Accessible Apple: How The Apple Watch Will Improve Security for the Visually Impaired

Apple watch. image from

Apple watch. image from

Thefts of IOS devices are nothing new. The devices command a premium resale price and can be relatively easy to steal from unsuspecting commuters on public transit systems.

Indeed, it has become such a problem that Apple included "Activation Lock" starting in iOS 7, a feature that remotely disables iPhones so that they cannot be reactivated after they are reported stolen. This, together with "Find My iPhone" -- a web service that allows lost or stolen iOS devices to be tracked remotely -- forms the core of Apple's defence against would-be iPhone thieves.

Unfortunately, even with all of Apple's efforts, cases like that of Nicholas Silver of St. Louis or this man in London are still far too common. Both men are visually impaired and had their iPhones stolen while waiting for public transit. These are classic examples of thieves seeking out victims they see as least likely to be able to react, and therefore easy pickings.

Arguably, even scarier are cases like that of Marc Proulx of Brantford, Ontario who had a stranger unknowingly follow him into the lobby of his apartment building and proceed to make off with his phone.

The above cases are not isolated incidents. Sadly, many visually impaired people who have their devices stolen feel that their inability to identify their attackers will cause the police to not treat their situations seriously. As a result, they do not report the crimes and opt to try to track the devices down themselves -- something no one should ever attempt.

For most people, the loss of an iPhone sucks. It can be annoying to have to use that old flip phone you retired in 1999 but kept around for nostalgia. Even worse are the situations where you are forced to use an older iPhone you had stashed away while you purchase a new one. At least you had all your data backed up to iCloud, right?

Many visually impaired people rely on their phones for everything from GPS navigation to scanning work documents, and find that the loss of an iPhone can mean reduced productivity at work, getting lost in the middle of unfamiliar areas (a huge stresser) or accidentally eating mushroom soup two days in a row (stressful in and of itself). For us, the iPhone is not just a phone, but a device we depend on to accomplish many daily tasks.

I see the Apple Watch changing all of this. While the fact that a person is wearing an Apple Watch will almost certainly mean that they also have an iPhone with them, it is a lot harder to swipe a device that's attached to one's wrist.

Furthermore, the Apple Watch's inclusion of VoiceOver, Zoom, Siri and Dictation means that many tasks that previously required the use of an iPhone in public will be possible to accomplish using the Watch itself. This situation will only improve as developers begin incorporating Apple Watch support into their apps.

Even taking the above into account, successful iPhone thefts will still happen. Some people will even have their Apple Watches stolen. However, here's to hoping that this new device can help us establish safer ways of using our technology.

How do you feel about using your iPhone in public? How do you think the Apple Watch will change how and when you use your iPhone? Let me know below in the comments or, if they are still inaccessible, on Twitter at @ASquared_Editor.

Accessible Apple is a regular Apple World Today column by Alex Jurgensen exploring the use of universal design and accessibility features in tech.