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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.

Pocket’s reading app won’t sound so robotic now

Last year, Mozilla made its first acquisition by snatching up Pocket, the Instapaper competitor that helps you save longer articles for later reading. Today, this popular reading app is getting a major update that gives its app a visual makeover, including a new dark mode, and most importantly, a better way to listen to the content youve saved. Pocket had added a text-to-speech feature several years ago, so you could listen to an audio version of your saved articles, instead of reading them. Instapaper today offers a similar option. But these text-to-speech engines often sound robotic and mangle words, leading to a poor listening experience. Theyll work in a pinch when you really need to catch up with some reading, and cant sit down to do it. But theyre definitely not ideal. Today, Pocket is addressing this problem with the launch of a new listening feature that will allow for a more human-sounding voice. On iOS and Android, the listen feature will be powered by Amazon Polly, Mozilla says. First introduced at Amazons re:Invent developer event in November 2016, Polly uses machine learning technologies to deliver more life-like speech. Polly also understands words in context. For example, it knows that the word live would be pronounced differently based on its usage. (E.g. I live in Seattle vs. Live from New York.) The technology has evolved since to support speech marks, a timbre effect, and dynamic range compression, among other things. To take advantage of the updated Listen feature, users just tap the new icon in the top-left corner of the Pocket mobile app to start playing their articles. Its like your own personalized podcast, Mozilla notes. In addition, the app has been given a redesign that gives it a clean, less cluttered look-and-feel, and introduces a new app-wide dark mode and sepia themes, for those who want a different sort of reading experience. The redesign includes updated typography and fonts, focused on making long reads more comfortable, as well. At Mozilla, we love the web. Sometimes we want to surf, and the Firefox team has been working on ways to surf like an absolute champ with features like Firefox Advance, said Mark Mayo, Chief Product Officer at Firefox, in a statement about the launch. Sometimes, though, we want to settle down and read or listen to a few great pages. Thats where Pocket shines, and the new Pocket makes it even easier to enjoy the best of the web when youre on the go in your own focused and uncluttered space, he said. The updated version of Pocket is live on the web, iOS and Android, as of today.