Assistive Access

Assistive Access in iOS 17

I only just discovered this new feature in iOS 17. Assistive Access gives you a simplified, focused interface with access to only the apps and features you choose to enable. It was designed for people with cognitive disabilities, but there are plenty of other uses.

I’m thinking it could be an excellent way to setup an iPhone for a child. You could configure it so they only have access to Messages and the ability to make calls, for example. With no way to use other applications without first entering an Assistive Access-specific passcode.

Last night I set it up on my iPhone to only have access to Camera, Day One, Home, Photos, Things, and Messages — only listing my wife as a contact I’m able to send messages to. The idea being that I could enter Assistive Access when I wanted to spend less time on my device and be more present with the family. I’d still have access to the most crucial features, like taking photos and videos, but everything else would be hidden.

I do have a few gripes with the feature for my use case, though.

Some applications are built with Assistive Access in mind. Those applications offer an entirely different user interface than what you get from the app in the traditional iOS Home Screen experience. I wish that there was an option to just use the non-Assistive Access version of each app.

Of the apps I’m using, Camera, Photos, and Messages all use an alternative interface in Assistive Access. They’re mostly fine, but I really wish I could disable it in the Camera app. You don’t have the option to zoom, you can’t switch lenses, you can’t take photos in portrait mode, etc. — there’s a whole host of features that I wish I had access to that aren’t available. I’ve considered installing Halide or another third-party camera app for the additional features, but I generally find them difficult to use when compared to Apple’s Camera app.

The other complaint I have with Assistive Access is the giant “Back” button displayed along the bottom when you’re inside of an application. I’m sure it’s great for some users of the feature, but I would like to see an option to display something a bit more elegant — maybe show an old school iPhone home button instead?

Lastly, it doesn’t seem that there is a way to use Bluetooth or AirPlay speakers at all while in Assistive Access. It may sound like that would defeat the purpose, but I often have music playing on a Bluetooth speaker when the family is on the back deck or I play music over AirPlay to the HomePod in the kitchen. It would be rad if you could choose within Assistive Access’ settings whether that is available or not.

Ive seen others using a dumb or light phone for this type of use case. But whenever I’ve looked into that as an option the limitations were a bit more than I would prefer. There was always something that I need that these devices just couldn’t do or it would be too cumbersome to setup and use.

Using Assistive Access on the iPhone I already have seems like the perfect solution. I don’t have to buy an additional device and I have much more control over what I do and don’t have access to.

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My First Macintosh

In late 2006 I purchased a base model MacBook with a 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 512MB of RAM, and a 60GB hard drive.

Apple made a big deal about how upgradable these machines were — the memory slots and hard drive were accessible behind a metal plate inside the battery compartment. I upgraded the hard drive and memory myself, ending up with 2GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive.

I still have the machine today, albeit with a replacement battery, new keyboard, and top case. I actually had the machine out a few days ago after finding it in my office closet — I’ve been reorganize and cleaning up the home office while on parental leave.

The MacBook still boots, but I have no idea if the battery will hold a charge at all. I only booted it up for a minute or two to see if it would still run. It hasn’t seen any regular use in over a decade. I think the last time it would have been used was as a backup machine for my wife when her MacBook Air needed repairs.

As for my use of the machine, it was my primary computer until I bought an iMac in 2008. I continued using the MacBook as my portable machine until it was replaced by an 11-inch MacBook Air in 2011.

I’ve been on a kick of configuring old machines with new uses — most recently setting up a 2014 Mac Mini as family computer in the basement. I might end up installing Linux on the MacBook or a fresh copy of Lion, which is the most recent version of macOS that it supports. I have no idea what I’d use it for, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something.

The machine is significantly thicker and heavier than any of the laptops I’ve used since then. The plastic casing is prone to cracking and the trackpad has a dedicated button below it for clicking — this was prior to the integrated button built into the trackpad in later MacBooks.

But despite all of that, I still have a great deal of nostalgia for this era of Macs. I feel like the design language of Apple’s software was at its peak and the hardware had a much healthier balance of elegance and upgradability.

The latter of those two seems like we’re continuing to move further away from. The transition to Apple Silicon has all but solidified a future full of Macs that offer zero upgradability. Sure you can still buy a Mac Pro, but you can’t add a graphics card, you can’t upgrade your system’s memory, and you can’t install a new CPU. It’s a lame duck product and everyone knows it.

I still hold out hope for a brighter future in that regard, though. Even if you can’t replace the integrated components it would be rad if you could add new components to augment the system. For example, imagine being able to twist off the bottom of a new Mac Mini to reveal a single M.2 slot. You could use it for additional storage, as a new or alternative boot drive, or as a quick and dirty Time Machine drive.

There’s definitely enough room in the Mac Mini’s chassis for this and I’m willing to bet other machines could offer similar upgradability without having to sacrifice the lineup’s existing form factors.

But that’s all a pipe dream. If you want real upgradability, you’ll have to get used to running Windows or Linux.

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