How to use Mac’s VoiceOver screen reader

While universal screen readers like NVDA and JAWS are frequently used to understand and navigate websites or apps, Mac users have an additional option called VoiceOver. VoiceOver is built into MacOS and designed to support accessibility options that are particularly Apple-friendly and highly customizable. That includes anything from adjusting your keyboard focus preferences to attaching a refreshing braille display.

Here, we’re going over the steps to set up and turn on VoiceOver, along with the other important information you should know when first getting started.

How to start using VoiceOver

Step 1: Start by heading to the VoiceOver utility to make sure everything is set up as you or the user with visual disabilities prefer. Open System preferences and go to Accessibility. Here, you’ll find an option for VoiceOver. In this option, select Open VoiceOver utility. If you need a screen reader to use menus like this, then skip down to step 2 first to turn on VoiceOver.

This will open a new window. The leftside menu has a variety of options for VoiceOver settings. You may want to inspect every category, but Speech and Navigation are particularly important stops. Braille allows you to set up VoiceOver for a braille device, and Activities allows you to customize specific commands once you are comfortable with VoiceOver. Make sure all the settings are to your liking.

You can visit the Utility again to tweak things as you progress, especially when it comes to screen reader speed and other settings.

Step 2: Now let’s turn on VoiceOver. Press Command + F5 at any time to activate VoiceOver. This will pop open a new window and announce the VoiceOver has been enabled. If this is your first time, it’s a really good idea to select Learn more, which will read you through a tutorial of VoiceOver basics, important sound indicators, and the commands that you can use. Note that the Command + F5 option is referred to as “VO” in Apple’s keyboard shortcuts.

If you want to start using the screen reader, press the V key or select Use VoiceOver.

The VoiceOver Activation Pop Up.

Step 3: VoiceOver will immediately begin reading the document, webpage, or app that you currently have selected. You can choose a different window if you want the screen reader to start reading something else. This is done via the VoiceOver cursor, a focus window that shows where VoiceOver is currently reading. When you move the cursor, your keyboard focus will also move when possible, allowing you to input faster keyboard commands when you find the option you want. You can also use the Navigation section of the VoiceOver utility to enable mouse control of the VoiceOver cursor if you plan on using a mouse as well as keyboard commands.

You can also stop the keyboard focus from always following the cursor, which allows you to do things like type in one app while listening to emails in another app, and so on.

Step 4: Pause the screen reader at any time by tapping the Control key. Press Control again when you are ready for the speech to resume. If you missed something, you can press VO + Z and the screen reader will repeat the last phrase.

Step 5: As you start using VoiceOver, refer to the Commanders section of the VoiceOver utility. Here, you’ll find a number of shortcuts to help you navigate MacOS, with sections for the number pad, keyboard, and quick navigation. The Keyboard section allows you to enable commands like using the S key to open Safari and lets you add your own commands as well. The built-in NumPad commands, meanwhile, allow for fast navigation and interaction around apps that doesn’t require any letter key commands. All traditional keyboard shortcuts, like Command + S to save, will continue to work with VoiceOver.

Number Commands for VoiceOver in the VoiceOver Utility.

Step 6: You can also open up a Commands menu to look up a specific command at any time by pressing VO + H, which opens the help menu, then H again to open the Commands. The Commands menu will automatically search for a Command based on what you type, so you can then type something like “open mail” to get the results.

Step 7: VoiceOver also supports item descriptions. When the VoiceOver cursor is placed over an item, you can press VO + F3 and the description will begin. To hear any help tags associated with the item, press VO + Shift + H.

Step 8: VoiceOver can do much more, but this should help you get started and give you the tools to keep on learning. Apple offers additional suggestions as well as a guide to braille commands.

Are you thinking about using VoiceOver on a new Mac? You may also want to check out our guide on the current best MacBooks to buy.

Editors’ Choice

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The Microsoft Edge PDF Reader is Getting An Update

The Microsoft 365 roadmap has revealed the PDF reader in Edge will soon be getting a big update. The future update is centered around free-form highlighting, and overall improvements with reading scanned PDF documents.

Coming in Microsoft Edge version 95, Microsoft hopes these features can improve the viewing and markup experience for Edge users. Microsoft also specifically says that viewing and markup will be improved because of freeform highlighters. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, this should allow Edge users to highlight PDF sections where they might not have had previous access to comment.

The company is targeting an October release for the feature, noting that it is in development in the Edge Beta channel, but some other features are also planned. Windows Latest reports that Microsoft is working on “Free text boxes” where you can add your own comment boxes to select PDFs. Also planned is the ability to navigate PDFs using thumbnails on the left side pane of the browser, a feature already found in Google Chrome.

These are just some Edge features mentioned in the road map. Microsoft has previously confirmed that Edge would be getting the tab group feature from Google Chrome. This would let you arrange tabs by color under a specific name, so you can easily organize open tabs. It even works with Edge’s vertical tabs feature.

