What is VoiceOver and How Can I Use it on My iPhone?

What is VoiceOver and How Can I Use it on My iPhone?

There are a few features you may not know about that could potentially make your iPhone experience a whole lot better – one of those is VoiceOver.

A feature designed for those who are blind or have low vision, VoiceOver is a gesture-based screen reader that allows you to use your iPhone even if you can’t see the screen. Basically, VoiceOver provides audible descriptions of what’s on your screen.

How do you set up iPhone VoiceOver?

Navigate to Settings > scroll to Accessibility > tap the first option, VoiceOver > toggle ‘on’.

From here, you can have a bit of a practice so you can get the hang of it, set the speed of which the voice will speak (speaking rate), as well as set the speech settings, such as the type of voice used and their pitch.

VoiceOver iPhone
Screenshots: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

Once set up, you can switch VoiceOver on/off by triple tapping your iPhone’s Home button. You’ll be alerted the feature is on through an audible ‘VoiceOver on’. When on, when you touch the screen or drag your finger over it, VoiceOver speaks the name of the item your finger is on, including icons and text. The icon/button selected will show a box around it, this is known as the ‘active icon’. To interact with the item, such as a button or link, or to navigate to another item, use VoiceOver gestures. The default out of the box is double-tapping a selection to select.

It’s a little bit tricky to navigate once you’ve first set it up, so it’s best to play around with the features to make VoiceOver work for you. Apple has a handy bunch of YouTube videos on VoiceOver and other iPhone accessibility features.


Btw, out of the box, before the phone/iPad is even set up, you can use this feature to help you walk through set up. And you can also use a braille display with VoiceOver on iPhone. Here’s a list of what’s compatible.

Screen Curtain

By using three fingers and triple tapping your iPhone’s screen, you can launch what’s known as Screen Curtain. Screen Curtain will give the appearance that your iPhone’s screen is off, even though the phone is well and truly awake.

This will give you a bit of privacy when navigating through your phone when VoiceOver mode is activated.

To bring the screen back to life, tap the phone three times, again using three fingers.

iPhone VoiceOver Recognition

With iOS 15 came VoiceOver Recognition. It aims to improve the accessibility of text, apps and images.

To turn it on, head to Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > VoiceOver Recognition and toggle everything on.

The coolest feature here is without a doubt its ability to describe pictures to you. It will use the picture description on a website, for example, but through using machine learning, it will also tell you something is a cat or a water bottle when you’re taking a photo.

Siri recognised this subject straight away as sunglasses and told me in the other pic of my parent’s dog, there was a black and white dog laying on a blue blanket.

VoiceOver iPhone
Screenshot/photo: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

If you’re following along with this article and you navigated to your camera to test the feature, you may have heard Siri say ‘zero people’, this is a People Detection feature.

People Detection

The LiDAR Scanner in iPhone 12 Pro and up devices can determine a person’s proximity to you. People Detection uses technology that measures how long it takes light to reflect back from objects, helping you do things like stand in line at a safe distance, better navigate a noisy area or find an empty seat with ease.

It’s easy to set up, head to your Magnifier app > tap the cog icon (bottom left) > then make sure there is People Detection in your Secondary Controls box. If not, simply tap the green plus icon next to it and it will be added. You can then move through filters to select between metres or feet, the sound pitch distance and turn on any combination of Sounds, Speech and Haptics.

It will tell you if there’s anyone in your camera shot, but via the Magnifier app it will tell you if anyone is around and relay that information back to you.

Speak Screen

Even if VoiceOver is turned off, you can have your iPhone speak selected text or the entire screen. It can also provide feedback and speak text corrections and suggestions as you type.

To turn on Speak Screen, head to Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content. From here you can toggle on or off Speak Selection (lets you select and hear a specific range of text that you have selected), Speak Screen (once enabled, to activate, simply swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen to hear the entire screen), Speech Controller (which will show the controller for quick access to Speak Screen and Speak Selection), Highlight Content (here, the iPhone will highlight words, sentences or both as they’re spoken – you can change the highlight colour and style, too) or Typing Feedback (which will result in your iPhone speaking each character, entire words, auto-corrections, auto-capitalisations and typing predictions).

You can also play around with language spoken, accents and pronunciations.

Hopefully this was helpful, head to the Apple website for further information on VoiceOver and other handy accessibility features.

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