Welcome to what turned out to be one of the longest SeroTalk podcasts ever. Jamie, Ricky and Joe had a lot to say about this week’s news. Also, Alena Roberts brings us an interview with the developers of the iOS game CodeName Cygnus. Of course, your feedback is the icing on the cake and we have a lot of mail for you to read this month. Let’s get started, shall we?
Mike Arrigo writes:
Lots of good stuff covered in this show. I do hope the NLS app comes to android soon as well. I’ve heard rumors that the company they contracted with to develop the app really messed things up, so it could be a while, but I hope that’s not the case, but I do wish they would have released them both at the same time. Since I got my iphone 5 in July, I will not be upgrading. My next phone will probably be a galaxy s 3, the s 4 still costs more than I am willing to pay but the 3 has great hardware specs still. I upgraded to IOS 7 the day it came out, it is working fine on my iphone 5. I agree with Jamie about the new app switcher, it’s much better I think. Really though, if this was an overhall of the platform, I don’t notice anything really major. Itunes radio is nice. Admitedly, I’m disappointed that some of the limitations were not removed. You still cannot change your default keyboard, I was really hoping that would be permitted. You still cannot install other system voices, I will talk more about voices in a minute, and there is still no file management, this is something every other operating system, whether mobile or desktop provides. I’m not saying I want IOS to become Android, but I do want the ability to customize my device the way I want it, and I don’t want a brick wall between me and it’s files. Transferring content to an iphone is still much more difficult than it needs to be. Ok, regarding voices. The reason there are some differences is because IOS 7 is using a new version of the vocalizer TTS engine. Previous versions used what is called vocalizer automotive, IOS 7 uses the newest version, it’s called vocalizer expressive. For some languages, the voices are totally different now, and some users are not happy with the new voices. I read the post of one user who is actually thinking about switching to android because the voice in his language is awful. He likes the acapela voices for his language, but again, you cannot install those as system voices like you can in Android.
From Jordan Gallacher
Hello, A couple of comments about iOS 7 after listening to your most recent podcast. First, I am happy to say there was an update to the Facebook app that fixed the problem of not being able to get to the notifications. Here are the things I don’t like about iOS 7. First, for some strange reason, my e-mail messages are all now starting at the end of iPhone for my signature. I liked it better when it would automatically start at the top on the first blank line. Here is my two biggest problems I have noticed with my bluetooth keyboard. As you mentioned, the Control key does not stop the speech like it used to. My other issue is that my F11 key is not working as it was in iOS 6 to get back to the Home screen and open the App Switcher. Annoyes me that I now really can’t be across the room from my phone and get back to the Home screen using my bluetooth keyboard. Other than those issues, I have been quite happy with iOS 7. Hopefully enough people complain about the things that are not working right that Apple will have to fix them, especially the bluetooth keyboard issues. Regards, Jordan
Jenine Stanley says:
Thanks so much for the Echo demo. You succeeded in either bringing back memories or inducing PTSD, not sure which at the moment.
I got my first computer back in 1988 and I agree with Ricki about the sheer novelty of having a thing that echoed your keystrokes and that you could actually, in some cases, manipulate faster than a sighted person.
I was fascinated with linguistics at that point in my life and began taking classes at Ohio State with the hope of working on synthetic speech. Of course the Linguistics Department was not exactly aware of synthetic speech back then and directed me toward the computer folks who didn’t know about it either. Ah, once again way ahead of my time.
Then I went to work for a company called Computer Conversations which made the Verbal Operating System VOS. We also worked on a speech synthesizer called the Verbette. Yes, that really was the name and no I did not come up with it.
The speech was based on the same chip set used in most of the synthesizers at that time, I believe the SSI1 chip. What we did that was slightly different was to add controls for articulation and inflection which were soon added to synthesizers like the Artic products. It was also a parallel port device about the size of a pack of cigarettes. I still have one of the first run models in my computer junk museum box.
Part of my job on that project was to go through the pronunciation tables to correct or tweak anything to give the speech a more Midwestern accent as opposed to East Coast or Valley Girl.
From there I was sparked to find more, different and better speech synthesizers. OK, don’t shoot me but I loved the Double Talk and Triple Talk. Yes, they could be annoying but for the time, they offered a much more fluid, natural sounding speech. I don’t speed speech up much but I do mess with pitch and tone.
Then we got to the point where software based speech was not only possible but varied. Yay! I must own a ton of software synthesizer programs from the really good, Ivona and Nuance, to the really scary, too numerous to mention. My current favorite, which has been on my desktop PC for a couple years now, is Ivona’s Kendra. Ivona’s Joey is on my work laptop.
I really like the male Siri voice with the new inflection. Oh how I wish that one was available for Voice Over. I’m using the Irish English Voice Over for now, though I do like the South African voice.
And yes, I too loath Samantha! She sounds way too much like a former coworker at another job whom I could not stand.
I can only imagine the voice actors convention, a bit like running into NLS narrators at national conventions. You stand there in the elevator listening and think, “Hey, that guy sounds familiar. Who is he?”
