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SoundHound Asked to Roll Back Accessibility Declines and Open the App’s Ears to Blind VoiceOver Users

May 17, 2011 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

This is a collaboration effort between No Eyes Needed and Blind Access Journal, two leaders in blindness advocacy and the mobilization of efforts to improve accessibility in mainstream products, services and resources. Our goal today is to share insight on the current state of accessibility within the popular iOS music identification app, Soundhound. We will give you a brief rundown of Soundhound’s history pertaining to access with Apple’s built-in, screen reading solution, Voiceover, as well as a short audio walkthrough of the application’s interface and inaccessible components from a blindness perspective. The application was once a tremendously beneficial resource with nearly 100% accessibility for Voiceover users. It is our hope with this article and audio demonstration that we can illustrate the decline in access and some areas that the Soundhound development and engineering teams can address as soon as possible.

No Eyes Needed: The History and Decline of Soundhound’s Accessibility

I was an early adopter of the iPhone within the blindness community. I vividly remember shouting “I can’t believe Apple just made the iPhone accessible!”, when I heard the announcements from the World Wide Developers Conference, or WWDC, in 2009. Though we had knowledge that all of Apple’s included applications would be accessible to Voiceover users, none of us really knew the state of accessibility with regards to third-party offerings. I was particularly excited about two applications – Tweetie, a super-fast, mega-trendy Twitter application, and Midomi, a music identification app.

What’s “Midomi”? When it originally hit the App Store, Soundhound went under the moniker “Midomi” under the direction of developer, Melodis. It was $4.99, which was a pretty hefty price tag compared to the collection of freebies and $.99 apps I had already acquired. I had word on good faith from several other “iPhoneres” that this app was worth it, so I decided to give it a shot.

The Midomi app was my first accessibility “brick wall”. Voiceover had absolutely no access to controls, buttons or text within the application. I was frustrated, to say the least, but for some reason, I decided to forego deleting the app. Maybe it was the five bucks I just wasted…

Much to my surprise, a few months later I was going through the list of updates I had available and I noticed a strange application name. It read “Soundhound from Soundhound Incorporated”. After some reading, I quickly realized Melodis was no longer working on the Midomi project and in its place was this new music identifier, Soundhound.

I was skeptical as to whether this offering would, indeed, be accessible, so I launched the app with great hesitation. Much to my surprise – I found an entirely accessible application! Buttons were labeled, text instructions were readable and I was able to immediately start identifying music playing around me.

I had given other “competitor” applications a try, such as Shazaam, which was only slightly more accessible than what was then, Midomi, and is now Soundhound. Soundhound has a much more extensive catalog of music to which it can identify, including classical music, which I know many folks were impressed to see. The other thing I really enjoy about Soundhound is its ability to identify a song by humming it. A great feature set, for sure.

But – something happened. Right around version 3.0, navigating around the application became a bit more “clunky” and information was not as easy to obtain. Voiceover users could, at one point, “flick” right and left to navigate through information from an identified song. As we ventured through the 3.x cycle, we’ve seen even poorer response within the application, to the point where some information isn’t accessible at all.

We define “accessibility”, at its core, as the ease of access to the pertinent and relevant information we need in order to maintain a quality of lifestyle equal to our peers. Information is at the forefront of our culture and it is our belief that the blindness community should not be shut out from accessing and utilizing the same information available to our sighted counterparts. I, along with many others, are paying customers of the Soundhound application and not only is the task of making this application accessible one of an ethical nature, it is something this development team should feel compelled to do in order to serve its customer base. At last glance, Soundhound is $6.99 in the App Store and I believe this price tag warrants some acknowledgement to our plight.

Blind Access Journal: Audio Demonstration of Soundhound’s Music Identification Application

I demonstrate how the primary function of SoundHound, identifying music, is not very accessible to those who rely on VoiceOver to access iOS apps.

Listen or Pause – SoundHound

Download – SoundHound

How Can I Help?

There are a few ways you can aid our efforts in seeing this application back to the highest level of accessibility. We’ve provided three contact points below, and we are asking readers to complete all three. We are excited about taking community action in raising our concerns to the media, design and development teams at Soundhound, and letting them know that accessibility for the blindness community is imperative and a valuable use of their time and resources.

  • EMAIL: We believe this advocacy effort is made strong with community support. You can send an email to support@soundhound.com and request that SoundHound begin implementing Voiceover accessibility into its music identification app. If you click the above mentioned email link, a pre-generated advocacy letter will populate in your default email client and, upon choosing “Send”, will be delivered to the support team at Soundhound.
  • CALL: We are also asking that readers place a call to Soundhound’s media relations team at 415.722.8583. Sue Ellen Schaming is the media relations contact with Soundhound and can forward our accessibility concerns to the appropriate individuals.
  • TWEET: We would love for this advocacy effort to go viral. Take a moment to tweet a short request for accessibility improvements to the Soundhound team. You can follow @Soundhound on Twitter.

Have you used the Soundhound application on your iOS device? What has been your experience? Have you noticed the decline in accessibility through the release cycle over the past few months? Please take a moment to voice your concerns using the information provided in this post.

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