iPods get speech, Apple gets accessible

The new iPod nanos (4th generation) now have speech-enabled menus, so you don’t have to be able to see the screen to operate it. This is obviously a boon for the visualy impaired, but with my old iPod I quite often used it from my pocket, or whilst driving. Could this be another case of the OXO good grips?

Josh Lioncourt spoke to Apple‘s Mike Shebanek about the new features:

Understandably, a device as small and compact as the iPod Nano hardly has the processing power to generate text-to-speech (TTS) on the fly… iTunes taps into your Mac or PC’s processing power to generate tiny audio files for the various menus, artists, album, song titles, in your library. When you sync, that information is sent to your iPod Nano 4G.

I wondered about this a couple of years ago based on the patent for the technique, I guess it took quite a while for the various parts of the puzzle to come together. I can see this getting quite widespread use outside of the accessibility community, as it’s a general feature that suits the click wheel very well. Not so with the touch screen, for obvious reasons. You could even produce a Nano-shuffle hybrid that has the click wheel but no screen.

ars technica covered speech in the new Nanos as well:

you have speakable items set up on your computer, the nano will inherit the voice you chose to use. It’s unclear whether this feature will also be part of iPod touches and iPhones.
An orange nano with the Spoken Menues option highlighted

It seems that the aspects of voice inherit from your system setting. I hope that simply adjusting the speed doesn’t require a whole new batch of the voice files though? Adjusting the speed is quite easy with Voiceover, and I do that every so often. (NB: I am sighted, I just like using Voiceover sometimes!)

Apple have also been active in the Windows accessibility world, working with GW Micro (makers of the Windows Eyes screen reader) to make iTunes 8 accessible for that screen reader. I don’t know that they worked together, but considering the more widespread JAWs wasn’t included, it’s the most likely explanation.

And finally, Apple have published accessibility information in an easy to find place. Most of it seems good, and it’s definately good that Apple has taken the step to actually publish this, however, I couldn’t help feeling that the iPhone page leaves a lot unsaid.

It finished with a link to the “User Guide tagged for screen readers”.  Um, no one who needs to use a screen reader is going to have any luck with the iPhone at this stage!