New Kindle Fire disappoints on accessibility

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Thursday, 29 September 2011 13:16pm

Amazon, the world’s most popular online ebook store, has updated its Kindle ebook readers with the release of four new models. The three cheaper e-ink models retain the accessibility of the previous Kindle, However, the flagship Android-based tablet/ereader hybrid, Kindle Fire, has proven disappointing for people with disabilities.

The Kindle Fire, priced at $US199, is likely to provide strong competition to the iPad due to its similar functionality, compatibility with Amazon’s ebook, music and streaming video services, and its remarkable affordability.  As with many tablet computers, the device can connect to a Wi-Fi point and provide access to a variety of online material through its built-in Web browser, access to a variety of music and allow the storage of ebooks. Its touch screen, a significant step forward from the previous Kindle, is likely to prove popular with consumers who like the iPad-style experience.

However, the move to an Android platform appears to have reduced the accessibility of the Kindle which was one of the first e-book devices to incorporate zoom and text-to-speech functionality.  An article in the Chicago Sun-Times states that “Alas, Amazon has ‘nothing to announce’ about the Fire’s accessibility features, beyond the Kindle’s existing text-to-speech reading feature.”

The lack of accessibility improvements, and the implied removal of spoken menu features is viewed by many as more a fault of the Android operating system, but disappointment remains from many bloggers that even the limited accessibility features of Android such as the free accessibility tools that can be installed, or the commercial accessibility applications that are also available.

One possible silver lining is that Amazon has indicated that some Android apps can be added by the user but Amazon has not confirmed this to date.

The good news for people with disabilities is that like the accessibility features of the older Kindle is that the other three e-readers have been redesigned and dropped significantly in price, meaning that a Kindle that is similar to the previous model can be purchased for $US79.  The other touch-enabled models start at $US99.

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