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On this blog we will track down the latest Amazon Kindle news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great Kindle3 tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest KindleDX accessories.

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December 2014
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Amazon Acquires Ivona Software

Amazon announced today that they will acquire Ivona Software.  Ivona is the company that currently supplies the Kindle Fire line of tablets with its speech recognition capabilities.  Although there is little in the way of details regarding the terms of purchase, we can be certain that this signals an increased emphasis on audio input in the future for these products.

The immediate assumption that has to be made after this acquisition is that Amazon has its eye on a Siri imitation or something with similar capabilities.  Now naturally there has been some disappointment over how poorly Siri has lived up to the hype for iPhone users, but that doesn’t change anything about the appeal of the concept or the possibility that this could be a big thing for the future.

That’s especially true if Amazon ever comes through with their frequently-rumored Kindle Phone.  While we haven’t exactly seen any details emerging so far, indicating that this is a long way off yet even if it will probably be a future focus for the company, building this sort of capability to establish feature parity with Apple and Google products only makes sense.  There wouldn’t be much room to undercut prices the way the Kindle Fire made its big first impression on the tablet scene, so being able to line up with other popular smartphones feature for feature could be particularly important.

On the tablet side of things, there are other ways that Ivona could help things improve. Since the Kindle Fire HD is a consumption-based media tablet, it’s only natural to assume that something along the line of the Microsoft Kinect’s voice controls could be in the works as well.  Hooking up a tablet to stream Amazon Instant Video to your HDTV and being able to control it with a word from across the room would be quite nice if they can pull it off properly.

The potential for improving accessibility is also worth noting.  Ivona already works in various ways to improve support for the blind and visually impaired.  That would probably be more useful on the eReader side of things.  Amazon’s initial attempts to get their eReading line made into a standard educational tool were hindered by its inability to accommodate the visually impaired.  They have come a long way since then in various products, but this could offer new directions for them to approach the problem from.

Perhaps most important, though less impressive in terms of new feature selections, is the possibility that this will lead to more expansive localization options.  The press release makes a point of noting that Ivona offers voice and language products in 44 voices across 17 languages with a number more still in development.  Given the international growth of the Kindle line as a whole, that’s not a bad resource to be able to draw on.

2011 Book Expo America Free Kindle Samples and more

The 2011 Book Expo America brought all kinds of exciting events and upcoming projects for the Amazon Kindle and others.  Amazon Publishing offered author signing and interviews, Kindle excerpts and more.

Amazon Publishing has a collection of free Kindle downloads that provide excerpts and teasers for upcoming releases.  The new releases will be available in the Summer and Fall of 2011.  Some full versions are available for preorder.

This is a great opportunity to test drive some books and authors that you haven’t gotten a chance to try.

We’ve already seen the competition heating up with the latest Nook releases.  I actually got a chance to check ou the NookColor recently, and thought it was pretty decent.  At the expo, Kobo introduced the new Kobo Touch.  It depends mostly on touch screen with the exception of one home button at the bottom, which is similar to the iPad set up.  Based on reviews, the Kobo touch looks pretty clean and can probably hold it’s own in the e-reader market.

The Kobo may sound great in theory, but in order for it to be accessible, it’ll have to have some kind of voice navigation feature.  Currently, the Kindle is way ahead of both the Nook and Kobo readers because of its accessibility features and text to speech option.  The iPad also has a lot of great accessibility features of its own, however, the iPad will be more competitive with the rumored Kindle Tablet than the current Kindle e-reader.

 

Kindle DX accessibility lawsuit settled

Department Of Justice

Kindle DX Lawsuit

When Amazon Kindle DX with 9.7″ eInk screen was announced it was dubbed “academic eReader”. Academic publications and textbooks don’t display well on a smaller 6″ screen. When the device was released, several universities and colleges announced pilot programs aimed at evaluating its effectiveness in replacing classic textbooks. However these programs hit the same roadblock everywhere: despite having Text-to-Speech capability (which not other eBook reader has), Kindle DX wasn’t accessible to vision-impaired students. This mostly had to do with the fact that menus and other controls don’t have audio. After this concern was raised repeatedly, Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) promised to address it in a software update that is expected to be publicly released in Q2 2010.

