With Apple’s latest accessibility feature, you can get live transcriptions of everything you listen to on or around your iPhone. Real-time captions work for phone calls, video conferences, FaceTime, music, podcasts, streaming media, movies, games, and more, even someone sitting right next to you to speak.
This new feature, Live Captions, comes with iOS 16. It’s designed to help the deaf and hard of hearing community, but it’s equally valuable for everyone else. For example, it is useful when you want to follow audio content but cannot use speakers or headphones. I’ve used it for podcasts while waiting at the doctor’s, where the AirPods would be rude and the speakers even more so.
Live captions use device intelligence to accurately transcribe what is being said on or around your device. Since everything happens on your iPhone, your information remains private and secure. Apple warns that “accuracy of live captions may vary and should not be relied upon in high-risk or emergency situations.” Even upon exiting the beta period, this warning will likely still be in place.
You can use Live Captions on iOS 16 with an iPhone 11 or later in English (US or Canada). Live Captions also works on iPadOS 16 for iPad (with A12 Bionic and later) and macOS 13 Ventura for Mac (with Apple Silicon), which are still in beta.
Enable dynamic subtitles
To enable live captions on your iPhone, go to Settings -> Accessibility -> Live Captions, then turn on the “Live Captions” switch.
This enables system-wide dynamic captions for all apps. If you only want to use live captions in certain apps, you can enable them in the In-app live captions band. Only FaceTime and Real-Time Text (RTT) for the Phone app are currently supported.
Using Live Captioning Controls
When live captions are active, you can move them around the screen, just like the Picture-in-Picture player. This way you don’t cover the content you need to see besides the subtitles. If you tap once on the subtitles, the controls expand, including the hide, play/pause, microphone, and expand/collapse buttons.
- To hide: Collapses dynamic subtitles in a bubble. You can’t drag it off the screen like you can with Picture in Picture, but its opacity will change when it’s idle, like AssistiveTouch’s bubble.
- Play pause: Plays or pauses dynamic subtitles. If it’s paused and you collapse it into a bubble, the bubble will show a pause sign to let you know it’s not trying to transcribe anything.
- Microphone: Changes the device’s input to the outside world, so you can get live captions in the apps you use and for the real life around you.
- Enlarge/Reduce: Expand fills the entire screen with the live subtitles in case you need to focus on playing it above everything else. When dynamic captions are full screen, minimizing reduces them to the standard floating view.
Using live captions for audio and video calls
You can use live captions when talking to other people in an audio or video call in Phone, FaceTime, or a third-party calling or conferencing app. It works in both cellular and Wi-Fi calls. In FaceTime, Live Captions assigns real-time chat transcripts to each call participant, so Group FaceTime isn’t a confusing mess.
Using live captions for music and podcasts
You can use Live Captions to transcribe music, but it doesn’t work well unless the lyrics are clear and there aren’t many instruments to drown out the vocals. For example, I got it to work fine with acoustic music.
However, it works pretty well with podcasts. As long as the podcast doesn’t have loud music playing in the background, I’ve had no problems with Live Captions podcast transcriptions.
Using live captions for video and YouTube
Live Captions will also transcribe videos. Keep in mind that many YouTube videos already have built-in captions, but if you can’t get it to work or you’re using a different service that doesn’t have captions, Live Captions is perfect.
However, like other audio formats, there cannot be loud background noise like a video clip. Also, if you want to watch the full subtitle page, it completely removes the video from the screen.
Customizing the appearance of live captions
Live Captions has a few options you can customize if you need to make transcripts easier to see. Back in the Live Captions menu in Settings, open the “Appearance” menu.
You can change the text size and color, make the text bold, and change the background color. In the example below, I changed the text color to red, the text size three steps up, and the background color to white.
There’s also the opacity slider which makes subtitles more or less transparent when inactive.
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