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Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 January 2013 Issue  Volume 14  Number 1

Product Evaluation

Control Your E-mail with Your Voice: A Look at the Upcoming Talkler App from Talkler Labs

A new, innovative app called Talkler, which allows users to read and manage e-mails with voice commands, is about to make its debut. This mainstream app was created by Talkler Labs, LLC, and during its development, the staff has been using it with VoiceOver to ensure accessibility. Jeffrey Korn, Talkler Labs CEO, said, "Whether you're sighted or not, Talkler is easy to use, and it's remarkably helpful. We are aiming to come out with a version that is optimized specifically for visually impaired users." He added that the optimized version will be released not long after the initial version's launch. The free version of Talkler plays a brief advertisement every so often (similar to how the free version of the Pandora app works); to eliminate the ads, users can pay $1.99 per month.

Both voice controls and on-screen gestures can be used with the app. Korn explained, "Talkler takes advantage of what we're calling 'Talkler TapAnywhere,' which are these on-screen gestures that you can implement by tapping anywhere near the middle of the screen without having to hunt for a tiny button. You can tap to pause the playback and tap again to resume. You can swipe anywhere to move from e-mail to e-mail. We developed the use of the pinching gesture, sort of like crumpling a piece of paper and tossing it in the trash. This is the gesture for deleting an e-mail."

Regarding Talkler's speech, Korn explained, "Talkler performs all of its speech recognition on the iPhone itself. Most other systems have to send each utterance out to the Cloud, then process and interpret the utterance in the Cloud, and then make a return trip back to the iPhone with the interpreted text.

Talkler, on the other hand, does all the work right on the device. This is faster than Cloud-based speech recognition and more secure [since every spoken word doesn't have to make a round trip through the Cloud]. Plus, Talkler works even when you have zero bars in a cell phone dead zone."

Using Talkler

Although the app has not yet been released, the Talkler team has given me the opportunity to be a beta tester. In addition, they have been very responsive to my feedback.

Entering E-mail Accounts

Talkler needs to know where to check for your e-mail. At the bottom of the screen are several tabs, including Inbox, Tips, and Settings. In the Settings menu, swipe right to "Add Account," and on the next screen, Talkler will prompt to add your name, e-mail address, and password. If you are using a Gmail or similar account, Talkler will fill in the additional information. However, if you're using an Internet service provider account, such as Road Runner, Talkler will prompt you for additional information, such as the incoming and outgoing server. This information can be found in Settings/Mail, Contacts, and Calendars/Accounts. Double tap the name of the account that contains the information for the e-mail address. When I initially entered the data for my POP account, Talkler said the information was not correct. Rebooting the iPhone solved that problem, and the account was added. My Gmail account did not have this issue.

Configuring Talkler

The Settings menu offers many ways to customize the app, including speech rate, voice pitch, Talkler's sensitivity to voice commands, and how often the app checks for new mail. There are also options for what Talkler speaks in each e-mail, such as the recipient's name and confirmation before deleting. The Settings menu is easy to navigate and operate with VoiceOver gestures.

Communicating With Talkler

Although Talkler can be used hands-free and without headphones, the developers recommend either holding the phone to your ear or using headphones so that Talkler will not get confused by background noises. VoiceOver should be turned off, so there isn't any conflict with the two speech programs. The words "Hey Talkler" will get the app's attention and should be spoken each time a command is given. The developers also recommend using a two syllable response, such as "Okay" instead of "Yes." Talkler can respond to many commands, including "Check for e-mail," "Play my unread e-mails," "Reply," and "Delete." The Tips tab provides a list of commands. Another option is to ask Talkler, "What Can I Say?" and the app will read a list of commands.

Reading E-mail

Talkler will read an e-mail and, then, ask what to do with it. There are many options in the Tips tab, including "Delete," "Reply," and "Mark as Unread." When Talkler sends a reply to an e-mail, it's in the form of an audio MP3 file rather than text. Prompts are given on when to start the recording and how to end it. Talkler will then ask whether or not to send the e-mail.

If using an IMAP server, whatever you do in the Talkler inbox will take place in the iPhone's e-mail inbox. Therefore, if an e-mail is deleted in Talkler's inbox, it will also automatically be deleted in the regular inbox. Otherwise, e-mails in the phone's inbox will need to be deleted manually. To quickly delete e-mails from the iPhone's inbox, open the inbox and activate the "Edit" button in the upper right corner. Then, double tap each e-mail to be deleted. When done selecting e-mails, tap the "Delete" button at the bottom of the screen.

Results

Beta versions of software allow developers to identify and fix problems before formally launching a product. In the beta version of Talkler, the speech was excellent, but the app didn't always respond to my commands the first time I gave them. Occasionally, an e-mail was cut off, and I couldn't get the app to open attachments or download the remaining part of an e-mail. The audio e-mail reply is clear, however, and at no time did the app crash.

If Talkler becomes better at understanding commands, then it will be a fun and useful way to handle e-mail. The developers have done an excellent job with Talkler's speech, and their dedication to accessibility is to be commended. When the app arrives in the iTunes store, it will certainly be worth checking out.

Jeffrey Korn added that the company welcomes feedback from AccessWorld readers, so if you have any comments for the developers about the app, e-mail them to Talkler.

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Copyright © 2013 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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