Listen to AI audiobooks on your iPhone

It’s annoying when a book you want to read doesn’t have an audiobook version — they’re great while you’re driving, doing dishes or folding laundry. Apple is now offering authors AI-generated audiobooks of their work. Novels you otherwise wouldn’t be able to hear, you can now find in the Apple Books app. Let me show you how you can find and listen to them if you’re curious.

How to listen to Apple’s AI-generated audiobooks

You can find these AI-generated audiobooks in the Apple Book Store. You don’t need a software update or anything to find and purchase them, just the Books app from the App Store.

Finding AI-generated audiobooks in the Apple Book Store.
Just search for “ai narration” to find what Apple has to offer.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

Open Books > Search. Type in “ai narration” and you’ll see a whole list of romance novels using the new feature. Many of them are free — even among the paid novels, I don’t see anything over $10.

Tap on any book here and you’ll see the label “Narrated by Apple Books.” At the top of the description, you’ll see “This is an Apple Books audiobook narrated by a digital voice based on a human narrator.”

Preview and buy a book in the Book Store.
There are plenty of free options for you to try out the feature.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

Tap Preview to hear a short sample of the narration. Tap Get or $X.99 to buy the full book.

How good does it sound?

I listened to a few different books using the different voices Apple Books employs. The voices read narration very well — you might not notice if you’re just listening on your phone’s built-in speakers.

However, the digital voices have a very rigid cadence and speed. I can hear them inflect a bit of tone when characters ask questions or speak hurriedly, but they lack some of the nuanced emotion you might expect from a human voice actor.

Granted, there are a lot of human-read audiobooks that intentionally use more plain-sounding dialogue; it’s a matter of style. But that’s all this feature can do at the moment.

Not every publisher hires different voice actors for one book, but it would be neat if Apple could intermix the female and male voices for character dialogue. I haven’t found any examples of that.

Limited selection for now

Right now, Apple has limited the broad rollout of the feature to “fiction and romance” novels. Narration for nonfiction titles “will be available more widely in the future,” though there are a few I could find available today.

Machine learning is very fickle — specificity is important to get a high-quality model. As such, there’s only one male and female voice tailored for each genre. All four voices are available only in English. Apple has not yet announced plans for future expansions into more voices, genres and languages.

You might one day listen to an AI audiobook without noticing anything artificial at all.

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