Configuring iOS Switch Control

In this section we will show you how to pair your BLE device to your iOS device and how to set up basic switch control using up to three buttons. Although this section is written with the EZ-Key HID device in mind, the process is virtually identical when using a Feather BLE or other devices. At the end of this page is a YouTube video that illustrates the process but we will describe it here for reference.

Pairing Your Device

On your iOS device go into "Settings-> Bluetooth" and turn on your BLE device. You should see the device listed in your available devices. Initially it might be described as simply "Keyboard" but eventually it will switch over to "Adafruit EZ-Key" followed by a four character identifier. You may have to press the "pair" button on the EZ Key. Tap on the device name to connect. Once you have paired your device you will not need to do it again. It should connect automatically thereafter.

Configuring the Switches

Now on your iOS device go into "Settings-> General-> Accessibility-> Switch Control". Note that the "Tap Behavior" is set to "Default" and "Scanning Style" is set to "Manual". If they are not configured that way, change them now.

Now select "Switches". If you've not done this before it will say that there are "0" switches defined. Tap on "Add new switch" and then "External". You will now be prompted to press one of your switches. Let's start with the "Select" switch. On your BLE device, press the switch briefly. If your iOS device recognizes it, it will prompt you to label it. In this case type the word "Select" and then click on "Save".

Now you will be given a list of possible functions that can be assigned to that switch. They are listed in two categories "Scanner" and "System"

We want to assign the function "Select Item" to this particular switch. After selecting this, it will take us back to the "Switches" menu and we should add another switch. Repeat the process for the left and right switches. On the right switch we will assign the function "Move to Next Item". Similarly add the left switch and assign it the function "Move to Previous Item".

Now go back one level to "Switch Control" and turn on switch control with the slider button. All of the above had to be done manually using the iOS device's touchscreen. However from this point forward you will be able to do anything else by simply pushing the right combination of the three switches we have just configured. The only item that you cannot do under switch control is to add an additional switch. That must be done manually. Although we have configured three switches, you can define additional ones if you have the hardware to do so. Also note that switch control can be used with two switches or even one a single switch. If you are using just 2 switches then you need one for "Move to Next Item" and one as the "Select" switch. 

Single switch control is possible under iOS. Your iOS device will constantly move the cursor rectangle from item to item and then you press the "Select" switch when it is at the right place. Configuring single switch control is a bit difficult and we will not be covering how to use it in this tutorial but you can feel free to explore those options on your own. Under "Scanning Method" change it from "Manual" to "Auto Scanning" or "Single Switch Step Scanning".

How to Use Switch Control

Once you have enabled switch control, you will notice that a blue rectangle will highlight an area of your screen. You should press the "Right" switch repeatedly and that rectangle will move from section to section on the screen. To make things go quicker, it will attempt to group together collections of objects on the screen. If you want to access something within the group then you press the "Select" switch. And then you can scan and select items within the group. If you overshoot the item that you want, you can press the "Left" switch and scan backwards.

Once you reach the item you want to choose, you press the "Select" switch but it does not automatically tap on that item. A small menu will pop up that will give you the option to tap on the selected item or perhaps to do some other function. Most of the time you want to tap and you should simply press the "Select" switch yet again to tap.

Instead of telling it to tap, you can optionally press the "Right" switch to explore other options. This brings up what is called the "Scanner Menu". This will give you a variety of options such as pressing the home button, scrolling the screen in various directions, performing other touchscreen gestures such as pinch, or accessing device features such as the control center, notification area, volume controls etc.  To have complete control of your iOS device, you must have some way to access this scanner menu.

Advanced Configuration

Because it might be annoying to have to constantly press "Select" twice in order to tap on a particular item, you may want to consider some advanced configuration options. The behavior we have described above is called "Tap Behavior: Default" as defined in the "Switch Control" main menu. The other varieties are "Auto Tap" and "Always Tap".

When using Auto Tap, when you select an item it will briefly turn solid blue. If you do nothing for the next fraction of a second it will automatically tap for you. But if you quickly press the "Select" switch again, it will bring up the scanner menu. Note: we have not demonstrated the Auto Tap feature in the YouTube video at the end of this page. But you can try it out yourself.

The "Always Tap" behavior automatically taps on the item anytime you select it. In order to use the "Always Tap" behavior you must have an alternate way to access the scanner menu. You could decide to forgo the use of a "Left" switch and reassign its function to "Scanner Menu". You could add a fourth switch to your BLE device and assign it the "Scanner Menu" function.

However our favorite solution to this problem is to make use of the "Long Press" feature. When this feature is enabled, each switch on your BLE device can have 2 functions. The default function is activated when you briefly press the switch. However if you hold the switch down for more than one second, an alternate function is activated. We recommend that you use the long press of your "Select" button to activate the "Scanner Menu" function.

Note that depending on the physical ability of the user, you may not be able to accurately use short and long presses. In that situation, you will have to use either the default tap behavior or the auto tap behavior or assign an additional switch to the scanner menu function.

Under the "Switch Control" main menu select "Long Press" and turn it on. You also have the option to define how long the button needs to be depressed in order to qualify as a long press.

After you have configured your "Select" switch's long press function to activate the "Scanner Menu", you can then change your "Tap Behavior" to use "Always Tap". You will likely find this configuration is much easier to use than the default tap behavior.

You can also assign long press functions to your other buttons. Because pressing the "Home" button is something you will frequently do, we recommend assigning that function to the long press of your "Right" switch even though the "Home" function is available from the scanner menu.

In the demo video below we assigned a long press of the "Left" switch to activate the Siri digital assistant. You could assign it to some other function such as the notification center or whatever you want.

Except as noted, everything on this page is illustrated in the YouTube video below.

Last updated on Feb 13, 2017 Published on Feb 13, 2017