Amazon announced on Thursday its acquisition of IVONA Software, a text-to-speech technology company. This tech is already in use on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9-inch tablet, providing the "Text-to-Speech," "Voice Guide" and "Explore by Touch" features. The company also delivers text-to-speech products and services for thousands of other developers, businesses and customers around the world.
"IVONA’s exceptional text-to-speech technology leads the industry in natural voice quality, accuracy and ease of use. IVONA is already instrumental in helping us deliver excellent accessibility features on Kindle Fire, including Text-to-Speech, Voice Guide and Explore by Touch," said Dave Limp, Vice President, Amazon Kindle. "The IVONA team shares our passion for innovation and customer obsession, and we look forward to building great products to deliver world-class voice solutions to customers around the world."
After the announcement went live Thursday morning, rumors of the Kindle smartphone re-ignited. It's believed that the voice-recognition technology now owned by the online retail giant could be used to compete with Apple's own Siri. Amazon's phone, which will reportedly use a regurgitated Android-based OS similar to the current Kindle Fire tablets, is expected to ship later this year.
There's also talk that the company will now add some of this newly-acquired tech to its non-Fire e-readers so that the devices can be successfully used by disabled students in public schools and universities. This could help settle a dispute with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) which has protested and even filed lawsuits as Amazon tried to deploy Kindle devices in schools and universities. According to the organization, many Kindle e-readers currently have text-to-speech functions, but these functions aren't independently accessible to blind students.
The NFB filed a lawsuit against Arizona State University back in 2009 to block the deployment of Kindle DX devices to the school, claiming the use of the technology discriminated against students with disabilities. Then in 2010, the NFB was successful in prompting the Department of Education and Department of Justice to issue letters to colleges, universities and K-12 school districts warning against buying and deploying e-reading devices that were inaccessible to the blind.
"The Kindle DX features text-to-speech technology that can read textbooks aloud to blind students," the NFB said. "The menus of the device are not accessible to the blind, however, making it impossible for a blind user to purchase books from Amazon’s Kindle store, select a book to read, activate the text-to-speech feature, and use the advanced reading functions available on the Kindle DX."
To solve this problem, Amazon may bring even more IVONA tech to its e-readers including the "Voice Guide" and "Explore by Touch" options. These options are already available in the Kindle Fire HD 8.9-inch tablet, and are expected to be added to the Kindle Fire HD 7-inch and the original Kindle Fire sometime early 2013.