There are a few really handy features in OS X that get very little attention — perhaps because they don’t have a snazzy GUI, or maybe it’s because they only appeal to certain users. Whatever the case, Summarize (found in the menubar under the Application menu) is one of those handy features that gets little attention, but delivers big by helping you get to the point.
Think of Summarize as OS X’s way of creating a CliffsNotes version of whatever text you want to read, but don’t have the time to do so. It simply shortens your text into smaller, more readable chunks.
For example, let’s say you really wanted to read Charles’ Mystery of the White MacBook Upgrade Unravelled article here on TheAppleBlog, but just don’t have the time to spare. The article, as it appears on TheAppleBlog, is approximately 565 words. I realize that’s not too terribly long, but hang with me here.
In a Services-aware application such as Safari, Pages, TextEdit, Mail, etc., select the text you want to shorten. Next, visit the Application menu, in this case Safari, in the menubar. Scroll down to Services, and select Summarize. A resizable window will pop up with the summarized text in it.
The Summarize service offers a slider which allows you to customize how much of the original text OS X tosses out. I’ve found that the 30-50 percent range is a good amount to use. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell exactly what percentage the slider is set at. In my test, the original 565-word article was summarized down to about 350 words. Even when lowering the percentage down into the 25-30 percent range, the gist of the article was still relatively clear — even though most of the details were tossed out.
The two radio buttons in the Summarize window determine how OS X summarizes the text. From what I can tell, using Sentences is the way to go. The Paragraph method appears to simply toss out entire paragraphs in random order.
Now if you don’t feel like using Summarize saves you enough time by itself, you can further your efforts by selecting the text in the Summarize window and go back up to the Application menu and choose Services → Speech → Start Speaking Text. OS X will read the summarized text to you in the default voice set in your System preferences.
Summarize is just one of the many Services Apple built into OS X. If you take a look, you may even notice some of your favorite applications add their own Services as well. And if you happen to be using an application that can’t take advantage of Services, such as Firefox, you can always copy and paste the text into TextEdit and go from there.