So I’ve stumbled out of bed and dragged myself to the breakfast table, propped up an e-reader on a stack of unused coasters, got a slice of buttered toast in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, and …

And what? I don’t have a spare finger to press buttons or swipe the screen with, and if I did it would be covered in butter and jam. And an e-reader propped up precipitously in random places really needs another hand to hold it while you swipe, otherwise it’s going to leap off the coasters and tumble over the edge of my wife’s plate and into the remains of her bacon and egg, which is not a good look for tablets. What I desperately need—and don’t have—is an app that turns pages for me when I issue a voice command.

There are several voice command apps available for the Android tablets that I use, of course, but none of them seem to be able to penetrate within a program and substitute for screen actions. And the ones that worked at all showed the usual infuriating inability to recognise what I was saying, even when I spoke S-L-O-W-L-Y and C-L-E-A-R-L-Y, so you can judge for yourselves what they would make of commands issued through a mouthful of toast.

What we need is the capability within the e-reader software to respond to a single unambiguous sound—a vocal click, say—with a single response: turn the page. The designers can elaborate on it if they want to; maybe add two clicks to turn back a page, or a short whistle to insert a bookmark. It wouldn’t have to substitute for the complete range of commands, merely fill in for the most important ones when the reader’s hands were otherwise occupied. It could also recognise other non-verbal inputs—thumping the table, say, or jiggling the device up and down on your knees—but the main point would be that I could move from one page to the next at my own pace without getting breakfast spreads all over the screen and/or buttons.

Is that too much to ask?

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  1. Great suggestion! I’d suggest a tongue-click as that sound. It’s clear, unambiguous, and not used for any other purpose. Of course, it’s likely to get you some odd looks in a coffee shop.

    You’re 100% right about screen smears. One big downside to Microsoft’s latest Windows is that it assumes office users won’t mind cleaning those smears off their screens daily. I doubt that’s true.

    There is a work around, at least for a read-aloud enabled book or document. Have it read to you at your normal reading speed but turn down the volume. Of course, if you’re going to that trouble, you might as well let it read aloud.

  2. I have years of experience reading and eating at the same time. Your mistake is to use one hand for the toast and the other for the tea.

    What you have to do is to hold the book (or ebook) in your off hand, and alternate between the tea and the toast with your dominant hand.

    With some practice, you can hold the reader with the four fingers of your off hand, and push the page turn button with the thumb of your off hand. Swiping would be much more difficult. This is one of the reasons I bought a Sony ebook. It has page turn buttons.

    Since your off hand never touches the food, it doesn’t get greasy, and the greasy fingers of your dominant hand never touch the book.

    If you are eating something that has to be cut up, such as a steak, cut it into bite sized pieces first, before you start eating and reading. Then you hold the book in your off hand, and operate the fork / pick up the wine glass with your dominant hand.

    I can’t imagine chirping at my ebook reader or tablet in a restaurant. The manager would call for the men in white coats to come and take me away.

  3. Kindles have an automatic page turning function that you can adjust to your reading speed. Get it set, pick up your toast and tea, and you’ll be set. The scenario described is also a goo argument for physical page turn buttons, instead of touch screens, since then you’re not swiping or touching your screen.

  4. Guys, it’s gesture control that’s missing. Think X-Box Kinect, but smaller, tighter-focused and way, way more intelligent. My prediction: in six years, our computers and TVs will be watching our gestures so that our fingers don’t have to touch either screens or remotes. Eight years, our tablets will do the same thing. Imagine pinching to zoom without touching.

    And, naturally, Apple will have applied for patents on all this. They will own waving and pointing.

  5. Some interesting suggestions here, but I’ve found in the past that a timed automatic page turn simply doesn’t work. Pour yourself an orange juice, or respond to a question from your spouse, and suddenly you’re two pages ahead and don’t know what’s going on.

    And books are not homogenous; some passages have to be read carefully and thought about, while others can be skipped over rapidly.

  6. My tablet works as a USB host and allows keyboards, mice etc to be plugged in. I already had a USB wireless presentation remote which has basic movement and left and right click functions and works well as a remote page turner. A mini USB wired mouse works as well.
    I used to have a credit card sized bluetooth keyboard which worked with my old phone, wish I hadn’t sold it now.

  7. The big secret is that the later Kindles removed the automatic page turn feature to help thwart PIRACY. The Nook does not have this feature for the same reason. It is too easy to have a phone app (or a web cam app, scanner, photocopier, etc.) automatically take a picture of the Kindle every X seconds as the page turns every X seconds. Also easy to generate a PDF automatically (or any other format) from the photographs. (A quick and easy Andriod app could do this, actually.)

    On the other hand, if you remove the automatic feature, it increases the cost of pirating a book – someone has to manually turn the pages as the camera snaps photos. (Although people manage to do it anyway; not too costly.)

    Unfortunately, people who are disabled are complaining about the loss of this feature the most. But, hey, the US opposes any new laws or international treaties giving disabled persons any fair-use rights to begin with. Guess people don’t care.

  8. Anyone find a solution to this? It seems like such an obviously cool and useful feature. The solutions proposed so far don’t address the main issue, that is how to turn the page without touching or gesturing? There are multiple situations when this could be handy. Amazing it doesn’t exist.

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