When the Kindle Oasis went through the FCC last month, one of the test reports inexplicably mentioned an "iPod Earphone". This made no sense at the time (the Oasis doesn't have a headphone jack) but with today's launch of the Kindle Audio Adapter accessory that detail suddenly makes a lot more sense.
Len Edgerly has the scoop on Amazon's latest Kindle accessory, a USB dongle which you can plug into the Kindle Paperwhite's USB port and connect to a pair of headphones. Once plugged in, Kindle owners can use the new Voiceview for Kindle feature to browse the menus on their Kindle and listen to ebooks.
You can buy the new audio adapter as part of a bundle. It costs $140, comes with a Kindle Paperwhite, and includes a $20 credit.
Yes, it's coming first to the Paperwhite, but Amazon also plans to bring the feature to other Kindle models. There are no plans, however, to offer just TTS without the accessibility features.
In other words, you can't plug in the audio adapter just to listen to your ebooks.
Amazon announced the new accessory and feature in a blog post today:
We are excited to say that, today, we have brought VoiceView to our Kindle e-readers, starting with the Kindle Paperwhite, so that visually impaired customers can enjoy reading on our Kindle e-readers, too.
VoiceView for Kindle, which uses Amazon’s natural language text-to-speech voices (formerly known as IVONA) lets visually impaired customers read millions of Kindle books and navigate the Kindle Paperwhite via speech feedback. Like VoiceView on our Fire tablets, VoiceView for Kindle supports linear and touch navigation, and the same broad range of speech feedback rates and earcons. Likewise, we developed a tutorial with multiple lessons that users can return to at any time.
Visually impaired customers will be able to use VoiceView for Kindle with the new Kindle Audio Adapter—an Amazon-designed USB audio dongle—to connect headphones or speakers, which then allows the ability to listen to and navigate the user interface, in addition to listening to books.
Did you catch that last bit about navigation? When it comes to legally-defined requirements for accessibility, that is the ballgame.
Yes, listening to ebooks being read to you is nice, but the visually impaired also need audio cues for navigating menus and opening ebooks. This is where the iPad excels, and where tablets and smartphones generally beat ereaders like the Kindle.
But not any more. If Amazon can live up to the promise of real accessibility then they will be able to tap into the library and institutional market that other ereaders can't touch. Remember, public libraries have been sued over inaccessible Nook ereaders, and now Amazon has an accessory which could meet the minimum requirements.
But there are no first-hand reports yet, so we'll have to reserve judgement for the time being.