For sight-impaired Mac users, OS X’s built-in Text to Speech converter is a clear boon. It’s also helpful in giving audible feedback as you work – especially when accuracy is important. There’s not a great a deal of flexibility in normal operation, however.
With Narrator you can type, paste or load text into a document window, then have it read back to you. You don’t have to stick to just one voice – you can use any of your Mac’s built-in voices and tag any section of text. For example, characters in dialogue can be given individual voices – or you can assign voices to different email senders. Narrator gives you the power to do this manually, either by selecting text and choosing a voice from those available, or by marking up the text.
The program also enables you to fine-tune your Mac’s built-in voices with pitch, rate, intonation and volume controls. Afterwards your new configuration can be saved and used as a unique, new voice when playing back text.
In this version of the software, the biggest feature is the ability to export to audio and iTunes. You can choose to save speech in AAC format or send it straight to iTunes. It provides a very handy way to generate your own audio books or to create audio documents for when you’re on the move.
Using Narrator did make us aware of a glaring anomaly in the Mac’s speech implementation. All the available voices – close to 30 when you count the novelty voices – have American accents and, to be frank, that gets pretty annoying after a while. Still, that’s not developer Mariner’s fault, it’s Apple’s. Narrator simply makes the best use of what OS X’s built-in speech tools can offer.