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Apple Announces Mac OS X Spoken Interface Technology Preview
Apple announced plans to include a greatly expanded set of spoken interface and keyboard navigation services in the next version of Mac OS X.
In the 1996 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Scotty attempts interaction with a Mac Plus by talking into its mouse. When nothing happens, he mumbles, "A keyboard? How quaint!" and settles down to save the planet 20th Century style.

Almost two decades later, Apple's new technology preview is turning science fiction on its head: the keyboard is about to become even more functional, and it's the Mac that does the talking!

Described by Apple as a "fully integrated, built-in enhancement of the Mac OS X Aqua user interface," the Spoken Interface technology extends existing Universal Access services in Mac OS X to support expanded document reading features; a rich, customizable audible interface; and a rich set of keyboard commands to allow users to navigate and adjust controls in applications and throughout the system.
While many applications built for Mac OS X already provide some text to speech features, the new Spoken Interface technology will allow users control the pace of the reading voice in real time, so users can quickly skim through long passages, then resume normal reading speed when desired.

Preference settings also allow users to differentiate various types of spoken information (commands, document content, item descriptions, item types, spoken menus, or echoed text) by assigning each a unique voice, volume, rate and pitch setting.

The technology also meshes with sophisticated keyboard navigation. Using a new feature called the 'viewfinder', users can control what is spoken, and select menu items, scroll through documents, check boxes, and activate other on screen controls without a pointing device.

Apple's integration of the Spoken Interface technology into Mac OS X means blind and sight impaired users won't have to search for third party tools that only work with a limited selection of applications. Additionally, the Universal Access system services will keep in sync with the latest technologies as they are released.

Apple is encouraging developers to build their applications to fully support the new feature set, and the company reports it is "working to enhance the accessibility of its own applications including the Finder, Mail, Safari, TextEdit, iChat AV, Calculator, and more."

The technology also has applications beyond improved access for disabled users: imagine Spoken Interface navigation combined with Ink in a tiny laptop, where pointing devices can be impractical.

Users interested in shaping the technology's development can provide feedback and suggestions through Apple's feedback system and via a special questionnaire, posted at:

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