Are we getting closer to a Star Trek-like era where our computers speak to us? Nope. That’s too bad, because I could use a little adult conversation.
Three pre-school daughters at home all day make me yearn for the sound of a human voice. Or, a nearly human voice. Guess what? Your Mac can speak to you. It can read to you. Talk to you. It just won’t listen to you.
Text To Speech Gets Better
The Mac has had text to speech functionality for many years. Type something into TextEdit. Select the text, right click, then select Speech, then select the Start Speaking option.
Your Mac has a number of built-in voices that can read written text in most applications.
The technology works acceptably but has been limited to English only voices, and few of those sound half way normal. The voice Alex is the exception. He sounds pretty good.
Mac OS X Lion changes things and gives you more voices, more options, and more languages. Open up the VoiceOver Utility in your Mac’s Applications > Utilities folder. Click on the Speech button in the left column. Click on the default voice name (I think it’s Alex; I changed mine to Samantha—I decided I needed a girlfriend during the day).
Then select Customize at the bottom of the list. Whoa. Lots more voices in many more languages, and some of them sound great. They’re a free download from Apple, but only for Lion users (I haven’t checked backwards compatibility, but you gotta get something extra for that $29.99 upgrade fee).
Browse through the voices and languages until you find one or two you like, then set one as the default voice. For now, there’s no way in Lion to change voices on the fly, or apply a different voice to different situations or apps.
The Little App That Talks More
Why let Apple have all the fun? GhostReader is a Mac app that also reads text and it comes with a bunch of different voices in more languages.
Use GhostReader’s natural language voices to read audiobooks which you can save for listening on your iPhone or iPod. Set the app to proofread your documents or reports.
It even has an option to convert the text to speech files to an audio file so you can save it in iTunes, or create your own audio Podcast.
Check out this page for a whole bunch of male and female voices in a variety of languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, German, Danish, Greek, Portuguese, Brazilian, Norwegian, Polish, and others.
The GhostReader app even gives you options to bring greater control to the speech as the text is being read, with Paragraph Start, Sentence Start, Skips and so on.
The only negative with GhostReader or Apple’s new built-in text-to-speech voices is that they just read. They really don’t talk to you, so if you’re a lonely, cubicle-dwelling Mac user, or tote your MacBook around in a backpack, your Mac will be friendly, but not a live, talking friend.
We’ve had Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, and Lion. Maybe a Mac that communicates to us in voice will show up in the Hello Kitty Mac.