Accessibility with Voiceover which expands on some of the points I make here. I received my Apple… Continue Reading Tick Tock Apple Watch 1S My Hopes and speculations of what is next

Welcome to Sounds Interesting – my new Blog and Podcast

New Year, New Website, , New Blog. Hi I’m Tim Noonan and I’d like to welcome you to my new Blog and Podcast which I’m calling Sounds Interesting. As a blind person I’ve always had a great interest in sound and in voice, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to combine this interest in… Continue Reading Welcome to Sounds Interesting – my new Blog and Podcast

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