However several educational institutions decided to go ahead with pilot programs regardless. This caused Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) to file complaints against Princeton University with Department Of Justice. These complaints led to a lawsuit that was recently settled in a peaceful manner. Princeton University was not held accountable for any wrongdoing and in exchange promised to stop pilot program and only resume it after Kindle DX or any other eReader is fully accessible as required by law. Here’s official DOJ letter that settles the case:

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division

Disability Rights Section – NYA
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
March 24,2010

Hannah S. Ross, Esq.
Office of General Counsel
Princeton University
120 Alexander Road, Second Floor
Princeton, NJ 08540
Re: Letter of Resolution, D.J. No. 202-48-213 Princeton University

Dear Ms. Ross:

As you know, this matter began with complaints filed by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) with the Department of Justice, on behalf of the organizations and their members who are current and prospective college students, alleging that Princeton University has violated title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12182, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. 5 947(a), by using the Kindle DX, an innovative, hand-held electronic book reader that is not accessible to students with visual impairments, in a classroom setting. According to the complaints, Princeton University is offering a pilot program that began in the fall 2009 semester. The object of this pilot is to test the utility of the Kindle DX in a classroom setting.

The Department of Justice is responsible for the enforcement and implementation of titles II and III of the ADA. The Department decided to investigate this matter because the Kindle DX is inaccessible to an entire class of individuals with disabilities – individuals with visual impairments. According to its product descriptions, the Kindle DX provides several benefits that make it a potentially superior tool to a standard textbook, including the ability to download all textbooks instantaneously, the ability to carry all textbooks on a hand-held device that weighs just over a pound, the ability to search words and concepts instantly on the device’s web browser, while retaining all the characteristics of a standard text book, such as annotating, highlighting, and taking notes. Under title III, blind students must be provided with “full and equal access” to all of the goods and services of the university, 28 C.F.R. § 36.201(a); must be provided with an equivalent opportunity to participate in and benefit from its goods and services, 28 C.F.R. § 36.202(a), (b); and, must not be provided different or separate accommodations unless doing so is necessary to ensure access to goods and services that is equally as effective as that provided to others, 28 C.F.R. 36.202(c).

The Department acknowledges both that Princeton University denies any violation of the Americans with Disabilities Acts and that it has stated its commitment to ensuring equal access to educational programs, activities and opportunities for students with disabilities.

Both the Department of Justice and Princeton University agree that the emergence of new electronic book reading technologies that benefit the sighted have the potential to benefit blind students and faculty as well. The Department of Justice and Princeton University have decided that it is in their interest to resolve this matter amicably. In consideration of the agreement by Princeton University to undertake the actions set forth below, the United States will close its investigation of this matter.

Princeton University agrees to the following actions:

  1. The University will not require, purchase, or incorporate in its curriculum the Kindle DX or any other dedicated electronic book reader for use by students in its classes or other coursework unless or until such electronic book reader is fully accessible to individuals with visual impairments. Alternatively, Princeton may comply with the terms set forth in paragraph 5.
  2. The phrase “other dedicated electronic book reader” means any wireless, hand-held, electronic book reader that has been or will in the future be produced or offered by Amazon.com or any other corporation, such as but not limited to the Barnes and Noble nook, the Sony PRS-600, PRS-700, PRS 505 or upcoming Sony Daily Edition, and others.
  3. Princeton University will commit a policy reflecting the terms of this agreement to writing within 30 days of the date of the last signature below.
  4. Princeton University agrees that its commitments in paragraphs 1-4, herein, will, take effect on the date following the last day of the pilot project with Amazon.com, Inc., which will terminate no later than the conclusion of the fall 2009 semester,’and will remain in effect through June 30,2012.
  5. As a reasonable modification, the University may provide its students with visual impairments with a dedicated electronic book reader that ensures that individuals who are blind or have low vision are able to access and acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted individuals with substantially equivalent ease of use.

This agreement does not constitute a finding by the United States that Princeton is in full compliance with the ADA, or an admission by Princeton University of fault or noncompliance with the ADA. This letter agreement does not alter nor enlarge the legal obligations of the University, and shall not form the basis for any enforcement action against Princeton University. The decision to close our file in this matter does not affect the rights of private individuals or of the complainants to enforce their rights under the ADA against Princeton University. As indicated in paragraph 4, above, this agreement also has no effect on Princeton University’s current pilot program testing the Kindle DX.

Please countersign and return a copy of this letter to us, indicating your agreement with the representations and terms set forth herein. Once we have received your countersigned copy, we will consider this matter resolved. We will take no further action on this matter unless we become aware of new information suggesting that Princeton is not complying with its obligations under the ADA or this agreement.

We appreciate your cooperation. If you have questions or concerns regarding this agreement, please do not hesitate to contact the Department.

