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Pocket redesigns its mobile apps to emphasize listening

Pocket, which lets you save articles and videos to your devices to view later, is rolling out a redesign today with a new emphasis on listening to the items you save. The listen feature, which is powered by a new integration with Amazons Polly text-to-speech service, is intended to turn your article queue into a personal podcast that you curate on your own, CEO Nate Weiner says. Its out today on iOS and Android. The company, which is owned by Mozilla, is also announcing its first Alexa skill. Add it to your Alexa-enabled device, and youll be able to access your Pocket articles wherever you have a smart speaker. The redesign represents the first major visual change to Pocket since 2012 when the company first rebranded from its original name Read It Later. It lowers the information density of the app in favor of more white space and slightly larger labels. I personally liked the denser version of Pocket, but the new look is likely to strike many users as a more relaxing place to read and watch. Its a dedicated, quiet place to read, reflect, and learn new things, Weiner says. Thats what people use it for. They save things theyre fascinated by, and to become better people. We take that responsibility really seriously to complete that loop,Pocket users can be voracious readers, and they often save far more articles to the app than they will ever wind up reading. That prompted the company to take another look at its text-to-speech feature, which was first introduced in 2012. While the feature had its fans, the robotic voice was straight out of Radioheads OK Computer. With the redesign, the listening feature now resembles a modern podcast app, complete with buttons for skipping ahead and controls for adjusting the speed of the recording. As soon as one article finishes, the next one will start playing. It doesnt yet support offline listening, but thats coming soon, Weiner says. In the meantime, if you start listening to an article before your subway train goes underground or you otherwise lose connectivity for a short period of time, the article youre listening to should still play to the end, he says. The new listening feature, which includes both male and female voices, makes the narration sound much more natural. In the future, Pocket might experiment with using human voices to record featured articles, Weiner says. With Pockets new Alexa skill, that listening can now extend into the home. Say Tell Pocket to get my articles, and your Alexa device can read anything youve saved on your phone or tablet. Text reading is not going away, Weiner says. But as we get busier and busier, and theres more and more content, one of the biggest things you hear is, I saved too much for Pocket. Were hoping to open up and free that content so you can consume — it in ways you havent been able to before.

Pocket taps Amazon Polly to let you listen to articles just like podcasts

Pocket is rolling out a handful of updates today as the Mozilla-owned app reminds users that its more than a simple read-it-later service. Indeed, Pocket is probably better known as a service that lets you bookmark articles from your phone or desktop to read offline at your convenience. But the company rebranded from Read it Later way back in 2012 for good reason: It doesnt want to be limited to words, seeking instead to be associated with all manner of content — from videos to images and beyond. Regular users will know that Pocket has offered a Listen function for a while — you hit the little headphone button at the top of the screen and a voice reads out your pocketed articles in order. But this text-to-speech functionality leaves a lot to be desired — for starters, the voice is a little too robotic and not entirely pleasing to the ear. Moving forward, however, those using Pocket on Android and iOS devices will experience human-like dulcet tones, thanks to an integration with the Amazon Polly text-to-speech service. The new Pocket also ushers in a bunch of interface upgrades to make it more audio-centric, though these vary depending on whether you use Android or iOS. Before now, on Android you would hit the little Listen icon at the top of the screen and a small control panel would pop up at the bottom, allowing you to play, pause, and skip articles. Now a new enhanced player takes listening to a full-screen view, with more granular controls, such as a scrubber that lets you drag the audio to a specific point of your choosing. On iOS, the Listen button was even more hidden, plus you didnt have the ability to line your articles up to listen to them continuously, like you did on Android. As of this update, the Pocket iOS app has been brought in line with the Android incarnation. The new Pocket app for iOS is all about listeningAdditionally, the Listen button is now more prominently visible in both the article list area and within the individual article itself — before, you would have had to open the menu when in the article to access Listen mode. Finally, its worth noting that there is now an Alexa skill that lets you listen to your Pocket articles through Alexa-enabled devices, such as the Amazon Echo. In summary, Pocket is mimicking some of the best features of a podcasting app, except that rather than having a professional broadcaster speak to you, Amazons Polly reads you all your favorite bookmarked articles from across the web. This actually feeds into a broader trend — podcasting is getting huge. A recent Edison Research report into podcast listening trends indicated that 26 percent of people in the U.S. now listen to at least one podcast each month, up two percentage points from 2017, and they now listen to an average of seven podcasts each week — up from five last year. This trend has led to some big venture capital investments in the podcasting realm, while technology companies such as Apple and Google are also increasingly investing in the medium. All this activity goes some way toward explaining the direction Pocket is moving in. Your Pocket list just became your own personal podcast, curated by you, Pocket CEO Nate Weiner said. Our new Listen feature frees the content youve saved to fit into your busy life. It enables you to absorb articles whenever and wherever, whether you are driving or walking, working out, cooking, or on the train. The latest update isnt just about listening to articles, however. A bunch of new user interface (UI) updates rolling out across Pockets platforms are designed to improve the overall read-it-later experience, including new fonts, spacing, margins, colors, icons, and more to make reading longer articles a little bit easier. Android tablet: MY List in PocketThere are also new article filters, quick-swipe actions, and bulk editing features, in addition to a new dark theme for nighttime reading. While Mozilla has supported Pocket natively within Firefox for a while, last February the internet giant went all-in and bought Pocket outright. Mozilla is already leveraging its acquisition and recently revealed it was bringing sponsored stories from Pocket to new tabs in Firefox. With this latest update, its clear Mozilla isnt about to let Pocket grow stagnant. At Mozilla, what we love about the web is the ability to freely discover new topics and ideas, outside of the influence of platforms over which you have no control, added Firefoxs chief product officer, Mark Mayo. Pockets update adds to Mozillas experimentation with content discovery by making it even easier to enjoy great content when youre on the go, in your own focused and uncluttered space.