How to Build an Audiobook Player for Your Grandma




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.

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Step 1: Items and Parts


  1. A cheap Android tablet, running Android 4.4 or newer.
  2. A cover case, one that enables the tablet screen when open.
  3. Some audiobooks in MP3.
  4. (Optional) strong adhesive tape.


  1. WiFi access on the tablet - for installing apps.
  2. Access to a PC or Mac computer - for copying audiobook files to the tablet.
  3. 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

  1. Enable WiFi and make sure there is a connection.
  2. Go to Settings and tap "Lock screen".
  3. Tap "Screen lock".
  4. 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:

  1. Open the Play Store app.
  2. In the search field type "Homer Player".
  3. Install the app.
  4. Open the app.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 be 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. Open Homer Player.
  2. Tap the screen 5 times to enter settings.
  3. Tap "Prevent exiting the application (kiosk mode)..."
  4. Tap "Simple mode..." to enable it.
  5. Go back twice.
  6. Notice that the status and navigation bars are now hidden.
  7. Swipe your finger up from the bottom edge of the screen and press the O button (the "home" button).
  8. 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:

  1. Enter Homer Player settings (tap screen 5 times) and disable the simple kiosk mode.
  2. 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.

  1. Hold the power button till a menu appears and enable the "Airplane mode". This will make the battery last longer by disabling WiFi.
  2. Put the device in the cover case.
  3. Tap the screen 5 times to enter settings.
  4. 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:

  1. Open the cover to enable.
  2. Swipe to choose which book to play.
  3. Press START to play (the cover can be closed at this point).
  4. 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.

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    8 Discussions


    Question 5 weeks ago on Step 2

    I do not seem to be able to send files to the app on my device


    1 year ago

    I wanted to try this for my grandfather, who is virtually blind. Great idea. But... far too complicated. My first mistake was buying a cheap "Amazon Fire" to use as a base device. Fire is neither Android nor Apple, so I immediately had to download a series of programs to allow Google access to it. Once that was done, the Homer Player app technically functioned, but... other audio book apps (like Audible) don't work with Homer. I had to try to figure out how to transfer the audio files to my (Mac) computer, then re-download them back onto the Amazon Fire to a special folder... using a Mac-to-Android file sharing program, which I had to install first......... and that's when I just stopped and returned the device to Amazon, completely deflated, having wasted a solid 3-4 hours trying to cram this round peg into a square hole. The honest truth is... Audible should make a version of their software to accommodate the elderly and the impaired. A third-party work around shouldn't be necessary. Sigh. No reading device for grandpa this year. Needless to say, I'm pretty disappointed.


    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank you for your feedback.
    Yes, setting up the app isn't smooth (and you haven't even tried the most difficult part that is described on my website ;) ).

    But let me address a few of the mentioned issues, maybe this will be of help to other readers:
    - you can download the app package directly from my website if you have a device with no Google Play Store ( Maybe I should update this instructable with this information.
    - Kindle Fire is slightly modified Android and runs the app, however it's not good for a dedicated audiobook player because the screen lock cannot be disabled (the best you can do is swipe-to-unlock). It's good for just testing the features though.
    - Audible provides copy-protected files so they only work with their app and a set of MP3 players from well-known makers and that only if you use Audible's fancy app to transfer the files from your computer. Libraries are usually a good source of audiobooks. And free.
    - copying files Mac-to-Android: this may be non-ideal when just testing the app but for me this is the main use case. I visit my grandmother with my laptop and we browse an on-line library together and download books for her, then I update the book titles (i.e. folder names) to include the author name and then just copy all the folders to the tablet.
    Or she has an audiobook on CDs and I copy the files to my laptop and then to the tablet.
    If I were to do this on the tablet itself that would have been much more cumbersome. Also, the app design assumes that there is another person who can manage the books on the device and the listener is not able to get audiobooks for themselves (either because they don't see well enough or are not tech-savvy enough to use another app and navigate through the book offer).

    And last but not least: please don't give up, there are many other projects that aim to solve the same problem in many different ways.
    There is this very simple one-button audiobook player:
    This one has more features (and buttons) and has an ingenious way of choosing which book to play: you just put actual physical objects representing the books on top of the player (they have RFID tags on them):


    3 years ago

    My ageing father-in-law has failing eyesight, and he asked me - literally a few days ago - to search for an Audiobook Reader for him. So it was an amazing piece of serendipity that your project appeared in my twitter stream the other day! I can see you have put great thought into the design, and you have created a superb application for older people with access problems. Very well done, and many, many thanks.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you for the kind words. I hope the app works well for your father-in-law.


    3 years ago

    This is fabulous and seems so easy! Thanks for sharing how to do this.


    3 years ago

    A nie prościej pobrać audiobook z neta :p

    DIY Hacks and How Tos

    Awesome. I might have to make something like this for my parents.