Sincerely,

THOMAS E. PEREZ
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division

SAMUEL R. BAGENSTOS
Deputy Assistant Attorney General

JOHN L. WODATCH
Chief

PHILIP L. BREEN
Special Legal Counsel
Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
Deputy Chief

BY:
ALLISON NICHOL
Deputy Chief
KATE NICHOLSON
Trial Attorney
Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Tel: (202) 5 14-8301
Fax: (202) 305-9775

Countersigned:

BY:
HANNA S. ROSS, ESQ.
Counsel for Princeton University
120 Alexander Road, Second Floor
Princeton, NJ 08540
Tel: 609-258-2525
Fax: 609-258-2502

Personally, I believe that eBooks and eReaders are the future of education and when done properly they can provide levels of accessibility previously unobtainable. Hopefully the software updates will be released soon and XXI century publishing can finally happen for textbooks.

…First Kindle DX review

Ok, lets pick up where we left off: My Kindle DX has just arrived…

Unboxing Kindle DX

Unboxing Kindle DX

Kindle DX power up

Kindle DX power up

Post #301…

Exterior & Ergonomics

Kindle DX is much larger and slightly heavier than Kindle 2. In fact If you put K2 on top of DX, K2 would be almost the same size as DX’s screen. It’s still comfortable to hold and flip pages, at least for right handed people like me. Of course it works upside down and it’s usable this way but I will pass on making a judgment on how comfortable such setup would be for left-handed people. One thing for sure – alphanumeric keyboard is not usable this way. Landscape mode is comfortable. As Kindle is rotated, 5-way controller is automatically remapped so left remains left and right remains right.

Amazon leather cover now comes with two magnets to keep itself shut. If you are still using floppy disks from the previous millennium you shouldn’t put them next to Kindle DX if you are using the cover.

Kindle DX vs. Kindle 2

Kindle DX vs. Kindle 2

Screen and fonts

It’s large. That’s for sure. 824×1200 pixels. It seems to update faster than Kindle 2 and whiles seems to be slightly lighter. There’s minimal ghosting sometimes just as on my second K2. The first K2 that was bricked by airplane didn’t have ghosting problem. Screensaver pictures seem to be the same as in K2 but upscaled and they do look gorgeous on the big screen. Fonts seem darker. So looks like Amazon took complaints about low contrast in Kindle 2 seriously and decided to address them. Spatial resolution is slightly lower – 150ppi comared to 167 in Kindle 2.

I’ve downloaded samples of some of the “books that look good on Kindle DX’s large screen“… Really they should be called “books that would have looked great on Kindle DX should have looked great on Kindle DX if images were not downsampled to lower resolution… I’ve checked 3 books and none looked as good as screensaver images. You could clearly see that illustrations in these books are much lower resolution than the screen. Hopefully this will get fixed as some point.

There are 7 font sizes just as in previous models. However the smallest font on Kindle DX seems to correspond to second smallest on K2. I can’t say for sure because I have Droid fonts installed on my K2 so that I can read Cyrillic. When font size dialog is invoked there are 2 additional options there that are specific to DX: “Words Per Line” and “Screen Rotation”. The second one is pretty much self-explanatory: you can explicitly select one of the four rotations or set it auto and let the accelerometer control it. “Words Per Line” really controls left and right margin width. Three available options are: default, fewer and fewest. At the moment I don’t quite understand the use of it. If I would want smaller screen area I’d just use K2. As this option is changed inline pictures as downscaled as well.

Screen rotation

Works as advertised – the image rotates as you rotated the device. Refresh time is good. Changing scren orientation is as fast as flipping a page.

Kindle DX Landscape

Kindle DX Landscape

Keyboard

Keyboard layout is QWERTY. Numeric row is merged with top letter row. To enter numbers you need to hold the “Alt” button. If you just need to enter one digit, you can press “alt” and digit in sequence (“alt” is “sticky” just likethe “shift” button). On DX buttons stick out more and are harder to press. Overall I found K2 keyboard more comfortable and easy to use than DX. Except “Next page” button being larger on DX, buttons on the right edge of the device are identical. 5-way controller stick is higher on DX.

PDF support

Kindle DX relies on it’s large screen to display PDF files “as is”, without re-flowing the text (which would be next to impossible with PDF since the format lacks any concept of paragraphs or text continuity).  The only way to zoom that I could find is to switch to landscape mode. It’s not such a big problem because most PDF files that people would want to read are preformatted for either Letter or A4 page size and Kindle DX screen is comparable in size to these formats.

Although there is concept of pages in PDF and you can navigate to any given page, both internal and external links in PDF files are disabled. Structured table of contents that is present in some PDF files is not usable either.

Graphically PDF files look fine and crisp. Rendering time is also good. It usually takes around 5 seconds to open the file initially and after that pagination speed is the same as when reading ebooks.

