The Black Eyed Peas’ co-founder apl.de.ap is at the top of his game in the music industry and a total Apple fan. He’s also just beginning to speak out about his journey from a young boy with a visual impairment to his current status as a star vocal coach on The Voice of The Philippines.
“I was born with my eye condition,” apl.de.ap, aka Allan Pineda, told Cult of Mac. “Today, I feel much less handicapped by my legal blindness as technology has helped me a lot…. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t extremely tough at times, and occasionally I still feel challenged by it.”
He lives and breathes by his MacBook Pro, thinks Siri is amazing and messes about with music apps on his phone. He shared with Cult of Mac the story of his early life, the visual problem known as nystagmus, and his reliance on and use of technology and Apple products, which he says have helped him get through “a lot of things that would otherwise leave me helpless.”
He was born in Angeles City, Philippines, to Cristina Pineda and a man stationed at a nearby Air Force base who left soon after his birth. He and his six younger siblings helped support the family by farming after school, which was an hour-long jeep ride away.
“It was really tough growing up,” said Pineda. “I didn’t have much in the Philippines. I did not know my dad while my mom was a struggling single mom trying to raise me and my siblings. I never saw a doctor for my eyesight back then because it was something we couldn’t afford, nor was there access to great medical clinics and facilities.”
He was sponsored to visit the United States through Pearl S. Buck International, a program that helps orphaned, abandoned and disadvantaged children. The foundation brought him to California at age 14 so he could get treatment for nystagmus, the eye condition that causes Pineda’s eyes to move involuntarily. The nonprofit organization placed him with a lawyer named Joe Ben Hudgens, who eventually adopted Pineda.
After moving to Los Angeles, Pineda met William Adams. The two became lifelong friends — and Adams became superstar musician will.i.am, who Pineda performs with in the Black Eyed Peas.
apl.de.ap and Apple
Pineda had an operation that helped but did not eliminate his visual problem. Since he still has problems with his eyes, you would think Pineda would be a hard-core user of the accessibility features built into iOS and OS X, but so far, he’s just an admirer.
“When it comes to VoiceOver,” said Pineda, “I salute the team at Apple for that one. As a man who’s considered legally blind, I can definitely see how that type of technology can help those whose vision are limited.”
While he’s surrounded by people helping him get through each busy day, Siri still blows him away.
“When Apple first came out with Siri, my jaw dropped,” said Pineda. “I thought it was really dope because it was the closest interpretation of artificial intelligence that had personality. It really changed the way people interact with their phones.”
Pineda’s latest video (below) features a lot of iPads and some heavy gamer imagery. In reality, the 41-year-old superstar doesn’t have much time to game.
“I’m more into the music apps these days than games on my phone,” he said. “Music is my life, so you’re more likely to see me on SoundCloud than playing Clash of Clans.”
About that Google Glass …
He says he would like to see more tech in games of the future, though, with hot new ideas like the Oculus Rift and other virtual reality headsets. He wasn’t blown away by Google Glass, though he sees the potential.
“There was no app or program to help me with my eyesight,” he said. “After using it, I could see where we could take it in order to help those who’re visually impaired.”
He thinks Glass needs some enhancements to its size and software for someone with his eye condition, but he also realizes that Google’s head-mounted wearable is in the development stage. Mostly, he used his Google Glass to take photos and video, like most of us would.
“The technology definitely impressed me,” he said. “That’s why I included it in my music video, ‘Be.'” (Pineda filmed the video recently for his latest solo release, which features female rappers Honey Cocaine and Jessica Reynoso.)
Devices like the iPad and Google Glass are key in helping Pineda get through his daily life. Today’s larger phone sizes let him zoom in on whatever’s on screen so he can do what he needs to, and the connected world powered by services like Uber are a must-have.
“Apps like Uber are my best friend since I technically can’t drive,” he said. “Even for my coaching sessions on The Voice Philippines, I need an iPad to see the contestants when I turn around because I can’t see them at all from afar.”
Challenges can be blessings
Pineda sponsors a charity to help children in the Philippines get eye care, but he is only now opening up about his own visual challenges. At first, he didn’t want people to know he had any sort of disability. He tried to hide his nystagmus, not knowing how others in the music industry would react.
But what about the legacy of blind musicians like Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder?
“No matter how successful others you can relate to are,” he said, “I think people are always going to be sensitive about their shortcomings.”
Pineda said he hopes the path he took will inspire others to overcome setbacks or physical challenges that might keep them from following their dreams. Ultimately, he sees his condition, while challenging, as a blessing.
“It’s literally why I’m here today doing what I do,” he said. Connecting with his adoptive father to get his eyes checked is how he met will.i.am and formed The Black Eyed Peas. The rest, as they say, is history.
“What I learned from my experience,” Pineda said, “is that sometimes the challenge you are faced with can become the biggest strength in your life.”