Introduction: How to Build an Audiobook Player for Your Grandma
Most audio players available on the market are created for young people and their main function is playing music. They are small, have multiple functions like shuffle, repeat, radio and even video playback.
All of these features make the popular players hard to use for the elderly. Especially for those who struggle with poor eyesight and whose motor skills aren't as good as they used to be. Yet for many seniors listening to audiobooks becomes an alternative to reading as their sight deteriorates.
They need a player that is designed specifically for the needs of non-tech savvy and visually impaired users.
Here's how to make one using a cheap tablet, a special app and 30 minutes of your time.
Step 1: Items and Parts
- A cheap Android tablet, running Android 4.4 or newer.
- A cover case, one that enables the tablet screen when open.
- Some audiobooks in MP3.
- (Optional) strong adhesive tape.
- WiFi access on the tablet - for installing apps.
- Access to a PC or Mac computer - for copying audiobook files to the tablet.
- A USB cable - for connecting the tablet to your PC or Mac.
Choosing the right tablet
Almost any tablet or smartphone will do as long as it's running Android 4.4 or newer. There is no need for fast processor or any fancy features. The only important parameter is the amount of memory. 8GB will be enough for several audiobooks.
Choose the size that is appropriate for the intended user (e.g. if the user needs large buttons get a larger tablet, otherwise a 4" smartphone will be fine).
Step 2: Preparing the Tablet
Enable WiFi and disable the screen lock
- Enable WiFi and make sure there is a connection.
- Go to Settings and tap "Lock screen".
- Tap "Screen lock".
- Choose "None".
Step 3: Installing the Audiobooks App
Homer Player is an app that I have written specially for the purpose of building this audiobook player. You can find more about it on the project website.
Let's install it on the tablet:
- Open the Play Store app.
- In the search field type "Homer Player".
- Install the app.
- Open the app.
- The tablet may ask if you want to enable Text-to-speech (and it may give you a choice of more than one engines - choosing Google is a safe bet), confirm your choice with "Always".
It is possible that this dialog doesn't show if there is just a single Text-to-speech engine installed.
- Exit the app now (you may download the sample books and play with the app if you wish).
On text-to-speech engines (optional reading, you can skip this)
The tablet's text-to-speech engine (TTS for short) is used to read book titles aloud. The default one from Google is available for many languages but the voice isn't very pleasant.
You can configure the TTS engines in the settings menu of your tablet, just go to: "Language & input" -> "Text-to-speech output".
It is also possible to install TTS apps from the Play Store. I suggest giving Ivona a try.
Step 4: Copying Your Audiobooks to the Tablet
Prepare the audiobooks on your computer
- The audio files must be in MP3 format.
- Each audiobook needs to be in its own folder. The folder name should the book title (it's displayed and read by the player).
- The files will be played in alphabetic order.
Copy the files to the tablet
- Connect the tablet to your Mac or PC with a USB cable. If you're using a Mac, you may need the Android file transfer tool.
- Copy your audiobooks to the tablet. Put them inside the "AudioBooks" folder. The folder should have been automatically created when the Homer Player app was started for the first time.
Step 5: Enabling the Kiosk Mode
Our goal is to make an audio player device so we need to "remove" all the functions of the tablet. This is important for non-tech-savvy users who would have trouble finding their way around the system and all the installed applications.
In order to create an illusion that the tablet does only one job, plays audiobooks, we will prevent the user from ever exiting the application (at least unintentionally).
This is called a "kiosk mode" and to enable it follow these steps:
- Open Homer Player.
- Tap the screen 5 times to enter settings.
- Tap "Prevent exiting the application (kiosk mode)..."
- Tap "Simple mode..." to enable it.
- Go back twice.
- Notice that the status and navigation bars are now hidden.
- Swipe your finger up from the bottom edge of the screen and press the O button (the "home" button).
- Android asks you which application to use as the so-called "home" application. Choose "Homer Player" and select "Always".
Now, when you restart the tablet it will go straight to the audiobook application.
Optional: if you want a better protection against accidental exit from the application, you can put adhesive tape over the bottom and top screen edges to prevent it from detecting touch.
Restoring normal operation (optional reading)
When you want to disable the kiosk mode there are two things for you to do:
- Enter Homer Player settings (tap screen 5 times) and disable the simple kiosk mode.
- Go to system settings (swipe down from the top edge of the screen and tap the cogwheel icon), go to "Home" and choose the original home app.
Step 6: Finishing Touches: the Cover Case, Screen Orientation and Airplane Mode
The previous step was a bit complex so we finish with three very easy things.
- Hold the power button till a menu appears and enable the "Airplane mode". This will make the battery last longer by disabling WiFi.
- Put the device in the cover case.
- Tap the screen 5 times to enter settings.
- Tap "Screen orientation" and choose the setting that is natural to your cover case (or leave at auto).
Optional: if you have played some books you may want to use "Rewind all books to the beginning..." to reset listening progress on all books.
Step 7: Training the User
With the cover case, kiosk mode enabled and audiobooks copied to the device you can finally give it to the intended user.
Some users may need an introduction to operating the player. Show them the following steps:
- Open the cover to enable.
- Swipe to choose which book to play.
- Press START to play (the cover can be closed at this point).
- Put the tablet with the screen down on a table to stop.
When the battery is running low a red battery icon will show up in the top-right corner of the screen.
Step 8: Feedback
You can find more info about the project on the website (including FAQ and contact information).
I appreciate any feedback or questions, don't hesitate to comment here or e-mail me with your opinions.