VoiceOver Turns 10

On April 29, 2005, Apple Inc. introduced Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. Included in Mac OS X Tiger's list of features was the VoiceOver screen reader. VoiceOver was not Apple's first foray into assistive technology: Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar introduced Universal Access which provided customizations to the operating system for those with visual, hearing, and physical disabilities. In fact, Mac OS X Universal Access was influenced by similar technologies which were bundled with the classic Mac OS (Mac OS 9 and earlier). The Windows operating system also included customizable behavior similar to Universal Access.

VoiceOver, however, represents a significant milestone in the history of assistive technology. With the introduction of VoiceOver, Apple became the first operating system vendor to build a fully functional screen reader into the operating system that didn't require additional installation procedures. Unlike Windows Narrator, VoiceOver didn't simply follow the keyboard focus as the user navigated the GUI using available operating system shortcuts. Instead, VoiceOver provided a rich set of commands for interacting with the contents of the GUI, putting the user in the driver's seat.

Apple didn't just sit on its laurels and declare victory with the release of VoiceOver. Apple released a significantly improved VoiceOver 2.0 with the release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard in 2007. In 2009, Apple released VoiceOver for the iPhone. In 2010, Apple released VoiceOver for the iPad, marking the first time that one of Apple's products--the iPad--was accessible from day one. VoiceOver has also become available on the Apple TV, the iPod, and most recently the Apple Watch.

In 2005, Apple introduced the Mac mini which had a base retail price of $499. It has always amused me that one could buy a Mac mini and get VoiceOver for free, for less than the cost of licensing either of the two leading Windows screen readers.

As I acknowledge the tenth anniversary of VoiceOver, I want to take a moment to commend Apple for the thousands of man hours and additional resources that have been poured into the various VoiceOver products over the years. When Apple first announced that it was working on a Spoken Interface in 2004, few could have foreseen the fabulous VoiceOver experience that we know and love today. Thank you, Apple!



Submitted by Chris on Wednesday, April 29, 2015


VoiceOver was also significantly improved in Mac OS X 10.6. We got trackpad gestures, quicknav, more web support, the ability to label items, and probably some other stuff I'm forgetting.

Submitted by Ekaj on Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Thanks for this blog post. I have a question, and then my comments. What ever happened to outSpoken? I never used this, but I have heard about it. My former roommate used it and really liked it. Now to my comments. I remember back in the days when I used the AppleII line of computers with the Echo/Cricket speech synthesizer. Those were fun times indeed, but in my mind nothing compares to the thrill of being able to go up to a computer and just turn on accessibility straightaway without having to fiddle with anything. Quite frankly I never thought I'd take to my MacBook Air like I have throughout the course of the last couple years. This is my first Mac computer, and I had been hearing and reading nothing but negativity towards Apple's built-in accessibility features. Furthermore, I only heard bad things regarding their commitment to accessibility. However, I have since been proven wrong. VoiceOver is amazing, and I'm sure the same is true of the other built-in accessibility features of Apple products. I haven't used them though since I only have light perception. But 3 cheers for Apple, and here's to many more years of great accessibility without the need for any 3rd-party software or hardware. I am going to tweet this blog post out for my volunteer job.

Submitted by Tony Morales on Wednesday, April 29, 2015

OutSPOKEN was an amazing screen reader for its time. It was the world's first GUI screen reader originally released for the Mac in 1989. It used the MacinTalk driver for its text-to-speech--the same MacinTalk that Steve Jobs demoed during the 1984 Mac unveiling. Developed by Berkeley Systems, outSPOKEN was eventually acquired by Alva Access in 1996. Alva Access released versions of outSPOKEN for Mac OS 8 and Mac OS 9.

Berkeley Systems also released a Windows version of outSPOKEN which had a similar command set to the Mac version. The offscreen model code was abstracted into a component known as GUI Access which Berkeley Systems licensed during the early 90's. The ASAW Windows screen reader was based on GUI Access.

Sadly, neither GUI Access nor outSPOKEN for Windows were updated to work on Windows NT and became assistive technology relics. Similarly, Alva Access never released a Mac OS X version of outSPOKEN for the Mac.

Submitted by rdfreak on Thursday, April 30, 2015

Just wanted to echo the author's sentaments; Thank you apple!
You're not only the first, but the only ones to provide a free fully fledged screen reader on the computer and IOS devices. Nothing has even come close to matching that.
Well done and keep up the great work! :)

Submitted by dvdmth on Friday, May 1, 2015

Club AppleVis Member

I never used Outspoken, but I was exposed to it some twenty years ago, and my memories of it were not pleasant. Maybe it's because I was then able to use a computer sighted without any assistance, but I found the screen reader to be incredibly annoying. It was actually that experience that kept me from using VoiceOver until a couple of years ago, when my vision finally reached the point where I really needed to do more than simply enlarge the screen. Frankly, I am sorry I didn't start using VoiceOver sooner, because I would have had a much more enjoyable experience over the eight previous years if I had started using this awesome screen reader from the beginning.

Incidentally, I noticed this blog post appeared in the MacHash app. I'm trying to think if I've ever seen an AppleVis post in that app before.