Ouch! Text to speech is also AWOL from this year's Amazon Paperwhite

Amazon PaperwhiteDrat! The newest Kindle Paperwhite E Ink reader from Amazon is still missing text to speech—among the features Jeff Bezos touted when he unveiled the second Kindle in 2009. Doubt me? Just look at the Paperwhite users guide and see what’s AWOL.

Click here for a better view, with a list of not-overlooked improvements in the newer Paperwhite model. It’s to start shipping Sept. 30. Like the first Paperwhite, the basic version will sell for $119 and up, and supposedly the newer PWs will offer “higher contrast” between text and background.

I found last year’s Paperwhites to be still somewhat lacking in contrast despite a noticeable improvement over earlier models. On the positive, the just-added page flip feature looks intriguing, the touchscreen is supposedly more responsive, and page turning is said to go much faster.

I myself still miss the old mechanical page-turners (maybe the new Paperwhite will change my mind in that respect). But it’s the lack of TTS that most peeves me even though, yes, I’ve ordered one to keep up with Amazon’s E Ink technology, despite my general preference for tablets.

Why didn’t Bezos and friends listen when more than a few TTS stalwarts spoke up against the lack of a read-to-me feature in last year’s Paperwhite? What about people with reading disabilities? Or joggers, treadmill regulars and other exercisers for whom TTS is a safer way to go? (I myself am into treading big time.)

Also, what about commuters who’d like to hear a good book on the way home from work? I realize that most customers aren’t as disappointed as I am. But maybe they’d change their minds if they actually tried TTS technology; the voices are far more humanlike than before—one more reason for Bezos not to mute the Paperwhite.

The supposed solution for neglected TTS fans last year was the Kindle Keyboard, but then Bezos has dropped that model; at least I don’t see Amazon selling new ones. I suspect that the wishes of his marketers prevailed over those of his customers, regardless of all the publicity we’ve read about his customer-centric ways.

Very possibly he and his crew are keen on sending people in the direction of the more expensive Kindle Fires and also encouraging them to buy audio books from Amazon’s Audible division, as well as purchase “enhanced” versions of Fire e-books with add-on audio from human narrators. TTS chips would have cost maybe two dollars. Even just a headphone jack, without a speaker, would have been better than nothing—if need be, even an extra-slim one that required an adapter to use with a regular headphone.

If nothing else, Amazon could boost its revenue by offering a TTS-capable Paperwhite at a higher price, with optional voices available, such as the British-accented “Amy,” one of the glories of the Ivona TTS company, which Amazon now owns. Is that idea so difficult to grasp, Bezos? I’d be willing to pay as much as $30 or $35 more, so you wouldn’t weep quite so loudly over my failure to buy audiobooks, and I’m guessing that many TTS stalwarts would feel the same way. Simply put, not just in human terms but also in business terms, it’s illogical to diss loyal customers who can’t imagine life without TTS.

Given the heavy use of Kindles by public library users, I hope librarians will speak up. Needless to say, the muting of the Paperwhite is one of many reasons librarians should work toward their own ecosystem rather than trusting vendors like Amazon. I love Amazon’s better side and I’m a huge fan of the company in general, despite my concerns in the TTS area and some others such as treatment of workers.

Ideally Bezos and his people will see the disconnect between his famous customer-centricism and the muting of the Paperwhite and wise up in 2014 when it’s Paperwhite time again.

This post originally appeared on LibraryCity.org, the Creative Commons-licensed blog of TeleRead founder David Rothman.

15 Comments on Ouch! Text to speech is also AWOL from this year's Amazon Paperwhite

  1. By far, the best thing an avid reader can do is to purchase an iPad. With that, there’s far fewer compromises to struggle with. There’s an app for every eBook vendor so one need not get locked-in to one or he other.

  2. You’re right. TTS on my Kindle 3 (aka Keyboard) can be very handy. Last year, I was so sick that for a few days, I could only lie in bed and feel miserable. One of those days I spent lying in the dark, listening to my trusty Kindle read me a book. It beat back the boredom quite well.

    That’s why they’re a great present for someone facing extensive hospitalization. If Amazon wasn’t run by such unrepentant Scrooges, they’d donate hundreds of refurbished Kindles to children’s hospitals. Even kids too young to read could listen. I know. I used to care such kids.

    Alas, if the company had a motto, it’d be “Bah, Humbug.” I think it was last year that the Seattle Times did a comparison of corporate giving at Amazon versus the city’s other heavyweights, including Boeing and Microsoft. Amazon came out rather poorly.

    Kindles, when they do TTS, are particularly handy, since users can slip easily between listening and reading, never losing their place. Amazon is making a mistake when they leave it out of new models, since they’re only giving potential customers another reason to pay a bit more and buy an iPad mini. I know that’s why I don’t find the Paperwhite appealing. I can always find a way to light up that screen. I can’t make a TTS-less device talk to me.

    And the fact that I like TTS myself is why I always enable it for my Kindle titles, including the latest, just out last week. Doing that also pushes Amazon toward restoring TTS. Without it, that “Text-to-speech: Enabled” spec doesn’t sell books.

    –Michael W. Perry, My Nights with Leukema: Caring for Children with Cancer

  3. @Frank and @Michael…

    F: I myself generally use an iPad 3 or Nexus 10 for e-reading. Alas, the Amazon apps for them don’t offer TTS. I buy at Amazon because of price and selection.

    M: As both an author and a reader, I agree with every syllable you wrote. Let’s hope Amazon listens! While TTS is still available on some Amazon readers, the Paperwhite apparently will be the main show.

