Make your iPhone read to you

I’m on my phone a lot. Lately, I’ve started growing increasingly annoyed at trying to read stuff on-the-go, which is something I do quite often. Trying to catch up on emails or the early news of the day during the morning commute is all fine and good when I’m on a bus, for example, but not so much when I’m making my way through rush-hour crowds. And if I’m heading to an assignment, it would be great if I could listen to past stories on the subject as I make my way there.

I tweeted about wanting an app that would read my stuff to me, and friend Devon Goodsell replied suggesting iSpeech. I downloaded it — it’s free — and checked it out.

Pros: The voice is pretty great. The default is a fluid-sounding female voice, almost human-like. The intonations are fairly accurate too, for a robot. I tested it with a profanity-laced email and it was pretty great to hear it read out it in this sweet voice. You can also select a voice with a British accent for free. For money, you can apparently make it read you stuff in Barack Obama’s voice. (Bush is also an option.)

Cons: You have to copy and paste the text into the app, which means you still have to fidget with your phone, but it’s a step. It also limits the amount of text it will read at once. (Not sure what the exact limit is.)

I then Googled, and found out iOS5 actually has an option that will do exactly what I wanted — right at the screen of whatever you’re reading, without having to open another app. To toggle it, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speak Selection and turn it on. You’ll likely want to slow down the rate of speech a bit, as the default is pretty quick.

Pros: It only takes a couple taps to get it reading and you don’t have to open another app.

Cons: It’s in Siri’s robotic voice. (Total first world problem, I’m aware.) This option also doesn’t really work with Instapaper, which is really the exact type of thing it should work for. (For those who don’t know: Instapaper allows you to save webpages for later reading. On a smartphone, it essentially downloads a webpage, strips it of unnecessary formatting and saves a cleaned up (think print screen) version of it within the app for you to read later — even if you’re offline.) On other pages, you select Speak Selection by holding your finger on a block of text for a second, as if you were going to copy it. In Instapaper, it suddenly removes the “select all” option, and the drag-highlighting mechanism doesn’t work.

I’m going to play with these for a couple of days and see how practical they are. Can’t see anything being more simple than the Speak Selection option despite its flaws, though. In the mean time, does anyone have any other suggestions? Help, please. Don’t let me be this guy:

New app lets strangers do random things with you

From the Huffington Post:

You may not be an avant-garde revolutionary, but why not make your life a little more surprising? Situationist, an iPhone app that takes its name from the midcentury philosophical movement, tries to infuse your everyday life with a bit more excitement.

What it is: By setting up a profile with Situationist, you pick a number of strange situations you’d be willing to take part in–from complimenting a haircut, to giving a 5-second hug, to inciting a local revolution–and then wait for other Situationists to come into range.

How it works: When others are in range, the app alerts you to let you know which situation you’re meant to engage in. Unlike some other GPS-enabled apps, it doesn’t show you everyone who has the app in your radius. Instead of seeking out fellow thrill-seekers, you have to wait for them to surprise you.

Users can also suggest their own situations, which are then vetted by the makers of the app. Photos are moderated to prevent inappropriate imagery. Users can also report any behavior that makes them uncomfortable–though the app notes, the point is to meet strangers.

Why you’d use it: When life seems to have calcified into an unremitting repetition of the mundane, it could be useful to inject some chaos and surprise into your routine.

In a cooler world, this could have epic, Total Recall-esque, pick-your-own-adventure-type potential, but the reality is that it will be the next app to be immediately defiled by perverts and porn enthusiasts. Guaranteed one of the first requested situations will be “Give me blowjob.” This is why we can’t have nice things.

Check out the Situationist site here.

UPDATE: Mia Bennett — who, according to her Twitter bio is CEO of Turned On Digital and just launched the Situationist app — tweeted me the following:

all content on situationist is moderated and it’s a bit random. So it would be very difficult to misuse the app