iOS 5: Making Your Device Speak Selected Text Aloud

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I once discussed using the Services menu to add text to iTunes as a spoken track (and this should in no way be construed as a plug for a past article of mine, nope, no sir). Using that is kind of like creating your own little audiobooks to listen to as you go about your day. You can also right-click on a selected block of text in Mac OS X and choose Speech > Start Speaking to make things even easier. Similarly, you can force your iOS 5 device to recite blocks of text to you, which is especially cool if you want to hear news stories read in Siri’s voice. Hearing it from her can somehow make things seem less stressful.

So first, you’ll need to toggle the option on. It’s in Settings (naturally) under General > Accessibility > Speak Selection. Once you turn that on, you can adjust the rate of speech, too. Apple’s slider range for that is from “turtle” to “rabbit,” but if you listen to the sample that plays when you adjust the setting, it sounds more like “stoner” to “coke fiend.”

So now how do you use your new ability? Go to pretty much any app that has selectable text (I’m using MLB At Bat ’11 in my screenshots below), then tap and hold briefly to get the familiar blue text selectors to drag around. After you’ve highlighted all the text you want to hear, touch Speak.

When you grow tired of your device’s babbling, tap Pause. If you’ve accidentally deselected your text, just do the quick tap-and-hold thing again to get the menu back.

As I noted, this works almost everywhere in iOS 5, but sadly, it will not work in iBooks. Darn you, Apple, and your throttling of my dreams of free audiobooks. This feature’s still pretty great, though—I’m going to stop writing now and go make my iPhone read me my e-mails from my family. I tell you, things just sound better coming from Siri’s voice.

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Comments

Lee Dronick

Now that is too cool for the joules!

I just tried it and found it very fun for reading out Shakespeare and poetry. I had to turtle down the speech rate so that it didn’t sound like a telemarketer.

I hope that we soon get a more natural sounding voice/voices, I am imagine that computing power is a factor.

Gary

Hi Melissa! 

> stories read in Siri?s voice. Hearing it from her

Please try this:
?Settings > General > Siri > Language > English (United Kingdom)

When you write about her, remember that for many of your users that she is simultaneously a him…  Not sure how coping with that will fit with your highly individual and loveable style - hmmm…  grin

Lee Dronick

Please try this:
?Settings > General > Siri > Language > English (United Kingdom)

I tried that, but it wouldn’t find my location when asked. Apparently it only lets us use American English when in the USA.

When you write about her, remember that for many of your users that she is simultaneously a him

I didn’t think we could change the gender of the speech like we can on a Mac by choosing Alex or whomever. Is the English English voice a male?

Anyway, for me Siri is a petite brunet, librarian type, with big framed eyeglasses.

Gary

Hi Lee

Location-related services are not yet enabled in the UK version - e.g. find the nearest “xyz” - though, from what I remember, all the other services function.

I would have thought that you should at least be able to select the UK personality to try it out - I’m (obviously(?)) in the UK and I can invoke the others.

I wonder if there’s also something influencing this option in the International section - maybe temporarily selecting International > Voice?Control > Siri > English?(UK) will allow you to also select the UK personality for the voicing of the responses?

As for the gender, it’s not so much that there’s a choice - it just so happens that the UK voice is male.  See this story for some background on the UK side:
<http://tinyurl.com/7ca3qu8>

Lee Dronick

I also couldn’t get text to speech work with UK English, it defaulted to the USA female voice. Probably in a future version we may have more choices.

Melissa Holt

When you write about her, remember that for many of your users that she is simultaneously a him?? Not sure how coping with that will fit with your highly individual and loveable style - hmmm?

Aw, thanks!

And I know someone who likes and uses the male voice, so I should have thought of that. I stand humbly corrected. smile

Edited to note: At least on my phone, switching to UK English for Siri didn’t change the “Speak Selection” voice (it’s still female, as Lee Dronick pointed out). I, too, hope we have more voice options in the future.

John Popham

Speach does work (at least the ones I’ve tried) on the very latest version of iBooks (released today I think)

Melissa Holt

John, you’re right! The update for iBooks does allow speech there. They must’ve seen this tip. wink

OK, so there’s no way they saw this tip.

Lee Dronick

Thanks John!

Speech needs to pause a bit after a sentence stop. It shouldn’t be too hard to code that into the software. Just pause two beats after a period, question mark, and such.

Gary

Hi Lee

I noticed this ‘rush-on’ effect between sentences when I was using Speech on my iMac to proof-read a long email last night.  I had an idea and have now had a chance to test it.  If you put a single space between sentences the voicing will correctly handle the ‘breath’ between sentences.  However, if you favour the old-fashioned style of two spaces, as I do, you get the really short gap between the sentences.

I could easily accept that this exact same ‘feature’ is also present in the iOS text-to-speech software and is the root of what you’re describing.  I agree 110% that this should be dealt with through the software.

Lee Dronick

If you put a single space between sentences the voicing will correctly handle the ?breath? between sentences.? However, if you favour the old-fashioned style of two spaces, as I do, you get the really short gap between the sentences.

I am going to try it on some of my own writing. I noticed the nonstop when having it read from an iBook, Steve Jobs biography.

Edit: I just listened again and there is pause though it is subtle to my ear. Now this was on something I wrote in Notes on my iPhone. When I tried it in an app it seemed to the same speed through sentences. I need to get my singer and musician friend to listen, she can hear stuff I never discern.

Old fashioned spacing eh? I started out in this racket setting metal type into a composing stick. It was in a small job printing shop mostly doing forms, show tickets, business cards and such. We even had one hand powered press, but we did have another that one that electric powered.

Gary

> setting metal type into a composing stick

I have some experience there too.  In my spare time in the last few years at school, I did the dance tickets and so on.  We had a hand-cranked Adana flat bed press.  I first met Gill Sans as trays of lead type.  grin

You might appreciate LetterMpress…  Have you seen it?  Available on both the Mac and the iPad.  I’ve only tinkered with it a bit so far, but I love the attention to detail.
<http://tinyurl.com/7bkb9j3>

Lee Dronick

You might appreciate LetterMpress?? Have you seen it?? Available on both the Mac and the iPad.? I?ve only tinkered with it a bit so far, but I love the attention to detail.

Thanks for the tip! That is one steampunk looking app that certainly brings back memories. Only $2.99 in US dollars, I think that I will purchase a copy. No danger of the type falling out of the chase.

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