Books are an integral part of our lives! Doesn’t matter if we are voracious or occasional readers – we always appreciate the entertainment and knowledge books impart. However, in case of blind people or sighted people losing their partial or full vision, physical books can seldom be an option. That’s where audiobooks come into the picture, but they come with their own challenges.
This post has been written by Marcin Simonides who has created a very simple, minimalist interface for playing audiobooks for blind and/or elderly people.
When eyesight deteriorates, either due to illness or advanced age, many people turn to audiobooks as an alternative to reading. With today’s technology there is an abundance of services and devices one can use.
For many seniors, however, mastering the technology can be an additional obstacle. Most audio players are designed either to be small, which requires that buttons are tiny and close together, or big with touch screens which is susceptible to accidental touch. Either way it is easy to inadvertently press the wrong button, especially if fingers are no longer as flexible and precise as they used to be. Add to this features like shuffle or repeat that sometimes get enabled by mistake and a simple task of playing your favourite book feels like entering a minefield.
I have not felt this myself (yet). But I have observed my grandmother struggle with a number of audio players.
Over the past few years we have tested many devices. The best one was a second-hand CD player with MP3 support. Sadly, it did not store the last played position and playback started from the beginning after it has been turned off. And it still had too many buttons.
An ideal audiobook player for my grandmother would have as little features as necessary, namely play and pause, and it would be easy to operate with imprecise gestures. How hard can it be? 🙂 I’ve decided to try.
I’m not good at building stuff but I’m a software developer so I have decided to take an off-the-shelf device, an Android tablet, and achieve my goal with a custom app.
I came up with something like this:
The app plays audio files but also does three things that are geared towards visually imparied and elderly:
– it reads the book titles when the screen is enabled and when browsing,
– it has large START and STOP buttons in contrast colors,
– stops playback when placed with the screen downward on a level surface.
And, last but not least, the app can be installed in such a way that the user cannot leave it. This hides all the complexity of the underlying system and other applications – the device serves one purpose and one purpose only.
For the time being it is still an experiment although my grandmother is already using it.
The application is available for download on my website (it will also be available in Google Play within a few weeks) so you can test it yourself and give me your feedback.
Obviously I’m not the first one to recognize the problem. During my research I have found two other project with similar goals but different solutions. Both are custom made devices based on the Raspberry PI platform.
How do the books get into the app? Are they automatically detected from the books downloaded from Google books?
I haven't tried the app yet but looking into using it for my grandmother.
Hi Brooke! My understanding is that it will detect audiobooks automatically. You can reach out to the creator of this app with questions at marcin[at]studio4plus.com
"Homer Player doesn't use the standard music file storage to find the audiobook files. Instead it uses a special folder."
From this page of the Homer Player instructions (where there are further details): http://msimonides.github.io/homerplayer/install-dedicated-steps.html
Hi! Any updates on this or progress? Is ot downloadable to a regular tablet device?
The app can be installed from the Google Play Store, just search for "Homer Player".
I am working on further improving it. In fact I have just published an update today that adds rewind and fast-forward functionality.
hi there–my mother is 84 with a very substantial tremor in her hands and i think this would be ideal–i am not great with technology myself—what should i buy and how might i proceed with your app
The only technical bit I've found is that you have to know how to transfers files from the download folder to the one called Audiobooks. So don't be thinking you can send your elderly friend a book via email and think that the reader will some how find the book
My 91 year old mother is fast losing her sight and is now unable to read books and her kindle…which she loved. Can I buy her a standard tablet… ie Samsung and download the app and then books into this app from my audible account. We live in South Africa in different cities and I am not so techno savvy.
Hi Celia! I will let Marcin respond to your original question since he is the developer of this app (I hope he sees your post!) but just so you know, the Kindle has text to speech, so it can read out books to your mother via a bluetooth speaker. This should give you more information: https://assistivetechnologyblog.com/2016/06/amazons-new-kindle-now-provides.html
Also, Amazon Echo may be a good option for her as well if you can get it in South Africa. It can connect to your/her Kindle as well as Audible accounts and read books directly to her. More info here: https://assistivetechnologyblog.com/2016/02/amazon-echo-great-internet-of-things.html
Hope these help!
Yes, you can buy a standard tablet put it in a smart cover for easy switch on and install the app.
Unfortunately installing the app fully to make a dedicated audiobook player requires a bit of technical knowlegde and some patience but this is something that needs to be done only once. And you can always e-mail me for support.
Unfortunately Homer Player doesn’t offer any way to update books remotely over the Internet. And it doesn’t work with Audible. So if you want to give your mother new audio books you need to visit her with a laptop and copy the audio book files over with a cable.
