Amazon has just purchased text to speech company Ivona, which should bolster the company’s ability to appeal to visually impaired users. Amazon has already been using this software in the Kindle Fire 8.9 e-reader with its Voice Guide and Explore by Touch. Today’s acquisition will save Amazon licensing fees in adopting the technology in the Kindle Fire 2012 model and the Kindle Fire HD 7. Future tablets and their line of apps will also be updated with this new technology.
So what are the major elements of Ivona and how does Amazon employ the technology? IVONA delivers world-class pronunciations in 44 voices and in 17 languages. It is currently employed as “Voice Guide” in the Kindle Fire 8.9 to read aloud menus and books with text-to-speech. Voice Guide Navigation is one of the most exciting features that should make a huge difference in the lives of people with vision problems. Basically, any action you employ from navigating menus to opening books will be read aloud. Let’s say you tap on an ebook from the library, the system will then announce the book title and the fact that it has been opened, saying “The Hunger Games. Book opened.” You can then use traditional Amazon Text to Speech functionality to have the book read aloud to you.
This was a savvy move by Amazon to lock up a company it has been dealing with for some time. You can expect their iOS and Android apps to gain the functionality of Ivona in the near future. It would be very interesting to have different TTS options in different voices and accents. I bet Amazon could make some extra income by bundling the entire library of different voice assets for those who belong to Amazon Prime.
I think the number one reason this move was completed was to appease the National Federation of the Blind. This organization has been the one large barrier preventing Amazon from the educational market. Whenever Amazon runs pilot projects with e-readers the NFB raises a large commotion on how the e-readers alienate people with vision or disabilities. A few months ago they staged a massive protest outside Amazon’s headquarters and gained media attention.
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.