Voice Dream Reader: the best reading app ever developed for a mobile platform

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

If the title of the article sounds flatulent -- something like a slogan borrowed from the Madison Avenue, I encourage you to take a look at Voice Dream Reader on the App Store -- its AppleVis entry is also here. In short, many ebook readers come and go, many apps of that sort are born and quickly vanish into the thin air, many of them are released and then take ages to get a second, minor update, but Voice Dream Reader belongs to a premium league of its own. Show me a more feature-rich iOS, Symbian or Android accessible ebook reader and I'll retract the title.

What makes VDR so interesting?

Let's take a stab at the question.

A multitude of features at an affordable price

At $9.99, Voice Dream Reader comes with a free Acapela voice and a whole host of features. Epub/PDF/DAISY/RTF/DOC support, Bookshare and Gutenberg integration, bookmarks, table of contents, Dropbox and Google Drive support, and a slew of audiobook-oriented features are just some of the notable highlights.

Voices, voices, voices!

Voice Dream Reader offers a good number of highly affordable voices ($1.99 and $2.99 per voice) from Acapela and, much to my own surprise, NeoSpeech. Do you enjoy NeoSpeech Paul on Windows? No problem -- with VDR it's just one in-app purchase away. Also, it's quite likely that we'll get some Ivona voices in the upcoming release! The developer, Winston Chen, is now talking about taking a look at Nuance Vocalizer Expressive voices on the app's Twitter page. Which reading application has ever done that?

Frequent updates

Some argue that updating apps is the most important duty of developers -- something which users also love to see. While I have nothing against it, I'm wondering why so far no reading-oriented apps have been updated as frequently as VDR. It gets updated on a monthly basis and each release saturates us with a long list of major features, enhancements and bug fixes. VDR also is updated with VoiceOver in mind and the developer has manifested his commitment to accessibility several times.

Want further proof? The upcoming release is packed with features

Note that I'm not divulging secrets here -- the developer has posted them in a scattered fashion on Twitter and I'm organizing the new features in the upcoming release with his permission. It'll hit the App Store in 10 days or so.

  • Personal pronunciation dictionary. This is very cool! Change how a word is pronounced or skip any text. If you dare, use RegEx pattern matching to substitute or skip text. Access in Voice Settings and General Settings.
  • Adjust speech rate, pitch and volume for each voice. Access in Voice Settings, with a button next to each voice. You will also find it from "Settings-Manage My Voices."
  • Save individual speech rate for each article or book. If you change speech rate in Voice Settings, it would be saved with the article.
  • Set rewind and fast forward navigation unit to sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, highlights, bookmarks, 15, 30, and 60 seconds. You can access this either by pressing the rewind or fast forward button and hold, or by tapping the Navigation Unit on the footer.
  • Footer to indicate page, percentage, chapter, and navigation unit. All of them are actually buttons that you can tap!
  • Sort by Add Date, Title, Author and Size for each folder. The sort order button is at the bottom.
  • Option to scroll page by page for visual reading. Set the "Scrolling" mode to "Page" as opposed to "Free" in Text Settings.
  • Saving the visual location in addition to the speech cursor.
  • Option to turn off word and line highlighting. Access in Text Settings.
  • Two finger double-tap on the text to play or pause.

Another cool VoiceOver-oriented feature is the ability to highlight and select text and utilize the long-tap option for dictionary access. It won't be in the upcoming release, but will be added to a subsequent one. With that amenity, Voice Dream Reader will truly surpass the rest of the reading apps on the App Store by leaps and bounds.

And what else?

I just tried to demonstrate why I'm so excited about Voice Dream Reader and its bright future. If you want to try it yourself, get Voice Dream Reader Lite here. Do you share the same optimism with me? Are you using VDR? If you ask me, I think more app developers need such a fantastic sabbatical for inspirational ideas!

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26 Comments

#1 Thanks!

App Developer

Thanks Amir, and the rest of VI community for your encouragement and support. Building a product to meet your needs is the most fulfilling thing I've ever done. I owe you, and I'm going pay back that debt by making Voice Dream Reader better. A cautious note: Ivona is not done. I know a lot of you really want it, but please don't be disappointed if it somehow falls through. Winston.

#2 Re: Thanks!

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Winston, thanks for your great efforts! It always feels good to work with developers who take accessibility into consideration. We're also looking forward to future Voice Dream Reader releases!

