Apple generally does a good job of eating its own dog food when it comes to implementing new features into its first-party apps.
A prime example of this is Large Dynamic Type on iOS. It’s supported in several of the built-in apps, from Mail to Messages to Safari to Music to even the Phone app. I’ve gone on the record countless times saying Dynamic Type is perhaps my very favorite feature of iOS. It makes my iPhone and iPad better.
Alas, there are many apps in iOS that don’t (fully) support Dynamic Type—I’ve complained about this before. Two of these are foremost in my mind: App Store and TestFlight. I use the App Store often to browse, read app descriptions and release notes, and more, but things like release notes are set in a tiny font. TestFlight is important because I’m often invited by developers to beta-test apps; like the App Store, reading “What to test” notes and the like is extremely difficult because the text in this area is way too small to read comfortably.
I can make my eyes hurt by squinting, which I stubbornly do a lot. Lately, however, I’ve been using the Zoom accessibility feature. I’ve long known how it works and what it does, but after playing with it more intently, I’ve discovered Zoom has a lot going on under the proverbial hood. As with all of Apple’s discrete accessibility features, Zoom is powerful, well-designed, and open to a pretty rich level of customization.
What Zoom Is and How It Works
To put it glibly, Zoom makes everything on screen bigger. It functions similarly to the Magnifier feature new to iOS 10, but is closer in spirit to handheld magnifying glasses and the like. Thus, turn on Zoom and you’re effectively presented with a (rectangular) magnifying glass that you move around the screen.
Turning on Zoom (Settings → Accessibility → Zoom) brings up what Apple calls the “lens.” Holding down the pill-shaped “nub” on the bottom of the lens moves it, and you can drag it around anywhere in the OS, including the aforementioned Magnifier feature. Alongside the lens is a floating orb called the “Controller,” which, design-wise, is reminiscent to the AssistiveTouch accessibility feature, also on iOS.
The orb is home to many options one can use to control how Zoom behaves. (There are even more options in Settings.) Tapping the orb will bring up a menu to resize the lens, hide the orb, and more, but long-pressing it allows you to move the lens and the orb itself. I prefer moving the lens, but the orb method is useful so you don’t obstruct your view while scrolling.
Again, Zoom and Magnifier are close cousins, but each exists for distinct purposes. Whereas Zoom’s utility is geared towards things on the screen, Magnifier focuses—literally—on physical objects off the screen. But both features aim to bring things closer to you, tangible or not. They share a few options between them as well, including filters (for contrast) and zoom levels.
How and When I Use Zoom
Truth be told, I don’t use Zoom that often. I see it more as a specialized tool for certain apps or bits of text that I have trouble reading (e.g., the bits of text explaining settings.) Most of the time, I use Zoom to read release notes in the App Store and the “What to test” notes in TestFlight. Furthermore, I find it incredibly handy on the Lock screen to see the scrubber for audio I’m listening to. Especially for podcasts, where I want to reference a section or see how much time is left in an episode, Zoom helps me do it with no eye strain or fatigue.
The ideal scenario is for developers, and Apple, to embrace Dynamic Type more warmly, as that’s the path of least resistance for users who are visually impaired. As I’ve written numerous times, Dynamic Type has a public API, so anyone with an iOS app can hook onto it. I highly recommend this, and consider doing so a telltale sign that a developer is thinking about making accessible apps. Fortunately, there are many third-party apps that support Dynamic Type, including Overcast, Slack, Instagram (finally!), and Twitter’s official client.
But then there are apps like Uber… sigh.
The Bottom Line
For now, Zoom is a great solution. It does what it says on the tin, and I’m not so frustrated that the App Store, TestFlight, and so on are slow on the uptake in adopting Dynamic Type.
Now, if only I could get Dynamic Type on macOS. Maybe this year. Do you use Zoom on your device? Let me know in the comments section below.