Apple accessibility gimmick on iPhone 4

I’m not sure if this is a feature of the phone or the OS. Either way, Apple’s attempt at “high contrast” or “white on black” is a complete joke. I find it dubious that it makes much easier to read. It’s a silly trick from Graphics 101, trumped up like a feature.

If you turn on “white on black,” they do a really stupid inversion of the palette. Sure, white becomes black, but purple becomes green, orange becomes blue, and all the other colors change, too.

In the settings page, you get white text on black background. In mail you get white text on a black background. OmniFocus looked pretty good. I played with it for a little while and thought “maybe I could get used to this.” But then I discovered a few colossal screw-ups.

For example, I normally use one of their very dark backgrounds for my wallpaper. The phone is already smart enough to use white text in front of this background. When I activate “white on black,” I get an inversion. The background becomes light and the text dark! That is, I have “black on white” when I asked for “white on black”!

And the screen inversion is complete. It is everywhere. Activate the camera and you see an inverted picture! Who on earth wants that!? And with the high-contrast turned on, you don’t get what you see on the screen (thank goodness, in that sense). You get a normal picture captured by the phone. But I tried to capture a picture of my home screen, to attach to this blog post, and it actually captured the correct colors, not the inverted ones, when I did a screen capture. That surprised me.

I think the main reasons I am so bothered by this are:

  • This does not change the contrast. According to the dictionary distributed with MacOS X, contrast is “the degree of difference between tones in a television picture, photograph, or other image”. If you invert the picture, you haven’t changed the degree of difference in the tones. Blue is no farther from orange than orange is from blue. If the screen or an application had poor contrast before, it still has poor contrast after inverting it. If they increased the tonal difference, that would be something else, but this is just a gimmick. Notice that you never see Apple display an example of their high contrast feature, except the settings screen itself. There’s a good reason.

  • It is phenomenally idiotic to apply this inversion across every single app. I have no easy way to turn it on and off selectively. It’s not like “push notifications” where I can say “this app: yes, that app: no.” It’s either on 100% all the time, or not on at all. I don’t want to play games with inverted color, use FaceTime with inverted color, edit movies with inverted color, or half the stuff that the phone is capable of.

  • They called this “accessibility,” but I don’t see how it actually makes anything more accessible. Sure, white text on a black background is often easier to read, but they don’t ensure that you get white on black. As I showed, my text actually was white on black before I activated this feature, and then it became black on white.

With so many really well-done features, did Apple really need this stupid gimmick? Of all the phones in the world that support accessibility, the iPhone has some impressive claims (support for braille displays, reading out text, zoom, etc.). Did they need this to make their accessibility seem real?

I’m always looking for ways to get white on black, because it is easier on the eyes and easier to read. This was just a frustrating joke. I hope, in the future, it becomes an option that programmers can latch onto the way they do with push notifications. That is, they can signal to the OS “I’m an app capable of high contrast” or that they can ask the OS “has the user selected high contrast?” and then choose an appropriate palette.

(Edited in 2018. Apparently all my screenshots were missing. They appear to be lost to history. They’re not even available at (The Wayback Machine)[].)

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