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Thursday, May 24, 2012

How to Make Your iPhone and iPad Read Out Loud to You

The iPhone and iPad will read out loud to you. This is more than a party trick; it's very handy to let your iPhone or iPad read a long email to you while you pour yourself a bowl of Captain Crunch cereal (for example). It's also sort of fun, and perhaps a learning tool, to highlight a page in an iBooks book and have your iPhone or iPad read that page to you. It's all very easy though you have to be on iOS 5 or higher (Mom, you are).

Here's how you do it. (Screen shots are from an iPhone but it's almost exactly the same on the iPad.)

First, go to the Settings. Tap General, then Accessibility, then Speak Selection.

Speak Selection is off by default. You'll be turning it on here. Set the Speaking Rate closer to the turtle and further from the rabbit. It's hard to understand what's being said if it's said too rapidly. When you drag the Speaking Rate knob your device will speak some standard text to you, giving you a good idea of how things will sound.

Now find something that you'd like to have read out loud. Here, I've gone to the Mail app and found an email that is pretty long. Tap and hold anywhere in the text to create an initial selection, then tap Select All.

Remember, the reading feature is called "Speak Selection" so you could drag the selection to include any or all of the text. If you want all, the Select All button is the easier way to go. That's what I did here, and you can see the result.

Tap the Speak button, then sit back and listen. Or pour yourself a bowl of Captain Crunch. Actually it works with any cereal.

I used Mail as an example here but it works similarly with iBooks and Safari. In every case it's tap, hold, drag the selection knobs (or do Select All where available), then "Speak."

There are a few shortcomings (you can't choose the voice, you can't do Select All in iBooks or Safari, and you can't trigger it from Siri), but even so, Speak Selection is worth exploring.

Up next: I'll show you how to do the same thing on your Mac.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Type Faster on iPhones and iPads with Text Shortcuts

If you're an iPhone or iPad user, and you type the same things over and over, this tip is for you. This technique saves me a lot of time, all the time, as it works every place that text can be entered on an iOS device. That includes Mail, Messages, Notepad, Safari, and many, many more.

Before I show you how, let me give you an example.

I often need to enter my email address into a web-based form (in Safari). On a Mac it's no big deal to type it and there are several ways to automatically fill in that info anyway. On my iPhone it's a bit of a pain. At least it used to be. Now, instead of typing "," I type "em" (short for "email") and presto, it expands into "" Two characters instead of twenty-five. That's my kind of efficiency. I have another one that expands "ty" into "thank you" and another one that expands "cb" into "Christian Boyce."

Here's how I did it.

1. Go to Settings, then tap General. (I'm using an iPhone in these screen-shots but it's almost exactly the same on an iPad.)

2. In General, scroll down and tap Keyboard.

3. In Keyboard, scroll down and look at the existing shortcuts. You'll probably see one: "omw" for "On my way!" Mine looks a little better, with a couple of additional shortcuts. Tap the Add New Shortcut... button.

4. Figure out what you want to make a shortcut for, and enter it in the "Phrase" section. Create a short shortcut for it. The shortcut will be triggered automatically after you type your shortcut and then a space, or punctuation. So, you don't want to use a shortcut that is a real word, because you'll trigger the shortcut when you don't want to.

5. Tap Save and you're done.

From now on, anywhere you can enter text, you can use your shortcut. Here's what it looks like when you do. If you think it looks a lot like the auto-correct that's built into iOS you're right. That's exactly what it looks like, and it works in an identical manner. Here I've typed "em" and the iPhone has suggested "" and that's exactly what I want.

A few parting thoughts:
  1. Shortcuts pay attention to capitalization. If you invoke a shortcut at the beginning of a sentence it will be capitalized. If you capitalize the phrase it will be expanded that way. I took advantage of this and made "iphone" a shortcut for "iPhone." (Yes, the "phrase" can be a single word.)
  2. You can use the emoji keyboard to create phrases that are triggered by plain text shortcuts.
  3. Don't get the shortcut and the phrase mixed up! I've done it and wondered why the shortcut didn't work.

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