Zybox for iOS – updated and upgraded!

Please note: this product has been discontinued

The Zybox for iOS is a switch interface from Zygo that uses VoiceOver to control the iOS and any VoiceOver compatible apps on your iPad or iPhone. I reviewed it earlier this year and posted a blog about it on the 31st of March. However, the Zybox has had a makeover – a hardware update – that has improved it hugely.  So, it’s time for another review.

As I mentioned in the earlier review, one of the signficant features of this interface is that it plugs directly into the port on the iPad. This will help in some situations where Bluetooth adapters have proved impractical (e.g. some hearing aid loops seem to interfere with the Bluetooth switch adapters) or if people don’t like adding a Bluetooth accessory.

The Zybox for iOS gets power from the port on the iPad so it doesn’t ever require charging – yay!  There are two models – the 30 pin model for the iPad 1, 2 and 3rd generation and a Lightning model for the 4th generation iPad and iPad mini. One of the new updates means that the Zybox now works with any iPad with an appropriate Apple adapter – so I can just plug it in and start using it. (And I also tried doing this with a no-name cheaper adapter I own and it didn’t work – so if you have a 3rd party adapter you just need to be aware that this could be a problem).

And when I said above that the Zybox is ‘Plug-and-Play’ I truly meant this. One of the cleverest new features of the update is that shortly after I plug the Zybox into my iPad, VoiceOver is automatically turned on. The iPad announces that the Zybox is plugged in and you are ready to go. It even tells you how many switches are plugged in. This is a HUGE advantage if the iPad is used by multiple people and some of them don’t require VoiceOver. To match with this, VoiceOver also turns off when you unplug the Zybox, making setup so much easier for all of us!

Using the ZyBox with 1 switch continues to require a lot of timed switch presses – however these have been made significantly easier and more comprehensive with some verbal cues provided by the iPad. A single press of the switch starts the scan moving from left to right across the rows on the screen. A second press of the switch stops the scan. A third press starts the scan moving again in the opposite direction, from right to left. A longer press of the switch starts an auditory menu, generally starting with Home and Escape and then sometimes adding more options. As the iPad reads out the options, the user needs to listen carefully and release the switch when the right option is read out. There are now many more options that can be activated by the single switch as the device detects all appropriate options for the current cursor position. This has made this interface infinitely more powerful – it is now the most powerful interface with a single switch that I have trialled giving the most complete control of iOS with a single switch.  Some people will find the speed with which the interface reads through the auditory options list is too fast for them but as long as people can manage this, the new updated Zybox has become a very exciting option for single switch users.

In two switch mode, the first switch starts the scan pattern, while the second switch has multiple functions.  Again these are timing related – a short press selects the current item highlighted by VoiceOver, and a longer press begins the auditory list of options giving two switch users the same options available to single switch users.

No manual was supplied with the Zybox but the chart on the back of the adapter gives you rough details of what each switch does (see above). The chart actually undersells the options available as the auditory list sometimes went through a much bigger range of options depending on where the VoiceOver cursor currently is. As you can see, up to 6 switches can be plugged into the Zybox, however only 5 switches can used with the standard model.  Using 5 switches just provides faster access to the functions of VoiceOver. Since there are very few people who would need switch access and are able to use 6 switches this review will focus on 1 and 2 switch access.

Another really helpful change is that the interface now seems to detect reliably when a cursor is active, and brings up the onscreen keyboard. It worked without a hitch on the Spotlight Search page, in Safari, in the Notes app and in Pages. This is the first switch interface I have reviewed where this has worked reliably in 1 and 2 switch mode – and a very important update to the features of this interface.

The biggest disappointment for me was iBooks mode. This now works with 1, 2 or more switches but unfortunately I was unable to get any iBook to reliably change pages. As there is still no manual available for the Zybox I’m not sure if I was doing something wrong – but I tried changing pages with three different books, one with a graphic page browser and two with number based page browsers and was still only able to change pages in the graphic based one and then it was unreliable. Hopefully this is something they will address in the future.

Overall, the interface is extremely easy to setup and use.  Definitely the easiest that I have setup so far – and the automatic turning on and off of VoiceOver will be a big advantage for many people. It also offers the ability to navigate around the home screens and VoiceOver compatible apps with one or two switches as long as the user has the ability to time the length of their switch presses. A spoken menu gives access to more VoiceOver features, such as a left or right swipe, depending on the position of the VoiceOver cursor.  This gives this interface a power that none of the other iPad switch interfaces have with 1 or 2 switches. The reliable appearance of the onscreen keyboard in 1 or 2 switch mode when a cursor is activated is also a very welcome feature – and should reduce a lot of frustration for users!  And, in addition to all these exciting features, this interface plugs directly into the iPad port and doesn’t require charging – both of which will eliminate problems that some users have had with the Bluetooth interfaces currently available.

The recent updates to the ZyBox for iOS have made a significant upgrade to the features of this iPad switch interface – and this should now be close to the top of the list for investigation for anyone who wants to access the iPad with 1 or 2 switches. A truly powerful option with some very clever features that make it stand out from the other iOS switch interfaces I have trialled.

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  1. Pingback: How do I use a switch with an iPad? iOS 7 Overview | Jane Farrall's Blog

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