Thread Subject: Re: interesting iPod article
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From: Peter Korn
Date: Mon, Apr 23 2007 1:20 PM
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Fundamentally a "Windows PC" that has a screen reader added is still a
Windows PC. The screen reader uses the OS services of Windows; it isn't
talking directly to the bare metal.
Perhaps a better analogy is an HP iPAQ. They come from HP running
Windows Mobile. HP Labs participated in a long-running project to put
Linux on the iPAQ (and by the way, the lead engineer of that project is
now running software engineering of the One Laptop Per Child project).
An iPAQ running Linux was not an iPAQ that runs Windows Mobile
applications. There is no Pocket Word that you could run, or any of a
myriad of other applications on such a beast. If said Linux were to
talk or otherwise be accessible, we wouldn't say that we simply loaded a
screen reader on it. We replaced the environment. While the iPAQ (and
Windows Mobile) are designed to run additional software, they weren't
marketed or warranted to have their entire OS replaced. Compare this to
products like Smart Hal, a Windows Mobile screen reader from Dolphin in
And the iPod isn't trying to be a general purpose handheld device - the
only thing you are expected (and warranted) to load onto it is data -
songs, notes, etc. Not software of any sort, let alone a replacement OS.
I really don't think "ease of replacement/restoration" makes any sense
as a measure here.
Also, you note that Pixo is the OS (today) underlying the iPod, and ask
whether anything changes if someone writes a screen reader for Pixo.
But unlike the "iPAQ with Windows Mobile", Pixo isn't a defining
characteristic of the iPod - anymore than a BMW being defined by VANOS
(the BMW engine management system; you don't know or care about the
engine management software, and if BMW were to change that, the car
would remain a BMW; if someone were to replace the engine with a Ford
engine, it would stop being a BMW). I don't see how a theoretical
screen reader for Pixo changes things - especially as I rather doubt
Apple uses Pixo "stock"; but rather has a bunch of their own stuff
running on top of it [which is where the accessibility work would most
likely have to be done].
Finally, you suggest that "a difficult and irreversible change would not
alter the fact that the *hardware* product would have to be described as
"open", compared to a typical calculator, for which such a change would
be technically infeasible." The trouble with that logic is the notion
that one might sell such hardware devoid of an OS, or that the vendor
might design the product to not be open (you have to go through a
number of warranty-voiding steps to run Linux on the iPod).
Perhaps this is all just a historical accident, but starting with the
original DOS PC, we had a clear separation of hardware and software,
with multiple companies making hardware that would all work on a
standardized set of hardware components (be it DOS or OS/2 or Linux or
BSD Unix or Solaris or BeOS). In that world, it makes a lot of sense to
separate out the hardware from the software and and think about them as
But what you are trying to do is take a single combined
hardware/software system, strip out part of it, and then judge just that
part (and put strictures on just that part because you decided to
separate them). That doesn't make sense. Further, your calculator
argument is somewhat flawed as well. My old HP 41C from 20 years ago
was re-programmable, and you could actually hack it to open up "hidden"
features and change how it would work. There were 3rd party add-ons
that would do this (I was a customer for one of them). These 3rd party
re-programming tools weren't access utilities, but then neither was HP
Lab's Linux for the iPAQ.
Finally, to your two numbered concerns:
"1. That we not abuse the concept of an OS. If one company makes the
hardware, the OS,
and the application software, and constrains all changes to the latter
two such that the company itself is the only party legally permitted to
alter them, is that an OS?"
I believe in this example, the product is a closed product - closed by
design (vs. by policy). That it has a formal OS inside, application
software, etc., doesn't change the fact that it is closed. It makes no
sense to me to apply accessibility regulations to an OS that may be
embedded within it - so I agree with you here on not abusing the term "OS".
"2. That we remember to distinguish between products that are closed due
to technical infeasibility and products that are closed by policy.
Companies may be free to close their products by policy, but such a
policy may be prejudicial to accessibility, and our recommendations
should be able to address that."
Without question, we need to keep in mind a distinction between being
closed from the manufacturer and closed by policy. But by policy, I
mean by policy of those deploying the product (e.g. in a library, where
by policy making any modification is a violation of library policy).
