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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.

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.