It’s not possible to download PDF files to your Kindle via WhisperNet. Most likely this is because Amazon pays 12 cents per megabyte to Sprint while keeping Internet connection free for Kindle owners. Given decent support that Kindle DX has for PDF files, abundance of PDF files on the Internet that people would like to download and read and relatively large size of these files it wouldn’t be a good idea for Amazon to enable such downloads.

It so happens that in my past life I spent a lot of time writing software that would process PDF files. Some time later I’ll run a comprehensive test of PDF support in Kindle DX and publish the results here.

Basic Web

Web browsing seems to be that same as on Kindle 2. “Advanced mode” is now called “Desktop mode’”. Basic mode is still much faster and usable than desktop mode. I tried to render BlogKindle.com in desktop mode and DX actually rendered it quite well. The only problem I could see was the lack of PNG transparency support.

Kindle DX Basic Web

Kindle DX Basic Web

9 inch screen definitely makes browsing a better experience.

Text-to-Speech

There are seemingly no changes in this feature. Funny thing that I’ve noticed as I experimented with it that female voice seems to have trouble pronouncing word USB. With male voice turned on is sounds much more natural.

Software

Apart from PDF support, changes to font size dialog, picture viewer mentioned above and additional game mentioned below Kindle software remains the same. Kindle DX comes out of the box with firmware version: 2.1 (337560062). Source code for Kindle DX is already published by Amazon and I’ll take a look at it. What seems important is that it has a separate section for Kindle DX sources code. On this basis I would speculate that next version of software for Kindle 2 is going to be 2.0.4, for Kindle DX it’s going to be 2.1.1. These will come from separate branches of code so I wouldn’t hope too much for PDF support being ported to Kindle 2 any time soon.

Hacking

Unfortunately Kindle DX was unresponsive  to the “old way hacking”. When I created a small “update” using Igor’s tool to dump the system log along with full directory listing to the root of Kindle drive the “Update Your Kindle” menu item remained disabled. Either Amazon has changed the format of the update files or they’ve come up with some way to digitally sign them to prevent hacking. Either way this means no unicode fonts for Kindle DX for the time being :(

Easter Eggs

I did a quick check on Kindle 2 easter eggs.

  • Minesweeper is still there. It’s accessible by pressing Alt–Shift-M in the home screen. If you press G after minesweeper is started you can play GoMoKu (it’s like tic-tac-toe but on a large board and the goal is to get 5 in a row). Kindle is actually a very good GoMoKu player. I played it twice and so far the score is 1-1 even though human player always gets the first turn.
  • Picture viewer is also there. To activate it connect Kindle via USB cable to your PC and create “pictures” folder in Kindle USB disk. Create subfolders there and copy pictures. Subfolders will become “book” names and pictures will be pages. JPG, PNG and GIF files are known to be supported. Once you’ve copied the files, disconnect the USB cable and press Alt-Z in the home screen – you should see your picture folders among books now. Scaling options have moved from the main menu to font-size dialog. Kindle DX will never try to stretch image to fit the screen but it can downscale to either fit width, height or screen. You can also display image at actual size and use 5-way controller to navigate the image. Screen rotation is also supported.
  • Symbol keyboard shortcuts are gone since numeric row is merged with the top letter row.
  • Hidden settings are still there. Typing “411″ and “611″ (using the alt-key) open corresponding settings pages.

Conclusions

Kindle DX is a nice device. Perhaps it’s not as much better as people hoped it would be but Kindle 2 sets the bar quite high. For day-to-day book reading I would still recommend Kindle 2 because of greater portability. If you can’t get by without PDF support and don’t want to use Savory hack (that would add similar or better level support than what’s available in 2.1) – Kindle DX is right for you. Hopefully with time there will be digital media that would take advantage of Kindle DX’s large screen.

Stay tuned for more detailed reviews, second impressions etc…

Amazon would selectively disable Text-To-Speech

Macworld reports that Amazon would allow copyright holders to disable text-to-speech feature which was introduced in 2nd generation Kindle. This seems to be part of the concession with the Authors Guild. Earlier this month Authors Guild accused Amazon that this feature infringes copyright and undermines the market for audio books. In it’s statement Amazon stated that the text-to-speech feature is legal, because no copy is made, no derivative work is created and no performance is given.

Well.. this seems to settle it. In my personal opinion text-to-speech was no threat to audio books because although much better than most voice synthesis systems I’ve experienced so far it still falls way short of professionally read audiobooks. It is also as much copyright infringement as me reading bed time stories to my daughter… But that’s just my personal opinion. It’s amazing what a law suit threat can do in a modern corporate world.

I just hope that few copyright holders would actually choose to exercise this ability to opt-out because this feature actually comes quite handy on long commutes when I don’t have any audiobook to listen to.