"technical infeasibility" is a new term to accessibility regulatory
discussion, and I don't think we should try to use it. Virtually
anything can be done with technology given enough money and time. But
that doesn't make it "readily achievable" - a term that does have a long
history in accessibility regulation, and moreover the term that I think
it is appropriate for us to use here.
By demonstration, adding a screen reader to Windows (or Macintosh or
Solaris) is readily achievable. Likewise adding a screen reader to a
number of Windows Mobile devices. That is not the case with a myriad of
consumer electronics devices today.
Sun Microsystems, Inc.
> Hi Peter,
> Thanks for your note. I'm not sure I completely buy your analogy; perhaps
> it depends
> on what is actually involved in installing the alternate interface and then
> the device to its original state. For example, if installing Linux and
> Rockbox is
> "easy", and returning the iPod to Apple's Pixo OS and the original interface
> can be
> accomplished by a simple reset command, that's quite different from a
> difficult and
> irreversible change.
> How would you want to classify this product if someone wrote a screen reader
> for Pixo,
> no longer requiring any replacement of the OS? I assume you would agree
> that that is
> the same as a third party screen reader for a desktop OS. Would you require
> that Apple
> permit (or even facilitate!) the installation of such third party software?
> What does
> it say about Pixo if (and I'm clearly not an expert) it does not allow third
> Moreover, even such a difficult and irreversible change would not alter the
> fact that
> the *hardware* product would have to be described as "open", compared to a
> calculator, for which such a change would be technically infeasible.
> I have 2 concerns here:
> 1. That we not abuse the concept of an OS. If one company makes the
> hardware, the OS,
> and the application software, and constrains all changes to the latter two
> such that the
> company itself is the only party legally permitted to alter them, is that an
> OS? Maybe
> this can be overcome by defining an OS.
> 2. That we remember to distinguish between products that are closed due to
> technical infeasibility and products that are closed by policy. Companies
> may be free
> to close their products by policy, but such a policy may be prejudicial to
> and our recommendations should be able to address that.
> Jim Tobias
> Inclusive Technologies
> +1.732.441.0831 v/tty
> +1.908.907.2387 mobile
> skype jimtobias
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: Peter Korn [mailto: = EMAIL ADDRESS REMOVED = ]
>> Sent: Monday, April 23, 2007 12:03 PM
>> To: TEITAC Web/Software Subcommittee
>> Cc: 'TEITAC self contained/closed products subcommittee';
>> 'TEITAC desktop/portable (hardware) subcommittee'
>> Subject: Re: [teitac-closed] [teitac-websoftware] interesting
>> iPod article
>> Hi Jim,
>> Interesting links. We discussed some of these issues a while
>> back, I think at an in-person meeting. Replacing the iPod OS
>> with Linux to install something like Rockbox (which among
>> other things provides a talking user interface for reading
>> song titles, etc. - see
>> http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/ipod-hack1.htm and look
>> for "Audible Menus") is essentially the same as buying a
>> Windows PC, wiping its hard drive, and installing a UNIX
>> environment that talks. It arguably makes the hardware
>> accessible (at least to someone who is blind in these
>> examples), but certainly not the OS - as the OS is no longer present.
>> This is in contrast to most of what we have been talking
>> about in open/closed systems - the ability to add something
>> like a screen reader to make the existing "system" accessible
>> (which is to say, the hardware & OS/platform).
>> Peter Korn
>> Accessibility Architect,
>> Sun Microsystems, Inc.
>>> Please forgive the cross-posting.
>>> Here is an article that describes iPod "openness" and hackability:
>>> My takeaways are:
>>> 1. Any ICT product that is popular or interesting enough is
>> going to
>>> be hacked.
>>> 2. A hack may be useful without being usable or supported
>> in any way.
>>> We should be careful not to focus only on technical feasibility of
>>> "aftermarket accessibility".
>>> 3. Companies may pursue closedness for marketing reasons,
>> because it
>>> gives them greater control over the product ecosystem. We
>> should be
>>> careful to distinguish between "policy" and "feasibility"
>>> Sidelight: look at the Tavo Gloves with conductive material in the
>>> thumb and index finger, for use with iPods and other touch
>>> Jim Tobias
>>> Inclusive Technologies
>>> +1.732.441.0831 v/tty
>>> +1.908.907.2387 mobile
>>> skype jimtobias
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