Follow That Story: Paperwhite's suspiciously absent TTS

Last Friday, we brought you a wonderfully seditious opinion piece written by TeleRead founder David Rothman about the fact that Amazon’s brand-new Kindle Paperwhite models were produced without text to speech (TTS) functionality. It’s an important essay, so click here to give it a read if you haven’t already.

David tells us he’s been in touch with the public relations department of the National Federation for the Blind, who are apparently attempting to get a conversation started with Amazon about this very contentious issue. The NFB’s PR director, Chris Danielsen, published a release last Thursday that has since been nationally distributed. We’ve reproduced that release for you, here:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date:
Thursday, September 6, 2012

Category:
Chris Danielsen
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)

National Federation of the Blind Comments on New Kindles

Baltimore, Maryland (September 6, 2012): The National Federation of the Blind, the nation’s leading advocate for accessible technology and content, commented today on Amazon’s press conference announcing new Kindle e-readers and tablets.

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The U.S. Department of State has just withdrawn a single-source contract proposal involving the Kindle family of devices, possibly due to our concerns about the lack of accessibility in virtually all iterations of the Kindle. Despite the State Department action, our repeated encouragement of Amazon to incorporate accessibility, and the fact that companies like Apple and Google are actively engaged in the incorporation of accessibility features into their devices, there is no evidence that these new Kindles are accessible. It seems abundantly clear where Amazon stands. The National Federation of the Blind will continue to fight for access to all manner of devices and content and to oppose the deployment of inaccessible devices and content by entities that are covered by our nation’s disability laws.”

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12 Comments on Follow That Story: Paperwhite's suspiciously absent TTS

  1. The only reason to get an e-ink reader in the age of cheap and more powerful tablets is to be able to read from an e-ink screen. It make sense to me, to cut out audio / multimedia function from them to reduce price (in favor of screen upgrade tech, such as lighting and higher dpi.). After all, th same books you would load on the Kindle will work just as well on a device better suited to someone who doesn’t really want the Kindle for the e-ink screen.

  2. The new Fires have TTS so it’s not like Amazon dumped it entirely. I don’t think it’s realistic to think every device in every line should have every accessibility option available. Would it be nice? In a perfect world sure it would and it’s important for places like public libraries to buy devices that have options like TTS. At the same time these manufacturers are under pressure to meet certain price points by the larger public in order to make their lines a success overall.

  3. While I personally wish they would continue to support TTS in their devices (even though I do not use it, but for the sake of those who do), Amazon continues to make available the Kindle Keyboard which does offer TTS. With a physical keyboard and physical buttons, the KK seems to be a device better suited to the vision-impaired than a touch screen e-ink device would be.

    The main advances in the new Paperwhite Kindle are simply a higher resolution screen and a built-in light – features that the blind would have little use for. It seems to me that as long as they continue to produce and support the KK, they are doing more than other companies manufacturing e-readers.

    The companies listed as working toward accessibility features are companies that sell tablets. Amazon is saying that their new tablets will include text to speech. So they are in line with their competitors here.

    Still, I think it would be nice if Amazon offered a Premium e-ink Kindle – one that has most of the features that die-hard Kindlers have been asking for (TTS and page turn buttons in addition to the newer features of the Paperwhite) – even if the price tag has to be a little high. Those who really want those features can get them, but those who don’t want to pay so much will go with the cheaper mainstream device.

  4. Hi, Vonda. Below is a feature that many blind people would probably find highly useful. I see it mentioned in ad copy for the Paperwhite Kindles, but not for the Kindle Keyboard models (am I missing something?). David

    X-Ray
    Exclusive on Kindle, explore the “Bones of the Book”. With a single tap, see all the passages across a book that mention ideas, fictional characters, historical figures, places or topics of interest.

  5. @Brian: Alas, Audible is not the same as TTS. So, no, the new Fires don’t have TTS.

    Audible involves a more expensive human narrator. TTS involves the machine-performed conversion of text to speech

    David

  6. David, the new Fire’s are getting X-Ray as well as TTS. One would hope, although it’s of course not certain, that these features will eventually be extended to the Android and iOS Kindle apps (TTS at least).

    @Vonda, it would be nice for some if there was a ‘Deluxe’ eInk Kindle, but the question Amazon has to ask is would there be enough demand for an eInk device with extra features even if it put the device into the pricing range of a high end 7″ tablet.

