I wrote about an application called Eclipse Soundscapes prior to the solar eclipse on August 21 that allowed people with low vision or blindness to experience the eclipse without looking at the sun. The review can be found on my blog here. I'm happy to report that the app was as awesome as I thought it would be, and I was able to be included in the eclipse viewing with my family. Read on for my review of the Eclipse Soundscapes app.
About the app
Available on iOS and Android, the Eclipse Soundscape app includes descriptive audio about the eclipse delivered in real time, using location services to pinpoint where the user is. There's also an interactive rumble map that allows users to explore the features of the eclipse using tactile and auditory feedback.
About my devices
I used this app on an iPad Air 2 running iOS version 10.3.2. The iPad was in a thin folio-style case that covered the back of the device. I also used this app on a Moto X 2nd Generation phone running Android 5.1, also known as Lollipop.
The app was easy for me to navigate, as it had menu options at the bottom of the screen, and users could use arrows to move across the different views of the eclipse. The app used a high-contrast display that was easy to read.
The app's location accuracy was very high, as it tracked the location of both devices to be 250 feet away from where I was actually located. I was very impressed with how accurate it was, especially since I don't regularly use location services on my iPad.
The descriptive audio came through clearly and was easy for me to understand. It automatically enabled when I opened the app during the eclipse, and could be paused, rewinded, or replayed when necessary. I liked the native app audio better than when I had VoiceOver read the text.
The text descriptions on the app did not scale with dynamic type on iOS or my default text settings on Android, and there was no way to read the information out loud from the app. While I was able to enlarge it using a magnifier, I would recommend that the developers add a large font option for users with low vision.
The rumble map is my favorite feature of the app. On my iPad, I was able to feel vibrations and hear changes of pitch through the speakers as I moved my fingers around the different light areas. I didn't get the same tactile feedback through my phone, but I loved being able to hear the differences in light throughout the map. It was locked in portrait (vertical) view on both apps so I could not rotate it for a larger map, but I still found it easy to navigate, and I was showing the map to several friends and family members.
Which device did I like better?
I liked using both devices equally, though I found it easier to use the rumble map on my iPad, due to the larger screen and the slight vibrations. I thought my phone's audio was much clearer, though that could be because my iPad was in a case.
Is it like the real eclipse?
My family and I watched the eclipse from our house with the eclipse glasses, which my friend and I got from the library. I had trouble focusing my eyes through the eclipse glasses, which is what I expected, and I preferred to experience the eclipse through the app instead, which was a lot of fun!
I loved using this app to watch the eclipse, and appreciate that people with low vision and blindness were able to be included in this awesome experience. I hope that science organizations will continue to think of people with visual impairments and find unique ways to make this experience accessible to all.