If your mother speaks English then I suggest you check out Venkat’s advice and consider one of the other devices like the new Kindle or Kindle Fire. They can do more things which is good but it also means they are more complex and may be more difficult to use. Amazon Echo is voice-operated so it’s a category itself.
My Homer Player, on the other hand, only does one thing and therefore is very easy to use but is very limited.
Hi there! I’ve downloaded this app through Google Play however the screen gets stuck on a screen saying “Copy audio books to folder /Audiobooks or Download book samples”. It only allows me to click on “Download book samples” and when I do it won’t go any further. Can you please tell me how I can get past this point?
There is a problem that on some devices downloading the book samples doesn’t work. A few days ago I have published an update to the app that should help with this problem so you may update and try again.
On the other hand you can just connect your tablet to your computer with a USB cable and copy audiobooks to the tablet. Each audiobook should be in its own folder and all these folders should be copied into “AudioBooks” on the device.
You can find more details here: http://msimonides.github.io/homerplayer/install-test.html
E-mail me if you have any more questions.
BTW: are you the same Beth who e-mailed me a week ago? If you are: I have replied to the e-mail, maybe it somehow got to into your spam folder?
This is an amazing idea. I’ve been looking for something like this for my father-in-law. I guess my only worry is that the tablet screen will make the battery run out faster than on a traditional audio player. Have you considered a way to reduce battery usage?
The screen turns off after a while, like with any other tablet. The audio keeps playing until stopped by flipping the device screen-down.
With the WiFi disabled and screen off for most of the time the battery life should be enough for a full day of listening even on a low-end tablet. With moderate use it usually needs charging every few days.
One issue is that the tablet stays in stand-by mode when not in use and drains some power all the time (like any tablet, but not an MP3 player). It may be surprising to the user that after a week or two of not being used the device doesn’t start at all and needs to be charged.
Is there any way I can change the voice to English rather than American please? My mother is rather particular on this
There are two aspects to this:
1. The whole app is just a specialized MP3 player, so it just plays audio files (audiobooks, music, whatever). Therefore you get the voice and accent of the actual person (or people, in more elaborate productions) who read the book for that particular recording.
2. While browsing, the titles are being read with a Text-to-Speech engine installed in your tablet. You can install different voices for the default engine or even different engines from the Google Play Store. And yes, there is a choice between US and UK English for the default Google TTS engine.
The Text-to-Speech engines can be configured in settings, see e.g. this image: https://msimonides.github.io/homerplayer/img/languages.png
do you need wifi for this? my mom doesn’t have internet
No. Actually I suggest disabling WiFi on the tablet so that the battery lasts longer. You can copy audiobooks to the device from your computer over a USB cable. It’s very similar to a regular MP3 player in this regard.
Hi! Hope this page is still being checked 🙂 Would it be possible to get the audio book to start/stop just by opening the tablet cover? So if I got a smart cover, just opening the cover could start the book and closing the cover could stop it? I think this would be even easier for my grandmother. Thanks!
It would be nice if you could make an app like this for an iPhone or a iPod touch. Something that would make the device lock into the audiobook player and not easly come out of it. But also able to download books from where ever IOS can get them. Used and referbished iPhones and iPod touches can be quite reasonable.
I listen to audio books on Overdrive which is free and only requires a library card . Lots of nifty features, replays, pause, always returns to where you stopped, even if you have to renew. I do have limited data usage so i do almost everything on Wi Fi. My Library in pascoe county Florida has 14 day Check out and up to 10 books. My daughter has 21 day check outs and can only check out 6. They are automatically returned at the end of those periods unless you return them sooner. I keep my old Galaxy phone charged all the time and download books to it and to my S8+. Both last 10-12 hours for audiobook listening. My phone issue for audiobooks is with the wrap around screen – IF I accidently touch the side it might take me to another book or usually skips chapters. Always maddening.
The Overdrive app is nationwide (I think) and user friendly. I’m 78 and a neophyte when it comes to smartphone technology. Lots of free movies, documentaries, etc on Kanopy and Hoopla which are free with a library card. I used to select books on CDs from the library based on the reader, and in my case, I avoided British, too hard for me to understand usually. Good luck on your endeavor, perhaps Overdrive will lend some helpful ideas.
Found this which looks great but all posts dried up in 2018. Has there been any further development? Looks ideal for my blind sister who has cerebral palsy and so cannot deal with small controls.
My mom is 86 years old and Blind in one eye and the other she basically only sees shapes. She doesn’t know how to use a tablet or a cell phone.
Do you have stuff on tape that she could listen to?