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The Kindle’s New Typography is Turning Out to Be So Much Vaporware

If you’ve been looking forward to the possibility of fancier layouts in the Kindle app for the iPad then I have some bad news for you. Numerous ebook developers have been telling me, both by email and on Twitter, that the promised new features are almost impossible to find.

Last Wednesday Amazon made bold promises when they announced an update to the Kindle app for iOS. They said that the app had a new way of displaying text which would automatically add dropcaps, fix the spacing between words, and add hyphenation.

All that sounds great, but now that a week has passed the general consensus among ebook developers is that the announcement is little more than vaporware. While the feature list sounds great and the new formatting looks very pretty in the handful of ebooks which support it, few developers have been able to produce an ebook which had the new features.

kindle typography failAmazon said that the new typography would be added automatically,  but over the past week several developers have sent me screen shots like the one at right. (Thanks, Derrick!)

Do you see the giant spaces  called out by the ovals?  They’re not supposed to be there. Amazon was supposed to have fixed the way this ebook was displayed before it ever showed up on screen, but they did not. Instead, the ebooks look just as bad as they did last month or last year.

As someone who likes pretty ebooks, and knows people who want to create pretty ebooks, this is very frustrating.

And to make matters worse, Amazon also promised that certain ebooks already had the feature on the day it was announced last week. They posted a list of 58 titles which were supposed to have the new hyphenation and the new word spacing, but unfortunately testing has shown that not to be the case.

I’ve found at least two titles (one, two) on that list which lack the promised new word spacing, and they lack the new hyphenation.

In short, folks, the new typography is little more than vaporware at the moment. While an Amazon rep did tell me today that they were "working hard to make sure all Kindle books benefit from these features soon", the rep was unable to give me a specific timetable.

I’m sure all the ebooks in the Kindle Store will get the new typography, but whether that will be accomplished by next month or next year, Amazon will not say.

Stay tuned.

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random_actor June 4, 2015 um 2:59 pm

How are Amazon this bad at this? It’s sad that the king of ereaders is so bloody incompetent with regards to typography and has been for so long.

William Ockham June 4, 2015 um 9:12 pm

Are you sure? I downloaded the first book of those two (Revolution) to my iPad and it has an excellent dropcap and the new hyphenation.

Nate Hoffelder June 4, 2015 um 9:15 pm

Juli over at Teleread said that it lacked hyphenation on the iPhone; she posted screenshots.

Maybe they fixed it? Or perhaps it was broken on the iPhone but not iPad?

Rob Siders June 4, 2015 um 11:53 pm

I don’t think Amazon said drop caps would automatically be added. That’s a design choice that not every book uses. Plus, a drop cap requires code. I’m pretty sure that the change is how books already coded for them will display on Kindle for iOS, which has had wildly inconsistent results since that platform began supporting KF8.

Rob Siders June 5, 2015 um 12:04 am

My KDP contact assured me there was nothing I needed to do from a development standpoint because the hyphenation is handled device-side. Sure. That’s reasonable and makes sense. So why, then, does it apply only to some books? Why would there need to be some kind of processing at Amazon? If the rendering is device-side, why wouldn’t all books use the feature?

Nate Hoffelder June 5, 2015 um 6:23 am

I was told the same by Amazon, but ebook developers disagree. One said that the new features require a few extra flags in the ebook.

The problem is that Amazon is still catching up. Most ebooks, including newly made ones, don’t have that flag.

Rob Siders June 5, 2015 um 8:51 am

And that’s the thing… a flag or whatever shouldn’t even be necessary if the feature is handled client-side. KF8 already supports features in WebKit and the default hyphenation state in WebKit is "on." If it’s really client-side then a developer can do nothing and have hyphenation work (assuming the device has the right software updates). My tests say this is false. Makes no sense.

Tom Semple June 5, 2015 um 5:03 pm

The iOS app demonstrates some immediate improvements for all books in the form of normalized margins and line spacing. On other Kindle reading apps, line spacing is irregular wherever there is a footnote hyperlink (as one example) and some books display larger margins than others. Every book now looks better on my iPad than on my Fire, even without any hyphenation or the improved letter spacing. That is progress, not vaporware.

Anybody who needs to use large fonts on small screens (as in the example above) is going to experience compromised typography. There’s just no way to make it look good. Hyphens aren’t going to help, and might even make it less readable. On iPad, for example, the Kindle app will not let you use 2 column mode at larger font sizes. So that’s an example where they are applying heuristics designed to make things look better. It does switch to left-justified text at large sizes as well (at least with some books), which helps a little.

Ebook designers are frustrated because Amazon isn’t sharing any technical details, and maybe they are worried that their expertise is not going to be required as much. If Amazon is taking on the task of turning bad looking books into good looking books (there’s a lot you can do with html-clean scripts) then I would argue that is a good thing, because I would guess 95% of the ebooks getting published now are not professionally formatted, and that’s not ever going to change.

As a reader, I’m happy with the improvements thus far and look forward to more.

It would be nice if Amazon would take the opportunity to convert Topaz format books to something more modern. There must be at least 30 or 40 thousand of them dating back to the earliest days of the Kindle platform, and needing to maintain support for the format in all of the reading apps must come at some expense.

DavidW June 6, 2015 um 1:26 am

I tried it with American Sniper which is 1 of the 58. No hyphenation, rivers still exist. Can’t see any improvement whatsoever. I do like the new font.

Rockdaman June 6, 2015 um 8:56 am

Patience grasshopper.

They said that they would need time to move it completely into production. This posts reeks of "I need to say *something* about this."

Nate Hoffelder June 6, 2015 um 9:13 am

No, this post reeks of "the developers who are stumped by this issue would probably appreciate a status update".

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