I just returned home from the M-Enabling Summit, a global conference that focused on accessibility for aged populations and persons with disabilities. There was a lot of focus on apps, and in particular Android apps. People often ask The Conover Company if we have considered developing Android apps, and the short answer is yes. However, there are several significant challenges with developing for Android:

  1. There are currently 6 different versions of the Android operating system, and they all do things differently. Therefore, to develop an app for Android, you have to develop it 6 times to make sure everyone can access your application.
  2. In addition to developing for all these different operating systems, there are support costs associated with each.
  3. In our major market (education), most schools have iPads, not Android tablets.

Android and Dedicated Devices

The reason a lot of people who market to persons with disabilities favor Android is the fact that Android allows you more flexibility in distribution than Apple does. With Apple, you have to deliver your application through the iTunes App Store.  Apple also restricts what you can do with the operating system, while Android offers a more open developer environment.  This allows Android developers to market “dedicated” devices, which are covered under Medicare and Medicaid as AAC devices (we are working to change this, and so far Medicare and Medicaid will cover the iPad in a couple states like Minnesota and New Hampshire). These dedicated devices are usually around $8,000 because thatʼs what insurance will cover, and are sometimes as basic as an inexpensive Android tablet with a locked application.

I personally believe in the power of the iPad as an AAC tool, and believe itʼs only a matter of time until people see the iPad’s versatility as a positive and not a negative (see my previous post on this very topic). The fact that a device can be fun to use doesn’t diminish it’s value as an assistive technology tool.

Inherent Functionality of the iPad

The truth is, the iPad has so many amazing assistive technology features that nothing on Android even comes close (at this point). At the M-Enabling Summit, I saw a high-level marketing representative from Apple demonstrate their AssistiveTouch technology, which is available in the free iOS5 upgrade (Click here for more information on Apple’s accessibility features). AssistiveTouch is an amazing technology that allows the user to execute any of the advanced touch gestures recognized by the iPad (such as multi-touch, pinch, shake, etc.) with a single touch. She used the example of someone being able to fully use an iPad with their nose, which is just not possible on Android. If you want to see AssistiveTouch in action, here is a YouTube video that demonstrates it pretty well.

Conover’s Quest for Accessibility

Android has gotten a lot of press lately for the Android App Store surpassing the 10 billion download mark, and thereʼs no doubt itʼs a powerful platform. In the future, Iʼm sure we will revisit this technology, but as of this writing, the accessibility features in Appleʼs iOS 5 make this decision a no-brainer for a company like ours, that is dedicated to providing accessible products to as many users as possible.

What do you think about the difference between the iOS and Android operating systems for assistive technology? Feel free to weigh in and let us know your thoughts!

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