Amazon buys Ivona text to speech: Good or bad for disabled e-library users and other TTS fans?

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Well, guess which Seattle-based  megaconglomerate has just bought Ivona Software (Web site here, Wikipedia entry here)—perhaps the world’s best provider of text to speech to use with e-books and other texts?

That’s right, Amazon. It’s reportedly already using Ivona’s Salli voice in the Kindle Fire, and Ivona tech is also powering “Voice Guide” and “Explore by Touch.” Too bad those features aren’t available on the Amazon’s Paperwhite E Ink machine so far. Deliberate intra-brand market segmentation? Either way, this lack of audio stinks. A headphone jack and speech chip on the Paperwhite would have cost a pittance, even if a speaker wouldn’t fit—or Amazon could have offered a speech-capable model as an option. Was Amazon’s ownership of Audible, the Kong of audio books, a factor? And the existence of the Fire?

ivonaladyIt’s too early to know how Amazon’s Ivona purchase—price unknown—will shake out for library users with disabilities and for other fans of text to speech, including many a commuter (as well yours truly, who uses TTS when he walks or treads).

Here are positive and negative possibilities.

Positive ones:

1. Maybe my Fire will at last offer the voice of Amy, the British-accented voice I prefer, especially for Dickens. Will Jeff let us buy different voices as options? Or, better, supply at least several voices, just as Kindle hardware lets you choose fonts?

2. Perhaps Amazon’s ownership of Ivona technology will make Amazon more inclined to offer TTS in the Paperwhite in the future, either as a standard feature or an extra

Negative possibilities:

1. Just as Amazon killed the incredible Stanza word-processor, a potential rival in the future to the less capable Kindle e-reading software, will it at least throttle back Ivona’s R&D to make the world safer for Audible? Hard to say. It isn’t as if Ivona is the only TTS player.

2. Does this mean that Amazon will remove the Ivona TTS engine and related voices from the Android world and make sure Ivona products don’t thrive in the iOS world, either? For now, I am enjoying Ivona on my full-powered Android machines (not the Kindle-hobbled Android) by way of a free beta. Is this about to end very soon? Will I no longer be able to enjoy Moon+ Pro—my favorite e-reading software of the moment—with Ivona?

3. If Ivona is available only for use with the proprietary Amazon formats, might this not be glad tidings for the ePub format standard?

Might any competition-related laws apply in the States, the EU or elsewhere? I don’t know. It’s worth checking out, though. Perhaps Amazon should be allowed to own Ivona, but with the understanding that the technology will still be available—full strength!—for Android and iOS machines rather than just Kindles.

Detail: Within the library world, the current Paperwhite comes with a special little complication: its less than ideal accessibility, given the absence of speech. This is something for librarians to think about before allowing their libraries to buy Paperwhites as loaners—both for legal and moral reasons.

Related: Amazon Goofed up – Promises to Bring Basic Android Accessibility Features to Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD, from The Digital Reader.

(Via The Digital Reader and TeleRead. Revised to tighten the lead, at about 8 p.m.)

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