Day 16: Scrolling

OK, as already announced yesterday, today’s post is all about scrolling. And since I decided to do this post, things actually got more pronounced. This may have been because I was giving this even more attention, but the more likely explanation is that this has been creeping up on me through day to day use and finally reached a boiling point.
Android has several ways of scrolling lists or pages of information. You can slide two fingers up and down to scroll down or up respectively. You can do a quick double-motion gesture right than left to go to the next page, or left then right to go to the previous one. Page in this case meaning visible screen. In fact, this latter was introduced shortly after my original experiment “Switching to Android full-time” post in summer of last year. Also you can swipe continuously, and when at the end of one screen, it will flip to the next. Or when swiping left, to the previous, respectively.
And here’s already one problem: The last item you swiped to on one screen gets repeated almost every time when TalkBack flips pages. There is almost never an instance where there is a smooth transition from one screen to the next. Try it in Settings: Open Settings, and from the top most item, swipe to the right and listen to what happens when the screen is flipped to the next visible page. This is quirky at first, becomes annoying later, and completely unnerving when it hits you the 30th time in one day, because it constantly interrupts your train of thought or your enjoyment of a timeline, etc.
The next problem is with the two finger sliding: There is no defined way to go an exact number of items. Depending how fast and far one slides, it might scroll more or less items. Especially when one is blind and more so beginners, this is hard to deal with because there is no security here. The distance is virtually unpredictable.
Going back to the item that one reaches at the top or bottom of the currently visible screen: When double-tapping to activate it, it might happen that either nothing happens (best case), or something entirely different gets activated (worst case) than was spoken and intended. That is because the item one swiped to, and which just got read, is only partially visible on screen. Since TalkBack tries to simulate a finger tap in the center of the item, it might end up hitting a spot somewhere completely different. It often happens to me that, if I want to open a tweet to reply to it, I am thrown into a new Tweet composition screen instead, or open one of the Discover or Direct Messages screens because these are the things that by chance happened to be at the spot where TalkBack thought it needed to simulate a tap. The only solution to this problem is to try and slide the list just this tiny bit up or down so the tweet becomes visible fully, and TalkBack has a chance to actually activate it. Between reading the tweet, and the reaction to reply, and then actually getting to the point where one can reply, 30 seconds might have passed that totally interrupt the thought, or may cause it to even have been forgotten over having to fight the technology.
Oh and then there is the topic of trying to quickly get to the top or bottom of a long list. On iOS, there is this quick way of focusing the status bar and then double-tapping to scroll any list to the top instantly. Last night, while fighting jetlag and trying to find sleep, I asked on Twitter whether there is a way to do this in Android, too. There were several replies, some suggesting there is no way, others suggesting the quick double-motion gesture up then down might do the trick, until today, I received a reply that flicking with two fingers rapidly in the list will cause an accellerated scroll of the list in question.
After quite some practice, I finally got it to work for the first time. And like the sliding gesture, this one has a grave problem of unpredictability. It does an accellerated scroll, oh yes! But you never know if it will actually make it to the top or bottom, or if it will strand like a fish out of water half-way. I found that repeating the gesture several times rapidly accellerates the scrolling further, sending it into a real frency where it might even cause new content to load because it suddenly miraculously reached its destination while I was still flicking with two fingers.
These many levels of unpredictability are frustrating, to put it mildly. Technology constantly gets in the way of productive work here. The insecurity of the actions add up toa level where at least I feel I can no longer really trust my device. I can only try to imagine how this must feel to a beginner who is just getting familiar with the concept of a touch screen. It is often argued by the BLV Android community members that iOS rotor gestures are similarly unpredictable. I can only say: This is nothing compared to the level of unpredictability the different scrolling behaviors and quirks throw at a user. Yes, the rotor gestures are hard to get right at first, too. But there is a system of predictability to what a single finger flick up and down actually does in every situation even when the rotor is not being set to something.
If you would like to actually hear this set of behaviors and problems in action, for this post I actually did an accompanying audio recording that walks through the items I’ve discussed above. It’s roughly 20 minutes long. Enjoy! Or don’t. ;)

Accessibility is for everyone @MarcoInEnglish