Accessible single-player texas hold'em poker for iOS

Posted on May 7, 2014
Tags: Accessibility, AppleVis, Games, iOS

I have been looking for an App like this since I got my first iOS device in december 2011. Finally, it is here! A single-player (bot-driven) poker app for iOS, THETA Poker Pro, fully accessible and usable with VoiceOver. AppleVis has a review.

It doesn’t happen very often, but App programmers in the iOS Universe do indeed sometimes think about Accessibility support, and the APIs provided by Apple are useful enough to allow programmers to write very accessible apps. You can say about Apple whatever you want, currently, it is the company providing the best accessibility support on the market. Why? Because they made accessibility a first-class citizen of their platform(s). This is where policy helps. If you can dictate top-down that you support people with disabilities, things actually start to happen. If you have to ask, hope, and wait, like it is with free software, things do not really progress as fast as the users need it.

Back to THETA Poker Pro: The default configuration is already very useable with VoiceOver. However, if you want the cards placed on the board announced to you, so that you do not have to discover them manually by touch, you can enable the “Card Announcement” item in the Options menu. You can also set message delay a bit slower, such that all messages are actually fully spoken and not cut off sometimes. With these two settings adjusted, and maybe “Animation” set to “Very fast”, the game feels extremely nice. There is actually nothing I would want to change, which does not happen very often when I test a program for its accessibility.

With these settings changed, game play is very smooth with VoiceOver, you basically just have to tap your cards to check, tap the deck to fold, or tap your chips to raise. Very simple, and these three “buttons” are on the bottom of the screen, so rather easy and quick to find. All other activity is automatically announced by VoiceOver.

I have played a few hundred hands already with this App. It is a wonderful way to pass time. For instance, I don’t like to go to my doctor, because I usually wait up to two or three hours. I had to pay her a visit on monday. While waiting, I played “a few” hands, and suddenly, I was already called in. When I came out again, I checked the time and was rather surprised that yes, I have waited two hours again, but this time, I didn’t notice! :-)

Special thanks go to the author(s) of this app. It is a good example of an App that was not specially made for the blind, but which feels like it was. Thanks, you’ve made my week!

A small rant

OTOH, it makes me sad when I think about my beloved Linux platform and GUI accessibility. We are stuck since 2004 with a bit of desktop support + a half-working Firefox. During the D-Bus rewrite, quality of GUI accessibility has dropped so much that I had to take time off from linux gui accessibility to stay sane. It is back to where it was in 2006, yay, but we haven’t made a lot of real progress in the last 8 years. Granted, firefox has improved, but to my taste, not enough. I still do all my email, shell work, programming and some other things on Linux of course, but I notice that I do more and more casual stuff on iOS, it is just sooo much more useable. I do almost all my surfing with mobile safari, because it just works. Firefox works sometimes, and some other times working with it feels so slow that I am actually getting angry.

The scratch-your-own-itch philosophy combined with a very small margin group is poison for success. We’d need much more funding, and people working actively on this stuff as their day job, if we ever want to be competitive with existing solutions.