SpokenLayer turns the Internet into an audio experience

May 23, 2012
Tech

The rise of the smartphone has made it possible to access Internet content and articles from just about anywhere and at any time, and there are quite a few apps that make reading those articles easier. Apple recognized Flipboard for its great visual presentation in 2010, and article-saving app Read It Later just rebranded itself […]

The rise of the smartphone has made it possible to access Internet content and articles from just about anywhere and at any time, and there are quite a few apps that make reading those articles easier. Apple recognized Flipboard for its great visual presentation in 2010, and article-saving app Read It Later just rebranded itself as Pocket, with a great user interface upgrade to go with it.

SpokenLayer takes a different approach to the trend of making Internet articles more accessible on the go. Rather than relying on a great, clean visual presentation of the material, it goes for an audio presentation – essentially giving the audio book experience to news articles and blogs from all over the Internet.

The app doesn’t feature every article on the Internet. Instead, it focuses on a few specific sources, including The Atlantic, TechCrunch and Joystiq. Part of the reason for that, it would seem, is that audio for many of the stories available on SpokenLayer is recorded by real humans actually reading them. That means that the audio quality of the stories gets pushed pretty high. Not all the stories are recorded, however, with some using a text-to-speech technology similar to what you’d get from Apple’s Siri digital assistant program. The text-to-speech is pretty impressive, though, and often does a solid job of mimicking a human voice and, sounding less awkward than most similar programs.

As GigaOM reports, the app was originally created to help with developer AUDIOis’s Founder Will Mayo’s dyslexia. It’s easy to see the application in a lot of other spheres as well, such as in providing content for people with vision issues or blindness. In its current form, SpokenLayer might not be an effective tool for disabled users – its menus are still driven by a visual component – but the possibilities are there. The use of professional readers for content sets SpokenLayer apart from other apps that use RSS feeds and text-to-speech technology to create audio articles, which really increases the ease of listening and understanding content.

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SpokenLayer is available for free in the iTunes App Store, and Mayo told GigaOM the company intends to monetize the app with ads sometime in the future. For now, it’s a handy app, and fills some gaps left by the likes of Pocket and Instapaper, like being able to consume Internet articles while driving. The app is limited by the number of articles and sources it currently includes, but the quality of the readings helps balance the scales.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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