Convergence is a beautiful thing. Historically, blind people have had to carry around multiple gadgets for performing a range of tasks. When the manufacturers of Talks released a DAISY player for Symbian, I remember how thrilled I was that I was able to play DAISY content, listen to podcasts, and hear my favourite music all on the one device.
That trend has continued with even smarter devices such as those powered by Apple’s iOS. When I purchased my first iPhone in 2010, I had a couple of DAISY apps, neither of which I considered satisfactory. They were either buggy or just convoluted. I’ve also experimented with a few text-reading apps over the years.
For me, the way I read content on iOS changed markedly for the better when I purchased Voice Dream Reader. Since I made that purchase, the app has been updated many times, with substantial functionality and accessibility enhancements.
This is one of a number of apps I want to profile on this blog, where the developer’s commitment to accessibility and impact on our productivity is so outstanding, that I want to do all I can to spread the word.
You can learn all about what this app does via its description in the App Store, and via its own website. So I’m going to describe some of the things that really impress me personally about the app, as well as the ways I’ve used it, in an attempt to illustrate its many practical benefits.
We all know that battery life is a precious commodity on these iThings. To use VoiceOver, you need to have the screen unlocked. Sure, if you’re the only one using your device on a regular basis, you can lower the brightness to 0%, and this helps with battery life. However you’re still going to consume a bit of juice with the screen unlocked, and the constant talking will have an impact on battery life as well. Voice Dream Reader hooks into its text-to-speech separately from VoiceOver, and it can continue to talk when the screen is locked. Not only does this save battery, but it also means you can be moving around, perhaps performing household chores, while reading. The fact that the screen is locked means you’re not going to have your reading inadvertently interrupted by knocking the screen.
As far as iOS is concerned, Voice Dream Reader is another music app. This means that when you unlock your device, you can play, pause and skip to the next and previous items all from the lock screen.
This approach also deals with the annoyance of VoiceOver interrupting itself when it is reading continuously and it receives a notification. There is no way to toggle VoiceOver interrupting with a notification other than enabling Do Not Disturb, which has consequences beyond simply stopping the notifications interrupting your reading. The two-finger double-tap gesture to toggle Voice Dream Reader’s continuous reading works whether Voice Dream Reader is enabled or not. So I often toggle VoiceOver off, and start reading for an interruption free experience. Any notifications of real significance, such as VIP mail and text messages from important people in my life have their own unique sounds. So this arrangement means I can still hear those tones, stop reading when there’s a notification I need to check out, but not be interrupted unless I choose to do the interrupting. It’s a big productivity booster.
Text-to-speech is a subjective thing, but you’d have to be pretty difficult to please not to find a voice that suits your listening tastes. Voice Dream Reader can use the voices available free as part of iOS, but also supports a wide range of voices from other developers which are available for purchase as in-app purchases. You can preview the voices before purchasing, and since the purchases are linked to your Apple ID, using them on multiple devices linked to that ID isn’t a problem.
One of the things I appreciate about Voice Dream Reader is the number of file formats and sources it supports. I’m a news junky, and frequently send articles from my RSS reader and Twitter to Instapaper. Voice Dream can read all the news stories I’ve collected in Instapaper back-to-back, meaning I can assemble my own personal newscast, lock the screen, and let it read. It’s a fantastic way to spend the time when on a long flight.
Voice Dream Reader also tears down the language barrier. If there’s an article of interest that you simply must read, but it’s written in a language you don’t speak, you can have the article translated and read to you, with the use of cost-effective translation credits, also available as in-app purchases.
Voice Dream Reader now supports DAISY content in both audio and text. If, like me, you’re in a country where DAISY content has not been burdened with digital rights management technology, then you have one heck of a talking book player in Voice Dream Reader.
If you enjoy listening to MP3 audio books, or for that matter any audio where it makes sense to remember your place so you can pick up from where you left off, Voice Dream Reader has you covered there too.
You can read content in PDF. I find that a lot of New Zealand Government discussion documents are downloadable in this format, as are many user guides for appliances I have. It’s wonderful to have a single app where I can refer to all my user guides and they’re all in my pocket on the phone I carry around with me at all times.
It’s pleasing to note the increasing availability of DRM-free ePub material. Voice Dream Reader has great support for this format, and I know many of those who’ve purchased my eBooks from this site are reading them in this app with great success.
You can also read material in plain text, RTF, Word, PowerPoint, Pages, Keynote and HTML formats.
Recently I was working with a client who is on a number of boards. He receives large quantities of board papers he must read, and wanted a way of doing so on his phone, so he could use any available time on the go to maximum advantage. Voice Dream Reader literally changed the way he did business. No matter what they throw at him, a Word document, a presentation, a PDF, he was able to double tap the attachment in the email, choose to open it in Voice Dream, and the file was imported into its database.
There are a number of useful ways to get information into the app. Import via iTunes, many apps directly on your device, and via Dropbox and Google Drive. Bookshare is also supported if that service is accessible to you.
The app also features a browser. You can use this to visit a page with content you might want saved in Voice Dream Reader. I have found this very handy when wanting to save a restaurant menu to skim later.
Voice Dream Reader’s “now reading” screen is very well thought-out. It’s user interface is innovative and facilitates productivity. A number of the buttons can not only be double tapped in the traditional way, but they can also be swiped for incremental changes, such as changing the speech rate, or moving forward and backward through a book. You can move through a book by a number of elements including time, sentence, paragraph, page and bookmark.
It has been wonderful to watch the evolution of this app, as the developer has realised that his app is providing access to reading in any form, whether that be text, or audio. The mission of this app has evolved from making text accessible, to making reading material, regardless of the format, accessible.
And speaking of the developer, I’ve found him courteous, willing to consider suggestions, and without a doubt, deeply committed to this project.
In terms of my dream for Voice Dream Reader, well it certainly would be wonderful to be able to consume iBooks, Audible books, and Kindle books this way, although I appreciate that’s unlikely. I hope additional audio formats may be supported in future, such as the open-source OGG vorbis.
This has already turned into a lengthy post, yet it has taken me a short time to write. There’s so much to like about this app that it’s an easy one to put together.
If you enjoy reading, and you have an iThing, I can’t recommend Voice Dream Reader highly enough. Boost your productivity and support this developer’s amazing work by adding it to your device and giving it 5 stars in your review.
Do you use Voice Dream Reader? How is it working out for you? Share your experiences in the comments.