Amazon adding audible menus, bigger font to Kindle

Amazon have announced an incoming update for their Kindle ebook reader, which will add an audible menu system so that blind users will better be able to navigate the device and play back audio books.  The update will also add a seventh font size, which will be double the scale of the current largest font on the Kindle.  The changes come in response to positive feedback from blind and partially-sighted users.

Given the features aren't expected until Summer 2010, however, we do wonder whether this announcement was pushed out to coincide with reviews of the Barnes & Noble nook, perhaps the first significant wireless ebook reader competitor to the Kindle's crown.  You can find our nook review here.

Press Release:

Blind and Vision-Impaired Readers to Benefit from New Kindle Features in 2010

SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Kindle, the #1 bestselling product across all of Amazon, has enabled many vision-impaired readers to enjoy books more easily than before, and has also helped dyslexic readers and those with learning disabilities improve their reading skills. Vision impaired customers benefit from Kindle's ability to change the font size – easily making any book a large print edition. Dyslexic readers benefit from being able to listen with Kindle's text-to-speech technology while simultaneously reading along with the synchronized text. Today, Amazon announced that it is working on a new set of features that will make Kindle even better for these readers as well as a meaningful breakthrough device for the blind.

"Kindle is for anyone who loves to read—in fact, we've heard from thousands of vision-impaired customers and customers with learning disabilities over the past two years who have been helped tremendously by Kindle," said Ian Freed, Vice President, Amazon Kindle. "With some key modifications, we believe Kindle can be a breakthrough device for the blind, and the team is excited about making these enhancements."

Below are examples of emails sent to the Kindle team over the past two years about the significance of these features:

"The other day I took my visually impaired friend to the eye doctor. I just happened to take my Kindle out of my purse to show her the birthday gift I had received. Amazingly, she was able to read on it. How exciting; she had not been able to read books for many years."

"I've always loved to read, but the last year or so vision problems have hampered my reading. Reading small print was extremely difficult and caused eye strain. Fortunately, a dear friend gifted me with my Kindle 2 on my birthday in September. Since that time, my Kindle has not left my side."

"I have an 11 year old daughter with cerebral palsy. She has very poor vision and cannot turn pages in a book, so the kindle text to speech is a blessing for her. She loves books and will listen for hours!"

"I am an ophthalmologist specializing in rehabilitation of the visually impaired. I have found the Kindle DX to be of tremendous value to my patients. A few modifications could increase its effectiveness."

[From teacher of students with learning disabilities] "One of my students brought his mom's Kindle to class this week and gave a little show and tell for two different classes. He is certainly a hard worker, but reading is not an easy skill for him. He reports that the lack of back-lighting, the ability to change font size and the 'read-to' features have been very helpful – already he feels he has made great progress! The Kindle has really grabbed the attention of many of my students who have typically been turned off by reading assignments."

To make Kindle more useful for the blind, the Kindle team is currently working on an audible menuing system so blind and vision-impaired readers can easily navigate to books unassisted, in addition to listening to books as they can already do today with Read To Me. In addition, a new super size font will be added to Kindle, increasing the number of font sizes from six to seven. This seventh font size will be twice the height and width of the current largest font. These new features are scheduled for release by the summer of 2010.

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