Reading List and Speak Screen

For some time now I’ve been a big proponent of the default iOS apps. By and large these apps are fairly basic, at least in comparison to specialist third party offerings (think Mail.app vs Spark Mail for example). Shortcomings like this, however, are easily overlooked because of the unparalleled integration many of these apps and services enjoy in comparison to their third party cousins.

I still use Mail.app, Calendar.app and Notes.app, for example, though I do still greatly enjoy third party apps to cover holes where integration with the OS isn’t as important. One such area is, or at least was a Read Later service. I’ve used Instapaper a lot in the past, but recently Pocket releases a killer new feature. This feature allows you to setup Pocket to read the articles you save there aloud to you. At first glance, this seemed like a feature I could really get behind. I’m a big podcast listener so I already enjoy a lot of audio content, so this felt like it would fit right into my way of consuming content. For all intents and purposes it does a good job. I’m not, however, using it anymore.

In keeping with my aim of staying first party when I’m able to, I did find it difficult to move away from Reading List which is, again, just so nicely integrated into the system.

The 233 words above, essentially, a largely redundant preamble just to, essentially say:

Hey, did you know you can replicate the Pocket ‘read aloud’ functionality within Reading List?

Allow me to, finally, cut to the chase. This isn’t a feature so much as it’s a simple utilisation of a fairly hidden away part of iOS. This utilises an Accessibility setting called ‘Speak Screen’. You can replicate Pockets Read Aloud service with Reading List by following these simple steps:

  1. Firstly you’ll need to activate the ‘Speak Screen’ function by navigating to General > Accessibility > Speech and toggle on ‘Speak Screen’

  2. Once activated, open up your Reading List and pick an article to open up.

  3. Once this is done, press the button on the top right of the screen to turn on Reader Mode, which strips out most of the formatting and leaves you with a basic fact article.
  4. Now, all you need to do is swipe down from the top of your device screen with two fingers to activate the iPhones own Read Aloud service. Upon doing so you will see a great little floating control panel that allows you to change the pace of the speech and pause it etc.

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The nice thing about this UI item is that it collapses when not in use and floats on top of the screen, ready for you to tap when needed. The UI element allows you to pause, resume and change the speed of the narration. The audio playback also remains active across the device, in that you can close Safari and open another app whilst the narration continues in the background.

Don’t get me wrong, the feature on Pocket has obviously been designed with this specific use case in mind, so the voice itself it arguably better there but, for me at least, this is a far more flexible solution. You can utilise this on the fly as well, so you don’t need to send an article to Reading List, of course, prior to firing off the Speak Screen feature.

If you enjoy reading various articles, particularly long form, but often find yourself without time to actually read it, this is a really great option for when you’d usually tackle your podcast queue.

Andy Nicolaides @andynicolaides