How to use live captions on iPhone

For those who are hard of hearing, who can never seem to hear others on a call or speakers in online videos, Live Captions on iPhone is a lifesaver.

iphone live captions feature-crop
If you’re hard of hearing, you probably find that listening to video, engaging in phone calls, and enjoying other sources of audio coming from a smartphone speaker is challenging. Or maybe the audio in a video or through a phone call simply isn’t great. This can make video meetings, lectures, phone calls, and even the experience of scrolling through Instagram Reels, a frustrating experience. Closed captioning on a TV helps combat hearing difficulties when watching o a big screen. Many people even use this feature while watching TV at night (guilty as charged) so it doesn’t disturb others in the home. Why not have the same experience on the small screen of a smartphone? You can indeed have similar captions with the best iPhones using the new Live Caption setting.

Live Caption, one of many new accessibility features in iOS 16, is still in development, so it isn’t perfect. But it’s worth a try. It can be set up to accompany any audio content played through an iPhone. This includes not only audio and video calls through an app like FaceTime, but also phone calls and videos from websites, social media sites, or even your own collection. Captions appear at the bottom of the screen by default, out of the way of the subject. You can move it around as well to position the Live Caption window where it fits best, and even adjust how it looks, from different colors to larger fonts and sizes.

How do you set up Live Captions? It’s pretty simple.

  1. Once you’re actively on an audio or video call, watching a video with audio, or prepping to listen to something (or someone), go to Settings, Accessibility.
  2. Scroll down to Live Captions (Beta).
  3. Move the slider to the right to turn Live Captions on. It will change to green to confirm.
  4. You will see a bar at the bottom of the screen that reads “Live Captions, Listening…
    iphone live captions paused
  5. Select Appearance, then choose whether you want to bold text so it’s more prominent, adjust text size (if you’re far-sighted, for example, you might want to make it bigger), change the color of the text or even the background color. You can also set the idle opacity so the window remains active but isn’t as prominent on the screen when you aren’t using it.
  6. If you are going to start a FaceTime video or you’re already in one, turn on Live Captions in FaceTime.
  7. Exit the Settings menu by swiping up from the bottom of the screen.
  8. Start or go back to your video or audio source. As soon as audio is detected, Live Captions will appear across the screen within that box in real-time as the person speaks. Place your finger on the box and drag it if you want to position it somewhere else on the screen.
    iphone live captions displayed
  9. If desired, you can expand Live Captions to fit the entire screen by tapping the two arrows on the right side of the menu. This might be useful if it’s for an audio call where there’s no video component anyway, or if you want to read the captions on the iPhone while watching video from the same call on a separate computer.
    iphone live captions full screen
  10. The Live Captions window will remain on every screen until you return to settings and turn it off.

Keep in mind that Live Captions is currently in Beta format, so it isn’t 100% foolproof. It will make mistakes based on the speed someone is talking, accents, or even simply terminology with which it isn’t familiar. For example, while I was watching a YouTube video from XDA at CES on my iPhone 14, it incorrectly and oddly transcribed the speaker’s words “After another year” to “I don’t wanna.” In many other cases, specific brand and company names are captioned as something completely different since the words or names aren’t recognized. When it comes to complex model names and numbers? Forget about it.

But for basic, everyday conversations, you can usually get the gist of what’s being said. Just use the feature with caution when it comes to important business calls since captioning mistakes could lead to misunderstandings and mishaps. Nonetheless, the Live Captions feature is a huge step in the right direction for those with accessibility challenges related to hearing.

It’s also worth noting that if you find that the captions appear overwhelmingly quickly on the screen, you can pause them at any time and refocus on the audio until you’re ready to resume once again.

An image showing the front and back side of the an Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max in Space Black color.
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