NewsBrain, and Thirty Years of MacinTalking

On this thirtieth year anniversary of the Macintosh, you may have seen replays of the very first introduction of the Mac that Steve Jobs made. ( In it, after showing its screen, the very first thing he demonstrated was... speech! That first 128K Mac had speech built in, and Steve had the Mac introduce itself in its own voice.

Since then, the Mac has always had text-to-speech abilities. From the stilted, robotic, weirdly accented speech on the first Mac, a feature they called "MacinTalk", up through the current Mavericks version of Mac OS X, which offers a large selection of voices in many languages (I vote for "Ava" as the best English voice:

Voice has played an important part in the iPhone and iPad devices as well. The "VoiceOver" feature uses voice to describe the visual elements on the screen, announcing what buttons, icons, switches and controls are being touched or adjusted, so that visually impaired people could use the screen-based, touch-based iPhone. Later, Siri was introduced, which com pined the voice output with speech recognition input, to give users a full voice I/O system that lets you do many things without having to look at or touch the screen at all. And now, with iOS 7, Apple has given the developer community access to the speech output system.

I've always been interested in computer generated speech. In 1974, I first encountered it in the form of the Votrax system. That was a small device that hooked to a computer through its serial port, and it was controlled by sending codes that told it to make sounds - phonemes - individual vowel and consonant sounds, and by stringing them together, you could make it say anything. It predated, but sounded very much like that voice in the original Macintosh.

I had hooked the Votrax up to the mainframe computer of the day, the IBM S/370, but with a much better computer that fits in my pocket, I was delighted to be able to add text-to-speech to my latest app - NewsBrain.

NewsBrain is a perfect application for speech. NewsBrain gathers articles from all across the Internet, picking them up from the millions of news feeds out there. It selects articles that will be most interesting to you, and shows them on your iPad or iPhone screen. With speech added, it can also read the articles aloud.

NewsBrain can now read interesting articles to you while you drive, jog, exercise, commute, or whatever. You can keep your device in your pocket while you listen through your earbuds or via AirPlay. You can send it to your car stereo system through Bluetooth, or even show it on your Apple TV. While it reads to you, it shows the accompanying article images on the device screen, the lock screen, or on the Apple TV. You can even have it show the text as it is speaking, closed-caption style.

With speech, NewsBrain is a great hands-free, eyes-free, commercial free way to get news, information, or any articles of interest safely while on-thego.

NewsBrain is the latest application to take advantage of the decades long legacy of speech, built into Apple devices going back to the very birth of the Macintosh. Enjoy!