#3 one advantage of VDR you forgot

Hi! This blog post is an excellent advertisement for Voice Dream Reader, and it includes several features I hadn't yet discovered. However, I wish to add one extra advantage of Voice Dream Reader which I have found and which puts it above apps such as iBooks or Kindle which read books with VoiceOver: I personally find it very useful that I can read books in VDR with my iPhone's screen locked and that notifications do not interrupt the reading of books with this app. That is definitely not a negligible advantage: I can listen to a book in VDR without having to go back to the phone to resume reading when a notification comes in, and listening to books in VDR with the screen locked means that, if a notification comes in, that notification won't be read all the way through, so there will be far less interruption to the reading of the book. Admittedly, VDR can't read protected books such as those from iBooks and Kindle, but it can read plenty of other texts, with an excellent selection of voices, and that is definitely a good thing.

#4 Re: one advantage of VDR you forgot

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Good point, Clare. One can also use the two-finger single press to stop and resume reading when VDR is in the background and I use it a lot. Of course, the app has so many nice gimmics that I couldn't mention all of them.

#5 A question about navigating in voice dream reader

Is it possible to go to a specific page in a pdf document in VDR? The reason i ask is that i often times read long users manuals in PDF format, and sometimes i just want to know one specific part, like how to do automation in Pro tools, which is found on page 40 or thereabouts in the reference guide, and i don't want to read through lots of boring stuff until i come to what's essential for me. No pdf reader on the Mac or the IPhone can do this. Sure you can go to a page in preview or skim but when you read with voiceover you're at the beginning even though you have wanted to go to a page in the middle of the manual. If you can't do this in VDR, then at least for me it's a deal breaker despite all the nice features.

#6 Thank You

Just a huge thank you to Winston for this wonderful app!! I installed it a few days ago and am truly enjoying what it has to offer. So thank you for all your hard work and dedication!

#7 Two things

Club AppleVis Member

Krister: I don't know if you can go to a specific page or not, but you can enter a search string for the text you want if you know what it is and VDR will give you a list of search results. When you tap on the one that you want, VDR will go there and start reading. Suggest you set a bookmark first, though, before you do your search so you can go right back to where you were. Another point that has been left out is a comparison between VDR and the Read2Freeze, I mean Go, app. The VDR app is so much easier on the battery life for your phone. I have found that you can read a book using VDR and then read the same book using Read2Go, and VDR's battery drain is considerably less noticeable than Read2Go. Throw in the rather significant price difference, and VDR is an app to be really proud of. Just my thoughts. Scott

#8 Go To Page

App Developer

Yes this is possible. In the current version, go to Bookmarks, and there'll be a Go To Page button. In the next release, the button will be in the footer.

#9 Oh, I forgot

Club AppleVis Member

I should tell you what I'm reading with VDR now, because it is awesome. I am reading The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. You should check it out on Bookshare. Oh, and Neospeech rocks! Sorry, couldn't resist throwing this adult-oriented wizarding book series some love. And when I say adult-oriented, I mean it is simply for older readers, not like Harry Potter is directed at a younger audience.

#10 Best Reader in the App Store

I happened upon this app a few months ago and it has exceeded all my expectations for it and Winston continues to make it even better. I'm really looking forward to being able to organize my books into alphabetical order. I'll try not to be too disappointed if we don't get Ivona, LOL. But even without those voices, VDR is still far and away the best reader in the app store.

#11 Any chance of eSpeak?

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Winston, thanks for being so dedicated to accessibility, and for joining this discussion. I am wondering if it is possible for you to add eSpeak to the list of voices available? It speaks dozens of languages, and someone made a port for iOS on Google Code, so adding it should not be terribly painful. I realize many people hate that synthesizer, but once you get used to it, there is none better for quickly reading text. After a few weeks back in 2011, it became my favorite synthesizer. Yes, for reading novels other voices are nice, but for textbooks or other material you need to get through without needing to "enjoy" it, eSpeak wins hands down. Perhaps best of all, it is totally free, though i am not sure of the licensing involved in including it in a paid app. Still, if you could look into it, I'd very much appreciate it. I have held off buying the app mostly because I *hate* A Capella's voices, but if the new versions of Nuance come to the app (or, of course, eSpeak), I'd definitely have to grab it. Also, any chance of increasing the quality of the Neospeech voices? They sound compact, or low quality, or something. I'm not complaining, just wondering if that is in the works or can be fixed at all. Thanks again for all your hard work!

#12 Thanks for the info.

Winston, thanks for the info, this has to be tried out. Didn't know one could do that, and didn't know about search strings either. Have i misunderstood things or can you read audio books in VDR as well?

