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VoiceOver doesn’t just provide Siri with a voice. It also speaks the contents of every UI element. When you select an icon or menu item with the remote, VoiceOver will announce the menu item. If you just want to use it with Siri, make sure to turn VoiceOver on and off as needed. Otherwise, it can be a bit too much.
Siri isn’t actually intended to work with VoiceOver, which presents some irregularities. For example, if you ask for information such as the weekly weather forecast, Siri will speak the days of the week as abbreviations. It doesn’t sound natural, but it still has its uses. For example, if you are in another room, you can use VoiceOver to query information on your Apple TV and hear it. Since the Siri Remote works using Bluetooth, you can actually use the remote in another room.
Customizing VoiceOver for Apple TV
It’s often claimed that Apple products don’t allow for customization. Although general customization is a low priority for Apple, they do take Accessibility seriously. Their dedication to making accessible products has garnered praise from several disabled advocacy groups. Apple remains peerless in supporting the disabled community. Accessibility features are not a half-baked afterthought. They are fully customizable and powerful features that make their products accessible to all, regardless of profitability. Critics often forget this when they go on their tired Apple-bashing tirades.
VoiceOver offers several customization options enabling users to shape the overall experience. These settings can be adjusted by clicking on Settings > General > Accessibility. Customization options for VoiceOver are remarkably powerful. Users can control voices, pronunciations, speech rate, pitch inflection and other aspects of VoiceOver.
There are 8 different voices available to the U.S. version of VoiceOver on Apple TV. Users can choose between male and female voices with different accents. There are 4 different voices for American English with additional voices for Australian, Irish, South African and UK English accents. Some of these voices must be downloaded. For example, Alex requires downloading almost 1GB of data. Some voices sound better than others. The default voice for the US, Samantha, sounds quite natural. I expect it to sound even better when the iOS 11 improvements for Siri are applied to tvOS.
One problem with digital speech technology is that words are often mispronounced. Apple’s Accessibility features offer such attention to detail that users can actually fix this. The Pronunciation feature allows users to specify a phrase and offer a substitution.
Options such as speech rate and pitch can further customize the VoiceOver experience. The Rotor option allows users to adjust VoiceOver without returning to the Settings menu. By simply rotating two fingers on the Siri Remote’s Touch surface, users can control specific aspects of VoiceOver on the screen. VoiceOver even allows users to specify audio channels used for speech. Apple really put a lot of thought into VoiceOver.
Apple TV Needs an Option for Siri to Speak
Accessibility features are a quick and easy workaround to get Siri to speak. Unfortunately, they have the consequence of having every detail of a screen spoken aloud. It also doesn’t sound as natural as Siri on an iPhone or iPad. In time, Apple may allow users to toggle speaking capabilities for Siri. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Apple assumes that users don’t really want this. The new HomePod is Apple’s device for an omnipresent voice assistant. It can do far more than Siri on Apple TV. With Apple TV, they’ve assumed what users want and limited the use cases. But they’ve also focused on specific TV tasks that don’t make sense on other Apple devices.
Siri is not the same across Apple products and that’s a good thing. Apple’s intention with Siri is to handle a limited number of domains comprehensively. This knowledge can later be applied to other domains. If you’re looking to research a topic, Siri for Apple TV is not the best choice. In fact, Siri in general is not intended for research. Instead, Apple’s personal assistant is geared toward actions that make sense for the device. I expect Siri for Apple TV to get much smarter with TV related activities.