iOS has many useful features, and some of them are almost unknown to many users. Two very neat accessibility features are Speak Screen and Speak Selection, which let you hear your iOS device read text to you.
Speak Screen and Speak Selection both work with Kindle books, web pages, and any other text you want to listen to instead of read. Speak Screen lets you hear all of what's on your screen, and Speak Selection lets you listen to text that you have specifically highlighted on your screen.
I must confess that I had never heard of these until I ran into an article on the 500ish Words blog this morning. M.G. Siegler highlighted these features and explained how to use them:
Basically, whether I’m in Safari or Pocket or Medium reading, I use the iOS ‘Speak Selection’ functionality to read things to me. You can do this almost anywhere within iOS (once you enable the feature in ‘Settings’) by selecting a block of text and hitting ‘Speak.’
Or, I find the real key is to enable ‘Speak Screen’ which allows you to quickly trigger the contents of any screen to be read to you simply by swiping two fingers down on an iOS screen.
I’m a little wary of sharing this “hack” broadly because I worry that content publishers will ask for Apple to remove such functionality.¹ If that sounds crazy, remember that when the Kindle originally launched, it had the ability to read any text outloud to users. The publishers/authors, not wanting to cannibalize their extremely lucrative (read: rip-off) audiobook sales, quickly put an end to this feature.
We all know Siri by now. She’s a fine voice (or, in some regions, he’s a fine voice). But Alex destroys Siri when it comes to computer voices. While he started as an OS X feature, he’s available in iOS as a separate (relatively large) download.
I found Siegler's post quite interesting, and I couldn't resist trying out Speak Screen and Speak Selection. I'm a huge fan of audiobooks, so having other things like web pages read to me really caught my attention.
I'll share my thoughts in more detail below, but first here are some tips on how to enable and use Speak Screen and Speak Selection on the iPad, iPod touch or iPhone.
How to enable Speak Screen and Speak Selection in iOS
1. Open the Settings app.
2. Tap on General.
3. Tap on Accessibility.
4. Tap on Speech.
5. Tap on Speak Selection to enable it.
6. Tap on Speak Screen to enable it.
7. Tap on Voices.
8. Tap on English.
9. Tap on the voice you want to use. Note that Alex requires an 869 MB download in order to use it.
I opted to download Alex, and while I liked the voice, I actually switched to my default Siri voice instead. I use the Australian male voice because I like the accent and Aussie guys are hot. Yes, I'm shallow but it's my iPhone so I'll do as I please, thank you very much. Ha.
I recommend giving Alex a shot though, and if he doesn't float your boat then try another voice. Remember that it has to be an English voice, however. So you are limited to what's available on the English voice menu.
Tips for using Speak Screen and Speak Selection in iOS
Once you have Speak Screen enabled, you can start using it to have text read to you. If you are using it for a Kindle book, just swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen. A menu will popup that will allow you to pause, play, speed up or slow down the audio narration of your book.
However, if you want to listen to a Web page in Safari, you will probably need to select the text you want to listen to via Speak Selection. When I tried Speak Screen it told me that there was nothing to read.
I found that it's easier to tap the Reader button and then select the text rather than trying to select it on the web page itself. Some Web pages have odd designs that make it harder to select text, but the Reader button gets rid of that clutter.
Having a Web page read to me is a very different way of getting information. I found it rather nice to put my phone down and just listen to the Australian voice of Siri read the news to me. It saved me a lot of scrolling and holding my phone (which is good considering I have tendinitis problems with my hands).
Audiobook narrators still beat Speak Screen and Speak Selection
I really like the Speak Screen and Speak Selection features in iOS. I'm glad I found them, but I must politely disagree with one of M.G. Siegler's points about audiobooks. He thinks that audiobooks are a ripoff, but I disagree strongly with that sentiment.
A good audiobook narrator offers emotional nuances, different voices, and flavors a book with human characteristics. The Speak Screen and Speak Selection computer narration lacks this warmth and humanity. It's still useful, but it's no substitute for a good audiobook narrator.
All of that said, I still really like having Web pages and other text documents read to me. So I'll be using Speak Screen and Speak Selection regularly now. But I'll stick with Audible's audiobook narrators for my books.
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