  7. David, Amazon has said the Fire’s will have TTS. I’m quite well aware of the difference between TTS and audiobooks.

  8. I agree with Brian, though according to Mr. Rothman he is wrong about the new KFire. But…Amazon is still selling the KK, which does have TTS and physical buttons, so Amazon has devices available for those who want TTS. (Though the number of books on which publishers allow TTS is so limited, I don’t see the point.)

    Not every manufacturer should be required to make every device usable by every disabled person. That is just unrealistic. Should e-readers be required to respond to speech commands so that a paraplegic can use them?

    If a person truly needs to “hear” a book rather than “see” a book, a device compatible with Audible would be a much better choice. More books…professional narration…multiple devices from which to choose.

    BTW…my sister is legally blind and she can read some on the KK when it is set to the largest font setting, but she declined an offer of a KFire and a KTouch when they first came out because she finds any touch device very difficult to use. She listens to most books on her laptop which is equipped with an extra large print keyboard.

    I asked her about this latest Society for the Blind – Amazon argument and she said it is a case of over-reaching on the Soc. for the Blind’s part. “If one reader doesn’t work but there is another one for sale that does, I don’t see the problem.”

  9. From the Kindle help forum FAQ…

    “Q: Does the Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD support TTS (Text-to-Speech)?

    A: The new Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ support TTS in books where this feature is enabled. They also support Audible books for a rich narrated version of the book, and Immersion Reading which is like Text to Speech but with the rich narration of an Audible book.”

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/forums/kindleqna/ref=cm_cd_tft_tp?ie=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1GLDPZMNR1X53&cdThread=Tx1WEM06OFQ59MC

  10. Quote: “The only reason to get an e-ink reader in the age of cheap and more powerful tablets is to be able to read from an e-ink screen.”

    I’d suggest that people get readers of all sorts to be able to read digital books and the least expensive option are the e-ink readers. The more features, within reason, they offer, the better. TTS can’t cost that much to include. It came with my Kindle 3 and it was cheap enough.

    There are situations where that screen doesn’t make sense. Riding mass transit, bouncing around with light levels constantly changing is one. And it’s nice, despite Whispersync, to be able to shift between reading on screen and listening on the same device.

    Another use for TTS is when walking or jogging. For a brief time I read books (the paper kind) while walking around a lake near my apartment. There was no safety issue, I told myself, because the walking path crossed no roads. Still, I did look a bit odd and, more important to me, I couldn’t read very fast while walking.

    That’s when I decided to shift to books on tape from my local library. That worked fine for about a year until I got an iPod mini and software to transfer books on CDs to it. A few years later I got an iPhone and began to listen to podcasts rather than books. My old Mac mini was relegated to reading me books while I shower. I’ve got a lot of use out of that Mac mini and it is still going strong and still supported by iTunes.

    The result of that excess of gadgets is that my Kindle 3 is primarily for reading ebooks in the near-dark before I go to sleep. But the fact that I don’t need TTS doesn’t mean everyone doesn’t. Every month or so, I see someone walking around that lake path reading from a Kindle. I’m always tempted to suggest they use TTS and earphones. Most people can read faster than they can listen to books read. But almost no one can walk and read as fast at TTS. And there are far more books that TTS can read than that have audio versions.

    In the end, I suspect what Amazon is doing reflects their different marketing attitude. Amazon goes for a lower price, even if that means giving up features. Apple goes for the top end of the market by adding features that not everyone wants or needs. I doubt we can change either, but we can certainly do what we can to make sure that Amazon keeps at least one TTS-capable epaper reader on the market for those who must have ebooks read to them.

  11. David Rothman will never let facts get in the way of a cheap hit against Amazon. It’s not that every company doesn’t have to accommodate the disabled, it’s that the only company trying to do so isn’t doing it well enough to suit the politics of the critic. Fine.
    I’m waiting for Rothman’s criticism of paper book publishers for their lack of sensitivity to the needs of the the blind.

  12. @Brian: The information in my comment on the Fire and TTS came from an Amazon employee, obviously wrong, based on the link you thoughtfully provided. I’m pleased that in this case Amazon is doing something right, just so the voiceover is good. Now, if Amazon will fix the mistake in the case of the Paperwhites!

    @Doug: I call ’em as I see ’em. I very much side with Amazon in the case of the DOJ action, and I’m looking forward to my new Paperwhite 3. But it’s endlessly annoying that Amazon is giving the blind and other consumers LESS choice these days and in some ways is even dumbing down its new E Ink devices. See Switch11’s excellent commentary in the iReader Review, “Is Amazon neglecting eink Kindles?”: http://ireaderreview.com/2012/09/11/is-amazon-neglecting-eink-kindles/

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