We live in a world where each major operating system has a digital assistant. Apple is the most well known with Siri, followed by Google Now and the recently announced Microsoft Cortana. The priority seems to be on mobile phones and to a lesser degree tablets. e-Readers have never had this sort of software, but maybe its high-time they start to incorporate it.
During the last few years most e-readers have ditched onboard audio of any kind. A few years ago Amazon, B&N and Kobo all had speakers and a 3.5 mm headphone jack to allow readers to listen to music or audiobooks. When they all decided to offer the most cost effective devices possible and compete heavily against each other, audio had to go. This prompted a massive backlash from the National Federation of the Blind which had numerous protests outside Amazon headquarters. The lack of audio has also been a major factor on why schools never embraced them.
e-Readers overall are fairly refined and affordable. I think its time that they start to incorporate audio functionality once more, or at least have a higher priced option for consumers. One of the direct benefits would be for a digital assistant that would be able to aid visually impaired people by being able to launch tasks by voice. You could say “Michael, open the Hunger Games – Catching Fire” and it would open the book for you. Alternatively, after reading the book you could prompt the reader to buy the next one in the series. In addition you could do common tasks like access your Dropbox account or open an audiobook.
If a digital assistant were to be done right, it would suddenly make e-readers more accessible for the elderly and disabled. It would make purchasing and opening content much easier and give a reason for companies like Kobo to develop an audiobook catalog.
The idea for this news item came to me after reading about Microsoft Cortana. This is a new beta feature that will come out with the release of Microsoft Mobile 8.1. It has integration with Skype that will allow you to call people by merely using your voice. It has compatibility with Bing to search the web and is voiced by the same voice actor that did Cortana in the Halo Series.
Do you think this idea makes sense? Programming one on Linux would be the most viable solution, as most companies use it for their OS. Sony and Nook buckle the trend with Android, but are minor players in the arena.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.