Although Edge version 95 is a while away, Microsoft is fresh off the launch of version 92 of the web browser. The release brings a new password health dashboard, which can help you decide if the password you’ve saved is strong enough.

Microsoft Edge is now a lot like Google Chrome, getting updated on a monthly basis. The browser is always getting new features like Vertical Tabs and Kids Mode. Microsoft even invites users to beta test early preview versions through the Edge Insider program to help shape the final release.

Based on the same open-source Chromium engine as Google Chrome, Edge has made huge gains. It recently surpassed Firefox in terms of popularity. Currently, it holds an 8.1% market share, according to Statcounter. That’s only third to Safari’s 9.7% and Chrome’s dominating lead of 68.76%. Firefox is behind in fourth with a 7.17% share.

Editors’ Choice

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Security researcher sounds alarm over ATM NFC reader vulnerabilities

IOActive security researcher Josep Rodriquez has warned that the NFC readers used in many modern ATMs and point-of-sale systems are leaving them vulnerable to attacks, Wired reports. The flaws make them vulnerable to a range of problems, including being crashed by a nearby NFC device, locked down as part of a ransomware attack, or even hacked to extract certain credit card data.

Rodriquez even warns that the vulnerabilities could be used as part of a so-called “jackpotting” attack to trick a machine into spitting out cash. However, such an attack is only possible when paired with exploits of additional bugs, and Wired says it was not able to view a video of such an attack because of IOActive’s confidentiality agreement with the affected ATM vendor.

By relying on vulnerabilities in the machines’ NFC readers, Rodriquez’s hacks are relatively easy to execute. While some previous attacks have relied on using devices like medical endoscopes to probe machines, Rodriquez’ can simply wave an Android phone running his software in front of a machine’s NFC reader to exploit any vulnerabilities it might have.

In one video shared with Wired, Rodriquez causes an ATM in Madrid to display an error message, simply by waving his smartphone over its NFC reader. The machine then became unresponsive to real credit cards held up to the reader.

The research highlights a couple of big problems with the systems. The first is that many of the NFC readers are vulnerable to relatively simple attacks, Wired reports. For example, in some cases the readers aren’t verifying how much data they’re receiving, which means Rodriquez was able to overwhelm the system with too much data and corrupt its memory as part of a “buffer overflow” attack.

The second problem is that even once an issue is identified, companies can be slow to apply a patch to the hundreds of thousands of machines in use around the world. Often a machine needs to be physically visited to apply an update, and many don’t receive regular security patches. One company said the problem Rodriquez has highlighted was patched in 2018, for example, but the researcher says he was able to verify that the attack worked in a restaurant in 2020.

Rodriguez plans to present his findings as part of a webinar in the coming weeks to highlight what he says are the poor security measures of embedded devices.

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Tech News

This Chrome experiment could fill the void Google Reader left in my heart

Google just announced an RSS feature for Google Chrome that’d allow users to follow blogs with ease. This is like a very tiny, limited part of the deal that was Google Reader, before Google ended service with the RSS aggregator in the year 2013 after approximately 8 years of service to the public. Now Google is once again “building on the open RSS web standard.”

Google Reader is dead and it’s never coming back (in name, anyway) but RSS lives! According to Paul Bakaus, Creator and Developer Advocate at Google, “We’ve heard it loud and clear: Discovery and distribution is lacking on the open web, and RSS hasn’t been “mainstream consumer” friendly.” As such, they’re testing a new feature in Chrome.

The new feature in Chrome is an “experimental new way, powered by RSS, to follow creators with one click.” In the first iteration of this feature, in Chrome, there’ll be a new menu item at the bottom of the (three dots) button list in the upper right-hand corner of the browser. The button should show the name of the blog and a “+ Follow” button.

Once a site (a site with an RSS feed, most likely a blog) is followed, entries from said site will appear in the Chrome browser’s “New Tab” page. That’s essentially the same as what Google Reader used to be – though super, super simplified.

Wouldn’t it be great if a social network, like Twitter, would just go ahead and add a feature like this to their already-running system of follows and shares? That’d be great, wouldn’t it?

As noted by Bakaus, this is “only the beginning of a bigger exploration.” Google is asking for input on the feature through the Google Web Creators Twitter account. If you’d like to use this new feature, you’ll need to download Chrome Canary from Google Play. Per Google, “in the coming weeks, some Android users in the US on Chrome Canary may see an experimental Follow feature designed to help people get the latest content from sites they follow.”

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Tech News

Chrome “Follow” experiment brings Google Reader back from the dead

Almost eight years ago, Google retired its Google Reader service much to the dismay of its many users. Reasons presented for its demise varied but most of those revolved around how the open yet outdated RSS format has seemingly gone out of fashion in lieu of social media. Of course, RSS feeds are still alive and kicking and, almost ironically, Google is playing around with a Chrome feature that acknowledges that while somewhat bringing Google Reader back as a built-in feature in the web browser.

