With the release of iOS 8, Apple introduced a delightfully simple to use and extremely handy new feature called 'Speak Screen'. This feature allows users a quick and easy way to have text on the screen read aloud to them. As amazing as the Voiceover screen reader on board iOS devices is, it can be overkill in terms of features and complexity of use for those who use their device visually. For those people who want a simple way to have a screen of information read aloud – things like web articles or long emails are really the intended use – speak screen is your ticket.
To get started, the feature must first be enabled through your device settings. Navigate to settings, then general, then accessibility, then speech. You should see the screen below.
Image Caption: iPhone screen capture showing 'Speech' settings page.
You'll notice that I have turned on 'Speak Screen' and 'Highlight Content'. You can also use the 'voices' setting to choose which synthesizer the feature will use.
Once everything is set up, open up an email or a web article and then swipe two fingers from the very top of the screen downwards towards the middle, lifting the fingers off the screen at the end of the gesture. If you've done the gesture correctly, you should see a set of controls in a black overlay appear near the top of the screen and hear the text being read aloud.
Image Caption: iPhone screen shot showing 'speak screen' control bar.
The controls along the top row, from left to right are: an arrow key to hide the interface and an x to close the speak screen function. Along the bottom row, the controls are: A turtle to slow speech, rewind, play/pause, fast forward and a rabbit to speed up the speech rate.
After about five seconds, the controls will reduce themselves to a black button in the top-left of the screen. After another five seconds, this button will turn semi-transparent so that you can see the content beneath it. You can access the original controls at any time by touching the button.
Image Caption: iPhone screen capture. The speak screen 'show controls' button is near the top left.
Image Caption: iPhone screen capture. The Speak Screen show controls button is dimmed in the upper left of the screen.
Once you've mastered the two finger downwards swipe to start the speak screen function, the controls are quite straight forward to use.
There are a few other things to know about this function. Speak Screen can not be used at the same time as the zoom function. I am referring here to the Zoom feature found in the accessibility section of the device settings not the standard pinch in and out zoom that most people use in various areas of the device.
Speak Screen will shut itself off once there is no more content left to read. This is a good fail safe if perhaps you have difficulty seeing the 'show controls' button once it becomes semi-transparent.
The function works best with text that is formatted in a single column, such as a standard web article or an email.