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Voice Brief for iPhone is a great text-to-speech app with lots of potential

Want an assistant to help you keep up with your world and the world at large? Voice Brief might be just the thing. This US$1.99 app will read your Facebook updates, Twitter feed, email (with limitations), weather, schedule, stock prices that you follow, and even the latest news from RSS feeds of your choice.

The voices are computerized, but very clear. There are four voices to choose from: an American male and female, and a British-accented male and female. You set up the app by giving it your location (for weather) and stocks you'd like to follow, pointing it to your iPhone calendar, and selecting some news feeds (I selected CNN and TUAW). Voice Brief also allows you to add custom sentences, like a personal greeting when the app starts reading, or something for when it finishes going through your feeds. You can add multiple custom sentences for transitions between feeds, but you don't have to use any at all.

There are some limitations to Voice Brief's ability to read email. Apple doesn't allow third parties direct access to the iOS Mail app, but you can configure the app to read your Gmail inbox feed. At this version, Voice Brief reads the first line of the email, but the developer tells me he is going to add full text reading in a future update.

How does it all work? I like Voice Brief. It's great for a commute; in about a minute or two I'm updated on some of the things that are important to me. The voices are a bit robotic, but high quality -- those voices are also the reason the app is a 235 MB download.

The developer says his top things to add in future updates are Google Reader support, autoplay (so there's less fiddling with the app while driving), an alarm so you can wake up with your briefing, and POP/IMAP mail support. I can think of a lot of other neat things to add, like text message reading, sports scores and severe weather bulletins as they arrive. But even as it is now, I find the app helpful, and it's a great demo app. The developer is donating 100% of his March proceeds to Japanese tsunami relief.

I'll keep an eye on Voice Brief to see where it goes. It's a great idea, and a much-needed addition to my iPhone tool box. Voice Brief requires iOS 4.0 or above.

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