The principle behind RSS is pretty simple and predates the now-common “Subscribe” feature on many social platforms. An RSS or feed reader application or service, just like the old Google Reader, would regularly check for new articles that site owners and publishers have posted by updating their RSS feeds with the correct data and metadata. Depending on the app’s settings, users will be able to read a condensed version of the content or even a full version, sometimes stripped down to text and images only.

The rise of social media seemingly put an end to that workflow with more and more people taking to Twitter and Facebook for their news and updates. Of course, that never happened and RSS is still in wide use today, even if not as widespread as before. Acknowledging that fact, Google’s developers are doing an experiment that turns Chrome into an RSS reader as well, at least on Android.

Those using the unstable Canary version of Chrome for Android might see a “Follow” button in the browser’s menu on web pages that offer RSS feeds so you don’t have to hunt for the exact URL anymore. Whenever those pages have new content available, they will show up in a new Following section in Chrome’s New Tab page.

Of course, this feature wouldn’t just happen by magic and requires that site owners implement proper RSS support. Google does have guidance for those and will see if it catches on enough to roll it out to all Chrome users in the near future.

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Tech News

Chrome’s new ‘follow’ button test has serious Google Reader vibes

Google killed its much-loved Reader product in 2013, but has hardly made any solid attempt to replace it. However, a new test in Chrome gives up a glimmer of hope.

In a blog post, Google said that it’s experimenting with a ‘follow’ button in the browser that will subscribe you to a site’s RSS feed, so you get its latest content delivered to you as it’s published.. All websites you follow will show up in a separate tab in the Google Search app, besides the For You section. The follow button will show up in the overflow menu situated on the top right-hand corner.

Tech News

MacBook Pro models featuring HDMI output and SD card reader rumored

A new rumor is going around that suggests Apple is gearing up to launch new MacBook Pro models that feature additional outputs later this year. One of the complaints that many MacBook fans have about Apple’s high-end notebooks are the lack of connectivity options. Ports standard on any other computer brand require Apple users to buy expensive Apple accessories like docking stations or dongles.

The rumor, originating with noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, suggests that MacBook Pro models that feature an integrated HDMI port and SD card reader will launch in the second half of 2021. Kuo made his predictions in a letter sent out to investors. He stated that the new notebooks launching in the second half of the year would feature significant design and specification changes.

The two most practical changes noted are the video output and memory card reader. Previously, Kuo noted that Apple was planning new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models featuring several changes. Among the changes he predicts are a return of the classic MagSafe charging connector utilizing a breakaway power cable, the deletion of the Touch Bar, and a new design featuring flat edges.

At the time, he also predicted the return of additional ports for expanded connectivity options. Kuo isn’t the only analyst predicting some significant changes for Apple MacBook Pro notebooks. Analyst Mark Gurman has predicted many of the same changes are coming.

Considering many professional photographers and videographers rely on Mac computers for editing, the return of the SD card reader without the need for a dongle will be welcome. Many Mac fans have hated the Touch Bar, and eliminating it in the new machines isn’t likely to be missed.

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Why your laptop’s SD card reader might be terrible

For content creators, a laptop with a built-in SD card reader is a preferred feature. Some users go so far as to consider laptops only if they have a reader.

One mistake with that choice is it assumes all SD card slots are created equal. Our tests clearly show they’re not. It’s also difficult to know how fast the SD card reader in your laptop is. If SD card speed really matters to you, the best way to get what you want is to buy an external reader whose specs are clearly designated. 

PCWorld put four newly manufactured laptops’ SD cards through their paces. For this challenge we looked at:

To give us a control point, we also recorded the performance of a SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-II USB 3.0 card reader inserted into one of the Dell G5 15 SE’s USB 3.0 slots.

Because this test would be pointless without a fast SD card, we used a 128GB SanDisk Extreme Pro SD card. The card is a UHS-II card, meaning it rides on the Ultra High Speed II bus and features a second row of contact pins on the back to hit the higher performance ratings of the interface. The UHS-II bus can hit 312MBps in full duplex mode and 624MBps in half-duplex mode. We formatted the card in exFAT, which has seemingly become the standard for most large-capacity SD media.

SD Card Reader and UHS-II Card Gordon Mah Ung

We used a 128GB SanDisk Extreme Pro card rated for 300MBps reads and 260MBps writes for our testing.

The SanDisk Extreme Pro SD Card is rated for read speeds right up to the limit of UHS-II at 300MBps with write speeds rated at 260MBps. 

Why not UHS-III?

If you’re wondering why we’re not using an even faster SD card using the newer UHS-III bus, it’s because we couldn’t find a card that even supported the newer interface, which takes speeds to 312MBps in full duplex mode and 624MBps in half duplex mode. Searching just last week, we saw no signs of a UHS-III card for sale.

(And no, don’t confuse UHS-III (the bus) with the U3 symbol. U3 refers to the card’s “UHS Speed Class” mark for video performance of a camera and card. Yes, they seriously have U3 and UHS-III which don’t mean the same thing. U3 has largely been supplanted by the newer and slightly less confusing “V” video speed class mark.)

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