#13 Audio books

Club AppleVis Member

I think VDR is just for ebooks.

#14 Re: Audio books

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

That's true, sockhopsinger, but VDR's treatment of books and articles is more or less similar to what audiobook players do. That is, VDR shows the lenth of the book and the remaining time considering the speech rate. Also, it can rewind/fast forward an X number of seconds -- this will be enhanced in the upcoming release to include rewind/fast forward via sentence, paragraph, chapter, bookmark, highlight and 15 seconds.

#15 RE: Audiobooks

Club AppleVis Member

True, Amir, but I think what was being asked is if actual audio books can be played with VDR. I could definitely be wrong, however. It certainly would not be the first time. :) Like you, I am looking forward to the next update on VDR. Thanks for posting this topic.

#16 Re: Audiobooks

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

True, VDR hasn't been designed for audiobooks.

#17 This app is Something Else, bye-bye Booksense

Seems like the Booksense is now history as far as i'm concerned. Really, with this great eBook viewer and read2go, there's little need these days for one of the blindness players. Not to derail this thread though of course. I'll say this, i'm really impressed with Voice Dream, works a treat and I was able to put it through it's paces last night as I was out. Terrific implementation for the Voices. Well done, keep this up.

#18 I'll probably never buy a blindness player

Before I got my iPhone, I had seriously considered getting a Booksense, but, thanks to Voice Dream Reader and other book-reading apps for IOS, I am now convinced that I am highly unlikely to ever buy a Booksense or any other specialised book-reading player for the blind. I'm not saying the specialised players for the blind are bad, as I know plenty of people like them, but, speaking for myself, I don't see the point in paying 300 euros or so for a special player when I can read a wide variety of books on my iPhone. What's more, even if I end up paying for several book-reading apps for IOS, altogether they will cost a lot less than a book player for the blind anyway.

#19 Re: I'll probably never buy a blindness player

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Great observations, Clare. Also, the nice point about iOS book readers is that once you purchase them, you can move them to your new iDevices and, as a consequence, update their underlying hardware -- something which can't be done with specialized hardware vook players.

#20 Good point

HI, Both you and Clare bring up good points. To be honest, i've had the BookSense since 2009 so it's had it's use before all the new iPhone apps came along. There is very little point these days though for a traditional player for the blind user.

#21 vdr

I have heard nothing but good things about this app,and the only reason I haven't bought it yet considering the praises that this app has gotten is availability of good TTS voices. Neospeach is good,akapela is ok,nuance expressive I haven't heard at all. While I could stomach any of the voices available if I were reading a manual or such,but when I read a book,none of them will do for me. Manage to bring Ivona in,and this app will hands down be the best for reading purpoces. All this of course is just my opinion With all that said,VDR I know is good. even the best in most people's opinions as can be seen by this article :D,and I can certainly see why. With all the features that it has,A awesome developer in Winston that it does,no wonder so many like it. Anyhow,kudos to you Winston for a good app and your efferts towards accessibility. Falcon wings

#22 Missing voices?

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Hello, The update from today (June 5, 2013) mentioned two Ivona voices are now available! I was really excited, until I opened the app and could not find the new voices anywhere. Amy and Sally, where'd you go? I need you!

#23 Ivona

App Developer

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get the Ivona voices in this release. The contract with Ivona is held up in their legal. Winston.

#24 can you ad kng?

Hi. I have voice dream reader and I love it. It is truely a dream. I am wondering if you can add the keynote gold synth? I have been using BrailleNotes for about 7 years including a Clasic, an mPower and now an Apex and kng is used on the BrailleNotes. I have only been working with iOS devices for about 2 years and because I have used kng for so long it is what I am most used to and I just love that synth. It pauses when there is a comma and goes up in tone when there is a question mark. I have never heard other synths do that. They all just seem to read in a flat monotone for me.

#25 question about something you said

You said: `Change how a word is pronounced or skip any text. If you dare, use RegEx pattern matching to substitute or skip text`. What does that mean?

#26 Meaning of Reg Exp

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Reg exp is short for regular expression. It is a way to match strings against a template, instead of against exact searches. For instance, if I wanted to see if "a1" were the same as "b3", I can look at them and see that they have a pattern: a letter followed by a number. A computer can't see that, but with a regular expression, it can. I could represent the pattern of a letter and a number with something like "\w\d". I could specify how many of each there should be, if spaces are allowed, and a lot more. Google can tell you all about the syntax and commands for these if you are interested. Unfortunately, VDR cannot handle grouping, if you come across that.