You will have to take my word for it, but I am writing this with my eyes closed! I am using an amazing keyboard on my iPad, and I am able to do this after only about ten minutes of learning and practice.
Fleksy is a new method of text input that has been developed for blind people who use devices with touch screens. Fleksy’s developers are encouraging sighted users to give it a try as well. I believe Fleksy holds promise not just for the millions who want to enter text while walking or doing other tasks, but also for individuals with limited physical dexterity.
I’ve tried Fleksy on my iPad and found it to be remarkably effective. Controlled with a few simple gestures, it’s easy to learn and to use. The only prerequisite is familiarity with the layout of the QWERTY keyboard. Along with clear auditory feedback, Fleksy’s effectiveness is based in a powerful word prediction engine that is incredibly accurate.
Fleksy is currently available in the iTunes Store as a free download for iPhone and iPad. The free app enables the user to try Fleksy, but an in-app purchase for $1.99 enables text created in Fleksy to be sent and/or used elsewhere. Developers are inviting beta testers for an Android version.
Here’s a high quality promotional video from the developers.
At church on Sunday, I was approached by a woman who’d been told I was “good with computers”. She was in distress because she’s no longer able to do any word processing. Her new computer has a version of MS Word that makes absolutely no sense to her. Sadly, Microsoft’s ribbon interface is problematic for many who have learned to use the standard menu structure. (File, Edit, View, Insert, Format, etc.)
Fortunately, there are great free alternatives to Microsoft Office. Later this week, I’ll visit my new friend and help her install either Apache OpenOffice or LibreOffice. She should never need to use Microsoft Word again. OpenOffice and LibreOffice are complete office suites with word processing, spreadsheet, presentation programs, and more. Programs are organized around the universally recognized menu structure. Files created in both are fully compatible with MS Office and most other productivity software. Recently, I’ve discovered that free built-in text-to-speech is also available for both OpenOffice and LibreOffice.
Read Text is a an extension that can be added to OpenOffice or LibreOffice to provide text to speech. Once installed, Read Text will read aloud selected text in any of the programs of OpenOffice or LibreOffice. This is especially valuable for someone who needs to work when not connected to the Internet. It’s also a cross platform option because both productivity suites are free downloads for Windows, Mac and Linux.
Once LibreOffice or OpenOffice are installed, it’s not difficult to add the ReadText extension. Here’s a detailed set of instructions for adding extensions to LibreOffice. The process for OpenOffice is similar. The Read Text icon for reading text can be placed wherever you wish on a program’s toolbar, as shown below in ‘Writer‘, the word processor for Libre Office.
Note: When first using Read Text, a settings dialog box will open. This will continue to open each time Read Text is used unless you check the box that keeps this from happening.
The term ‘cross-platform’ has added meaning in the era of tablets and eBook readers. Here’s an application that is available on any computer that runs the Google Chrome web browser. The app is available from the Chrome Web Store, as well as for Android, iOS and Amazon devices!
MangoReader is an interactive eBook reader from India that runs on almost any tablet or conventional computer. The app is free, as are many of the titles in the MangoReader Store. Prices for most other books are not more than $0.99. Most books are in English, but a few Hindi titles are also available. The majority of the books are stories for young learners, but a growing number of Indian text books are offered for secondary classes as well.
Although MangoReader is intended primarily for the Indian market, many books in the MangoReader store would enrich learners from any culture. Check out the free ‘Vayu the Wind’ as an excellent example. One page of that book is shown below, as it appears in the Google Chrome app.
As is the case with most MangoReader stories, this one is read aloud beautifully by a child while the word being read is tracked. There are options for highlighting text, for taking notes, for looking up definitions of words, and more. Textbooks include videos and other interactive material.
I’ve explored numerous options for voice recognition, some free and others quite expensive. I’ve tried these applications myself, and I’ve used them with learners ranging in age from 8 to 68. In my experience, the free voice-to-text options available in the Google Chrome web browser are more effective than any of the others, especially for children. There are several Chrome alternatives, and I’ve already written here about Speech Recognizer, Online Dictation, andTalkTyper. Thanks to a helpful tip from Thomas Keown, I’m sharing yet another powerful option here.
VoiceNoteoffers excellent voice-to-text. It is a free app for Google Chrome that can be added to the browser simply by going to the Chrome Web Store and installing it. (A Google/GMail account is required.) VoiceNote opens as a dictation window, as pictured below. This can be a small window that sits on top of a document that is being written. Or, it can occupy the entire screen.
Some positive features of VoiceNote…
dictating directly into a text box facilitates creating paragraphs or longer selections of text
on-screen buttons for adding punctuation
floating window that can be positioned directly on any page where dictated text will be used
onscreen buttons for adding punctuation
desktop shortcut is available convewniently for opening VoiceNote
no advertising or other onscreen clutter
support for multiple languages
Perhaps the biggest drawback to VoiceNote is that only one font is available. The app’s developer has indicated that he is open to improving VoiceNote, so this may change. [Update: the font issue has been resolved.]
Here’s a free iPad app that has achieved near perfection. You can now use the iPad camera, even the camera on an iPad 2, to photograph text and import it as editable text into PaperPort Notes. If the imported text retained the formatting of the original page, I think I’d call the app perfect.
PaperPort Noteswas already one of the most versatile and polished iOS apps available for supporting written output.
Text can be entered with keyboard, via voice-to-text, or with stylus. As well, audio recordings can be attached to notes.
Notes can be written on yellow or white lined pages, on blank white pages, or on “graph paper”.
PDF files, can be imported from almost anywhere–PaperPort Anywhere (dedicated free cloud storage), Box, Dropbox, Docs Folder, Files/Snapshots from the Web, the iPad’s Clipboard, camera images.
Text boxes and sticky notes can be added to notes and imported files.
Multi-color highlighting is available.
Work created or modified in PaperPort Notes can be shared in PaperPort Anywhere, by Email, Google Docs, Box, Dropbox, Docs Folder (with audio attached to PDF). Or PaperPort Notes can be opened in many other apps on the iPad.
Now you can use the iPad’s camera to capture text, then the text can be imported into PaperPort Notes as editable text. With ‘Speak Selection’, this text can even be read aloud. Alternatively, you can import images of text that are stored on the iPad. You need to sign up for a free account with the OCR engine, but once the account is set up, it could hardly be easier to import converted images of text.
To import an image of converted text, simply click on the ‘Image to Text’ button. Then follow the prompts on the screen that opens. After processing, the imported text appears on the panel at the right. If desired, the text can be edited before inserting into your note.