    David

  4. I have a theory that Amazon is throwing all of its e-reader development eggs into the Liquivista technology that is rumored to be coming out in 2014. This PaperWhite update is nothing special – the device still fits the same form-fitting cover as the previous device. The screen has the same resolution. All the hardware improvements are described in subjective terms rather than in hardware specs and seem more like minor tweaks to existing hardware elements. The best additions are all software-based – and it is possible those improvements may show up on the original PaperWhite via a firmware update. I think this upgrade is just an effort to continue to compete until the new technology is ready.

    Thus, I wouldn’t be disappointed by the lack of any new/returning features here. Likely, Amazon didn’t want to put any more effort or money into this device than they need to, putting most of their resources into something more impressive that is rumored to be around the corner. I think they left as much of the design the same as possible, just improving the speed, display, and lighting marginally.

    I will be more disappointed if they don’t bring audio back in this potential color model next year. That is where I expect to see major changes and hopefully some “wow” factor. That is a device that may benefit more from sound capabilities (if not with the first iteration, then with future ones) as the inclusion of color opens up more multimedia possibilities for the device – closing some of the gap between dedicated e-readers and tablets.

    And I don’t even care about Text to Speech – I could never listen to it – at least not with fiction. But it seems kind of silly now that Amazon owns Audible not to at least have some compatibility with audiobooks at the very least.

  5. I’m also sad at no TTS. I teach University students and (for whatever reason) we seem to get increasing numbers of students who are visually handicapped in one way or another. And we have many students with varying degrees of dyslexia. Preparing course materials, handouts, workbooks etc and exporting them in a Kindle format was a great help for many of these students. IPads and touch screen technology, virtual keyboards etc just don’t work very well if you can’t see. In my opinion Kindle’s decision about this is short sighted (sorry!) and actually a missed business opportunity. There’s a big market out there for people who don’t read well who’d like to enjoy the written word.

  6. Margaret Adams // September 4, 2013 at 4:29 pm //

    My 8th grade son is dyslexic. He is a slow reader without TTS. He has taken a Kindle keyboard to school since 5th grade. Before the Kindle he read 1-2 books a year. With the Kindle TTS, he read 30 books in 6th grade!!! He no longer says books are boring! He now has a Kindle Fire HD which is way too expensive for him to take to school, and my not be allowed because it does more than read. Amazon is indeed forgetting, or not caring, about the disabled population.

  7. The only reason I bought my Kindle is for the TTS. I have a 2 1/2 hour (round trip) commute to work that I credit TTS solely for still having my sanity. If the day ever comes when Kindle doesn’t have an e-reader with TTS, that is when I will go to some other devise by a competitor…

  8. I am very disappointed. I will not buy any Kindle Paperwhite until there is TTS.
    BRING IT BACK

  9. I won’t buy a kindle without TTS either. I have eye issues where there are times I have to be in a dark room, sometimes for weeks at a time, doctors orders, and am so grateful that I have my kindle to read books to me. Also, I have to take long trips in the car often, and my TTS kindle has saved my sanity by reading to me for hundreds of miles. I’m so sad they dropped this feature from the new ones. Those of you who like TTS and have mentioned the ipad mini, does it have a TTS capability? or even the ipad? I love my kindle, I’d love to upgrade but not without TTS. PLEASE bring it back.

  10. Juli Monroe // March 3, 2014 at 8:05 am //

    @Cindy, yes, the iPad does support TTS, including in the Kindle app. You have to fiddle around in the general iPad settings to make it work, but it’s not too bad. I wrote about it last year. http://newteleread.com/wordpress/kindle/kindle-for-ios-updated-with-more-accessibility-features/

  11. Please offer TTS in all Kindles! I simply cannot imagine what practical purpose is served without it available. I DO love an audiobook as best as the next person, but I am certain NOT every book ever written will be made into one. Sadly.
    I have been wishing to update my Kindle and Paperwhite would have been my choice even at a higher price, but without TTS, what would be the use of the expense? I’m keeping my Kindle Keyboard until it dies on me. Then, I’ll acquire whatever is available in the market that offers mate screen and TTS. Hopefully there will be something…

  12. I’m SOOO-OhOhOhOhOh happy I found this site! I bought my Kindle Keyboard 4 yrs ago and was about to buy the Paperwhite until I read the posts about the PW not having TTS. I can’t imagine not having it. TTS came in handy big time last week, when I was on a plane with a screaming infant and the passenger across the aisle who, unlike the newer Kindles, would not stop talking! Grrrrrr!! I love my kindle keyboard <3

  13. Juli Monroe // August 1, 2014 at 3:48 pm //

    @Linda, with Kindle Unlimited including audiobooks, I’m suspecting the new Kindle Paperwhite will have a speaker and will support TTS. You may be able to upgrade later this year.

  14. Thank you so much for speaking up on our behalf. The day Bezos discovers that with TTS in every Kindle app (mainly iOS and android) or their paper white readers will make people go through books faster, he will rethink Amazon’s strategy. Also, customer satisfaction should count. Making money should be a consequence of customer satisfaction.

  15. Leslie Parker // January 4, 2015 at 10:36 am //

    As a daily user of TTS for commuting and exercise I am sad to see that no devices currently listed on Amazon feature TTS. I am VERY disappointed to lose this feature that I have used for years. It is 2015 and I am afraid TTS is gone, folks.

    Secondly, as an author, I listen to my word docs while editing. It really helps! If nothing else, add the feature to audible for documents!!!!!!!!

    Second, an audible account in an iphone with a kindle reader app should not be counted as 2 kindle devices.

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