By Shelly Brisbin
August 10, 2023 1:13 PM PT
In iOS 17, Siri can make the web speak
Down deep in the iOS 17 public beta, there’s a new Safari feature, available through a quick Siri command. Say “read this” to have the voice assistant speak a Web article aloud to you, including this one. You can listen whenever looking isn’t an option—in the car, while puttering around the house, or even when your eyes are just a little tired of reading a screen. Speaking content aloud isn’t really new to iOS, and there are more customizable ways to have it done, but it’s never been so quick or easy to have webpages read to you.
In the beta, open a web page in Safari. If the Reader option is available for the page, you can say “read this” after activating Siri. You don’t need to open Reader view, just note whether it’s available. (If it isn’t, Siri won’t read the page.)
Once activated, a set of controls appear briefly onscreen, and a tone plays. Your device then begins speaking, starting at a volume considerably lower than where you have it set. After a few seconds, the controller and Siri button disappear, and speech kicks up in volume. While the controller’s onscreen, you can see how long the reading will take, and change where you want the spoken output to go. Once the controller disappears, you can still adjust settings via Control Center.
iOS reads in whatever voice you’ve chosen for Siri. That means you might want to reconsider whether the one that tells you the weather, or apologizes for not being able to do something just now, is the one you want to hear reading articles. Fortunately, the Siri voices have gotten a lot better in the last few years, and all of the ones I’ve tried sound pretty good doing longform reading, even if you can’t change their speed, or other parameters.
When I checked out “read this,” I found that iOS reads the headline, then jumps straight into the content. You won’t hear subheads, leading image captions or, as on pages for the radio show where I work, info about embedded audio players. In this way, “read this” mirrors Safari Reader’s behavior. And so long as you don’t navigate to something else in Safari, speech continues. You can even move to another app or the Home screen while you read. Or, if your return to a page you’ve been reading, and say “read this” again, iOS picks up where it left off, rather than starting over, which is a nice touch.
As anyone who has used TextEdit or Safari on the Mac knows, speaking text aloud isn’t the new part here. It’s been possible to do that for years. In iOS, you can even set a Shortcut to do it. Having Siri kick off the process automatically, without the need to select what you want to hear—that’s the new stuff. It’s pretty great, even though it isn’t even close to all that your phone can do, when it comes to speech.
Most of iOS’s fancy speech options are behind the Accessibility item in Settings, where they assist users who use speech on the daily. And they’re not news. Besides a much larger choice of voices, you can change their pitch and reading speed, and apply speech to an entire article, or to selected text, if you like. You can also stop and start reading more easily, and surf around the Web while a page you’re reading continues. Finally, you can have content in apps other than Safari spoken.
To do all of this, you’ll need to use the Speak Screen feature within Accessibility settings, or perhaps the more basic Speak Selection. Unlike the VoiceOver screen reader, these accessibility options don’t force you into an unfamiliar set of gestures.
[Shelly Brisbin is a radio producer, host of the Parallel podcast, and author of the book iOS Access for All. She's the host of Lions, Towers & Shields, a podcast about classic movies, on The Incomparable network.]
If you appreciate articles like this one, support us by becoming a Six Colors subscriber. Subscribers get access to an exclusive podcast, members-only stories, and a special community.