Then you realize you’re staring at Jack Fox. Oops. Luckily he found it funny.
Then you run into a voice you can’t stand and say so, not knowing said narrator is standing about 3 feet away. Again, oops.
My final foot-in-mouth moment happened when I was browsing the APH booth at a convention a while back and asked one of the people his name. Roy Avers spoke up and I blubbered that he sounded nothing like he did when reading. I got the feeling he heard that a lot because he just sighed and went on processing my order. Gee, even telling him he was the voice of Isaac Asimov didn’t help. Imagine that?
Bob Reid says:
Hi once again. If you look deep into the comments on the Youtube video, it is suggested that Susan C. Bennett is the old voice of Siri and Samantha and not Allison Dufty as so many are assuming. Apparently, Steve Jobs chose her personally. This could very well be the case as Susan’s lower register matches Samantha, “s’s” included. Check out the demos on her website. http://www.susancbennett.com/ Bob.
Wayne Mills writes in to say:
Hi Ricky, Jamie, Patrick and Joe,
I’m not really prone to sending mails (except for my other one) but I felt I should write because I was really worried about you all after this podcast. What has happened ? It seemed like I had entered an IOS twilight zone where I didn’t recognised what you were all saying about IOS7. It felt as though you had all woken up on chrismas day and didn’t get the Christmas present you thought you were going to get!
I thought I should offer a bit of support for IOS7. After reading my own mail though, I realise I sound like an Apple fan boy but I’m not really – just saying what my actual experience was on installing IOS7. I do say that I am a loyal customer though simply because of the huge difference the iPone and Mac has made to my independent lifestyle. It essentially has reached the status of being a personal assistant in many respects.
I’m using the 4S and I’m not really able to say that there is any significant slowing of my phone. Possibly ever so slightly spongy on the odd app but nothing significant. It is certainly not creaking and cracking under the strain of IOS 7. I wonder if almost full memory may be responsible for the slowing that others have reported on their devices.
Having said that, I do wonder if there might be a deliberate attempt to slow the OS slightly as mentioned in order to encourage an upgrade to the 5S. The Os was not a significant installation size and I don’t see anything that I would think would be taxing on the hardware really that ought to result in some people’s reported experience. §.
Patrick, I want to put your mind at ease in relation to Daniel’s voice. That nasty voice that starts on initialising IOS7 is just an initialisation voice. Once configured, you simply choose the high quality voices you want to use. don’t forget, the blind community were asking to be able to choose multiple voices and Apple have provided that. I have chosen the English; Irish; Australian and French high quality voices that all work perfectly well. I have had no stuttering or difficulty. I can change them through the rotor for the material I am reading.
Do remember, the compact voice for IOs 6 was also not pleasant to listen to unless you were using the high quality voice for the region you are in. .
What about the improvements in Siri? The voice recognition is much improved. You can ask Siri to read your mails as a group; by subject or by sender’s name or date received. You can send an e-mail interactively. You can also perform these tasks for messages. Because the voice recognition is much more accurate, it is a much smoother activity and not quite the fight we used to have at times in IOS 6.
Siri will also get information from Widipedia when you want to know about a particular subject and this feature often provides the immediate answer to many questions. You can go to the full article if you need to.
What about the handwriting feature? Of course, many blind people have acquired their sight issues later in life. the handwriting feature allows a person who has difficulty with a touch keyboard to handwrite their pass code; their mail or text message. Even a letter if they wished. The handwriting feature can also teach a blind child about the shapes of print for signature etc. In my case, I have used a mixture of all three input options. the handwriting option is really helpful to input the passcode because it does not announce the key press. Great when I’m in a public place. ll
I am a blind user of the phone so don’t know much about the low vision issues but I believe there are options to increase contrast and boldness in the accessibility settings and that these do offer significant improvement to the standard screen. That may help some people with the visual issues of the screen depending on their eye condition. I’d be interested in knowing if these options do offer any significant improvement generally.
Joe, I do like you and you are a bonnie lad but I think you are developing your very own Android distortion field – it might be the same Apple distortion field that has mutated and infected your space ! I think Apple ring tones seem to bother you a bit but like other devices, you can just download some more if you’d like you know. Just like other mobiles.
I know you like to evangelise about Talkback and how its open source contributions mean that there are advantages in the updating of its software. Of course that is true but only to an extent. The updates you refer to have been developing for some years now and they are still not equal to the OS integration of voiceover. Having said that, I am really pleased that there is competition for its own sake in terms of building our opportunities for mainstream inclusion in design.
I also have to say that it is not quite fair to say that there is closed communication in the Apple environment.I have e-mailed developers and Apple on a number of occasions and have found all to be open and willing to respond to concerns and interest. Apple developers do seem to be keen on responding to accessibility issues when they are made aware of them and an Apple market means that they can direct accessibility to a clearly identified disability group re: their time and intellectual investment..
Anyway, just throwing a thought into the ring just to get Joe to bite …
Thanks to you all for your show, always good to listen to at triple speed on downcast !
Warm regards Wayne
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