For years, TeleRead begged Amazon to offer all-text boldface for older Kindle fans with fading eyesight and for everyone else who might suffer from contrast-sensitivity issues.
Amazon wouldn’t budge, even after we made Slashdot and even after I published a column in the Baltimore Sun bemoaning the National PTA’s insufficient interest in getting its K-12 partner to shape up on accessibility issues. I focused on AWOL text to speech, but also decried the lack of all-text bold in the “Official E-reader of the National PTA.”
Wednesday, however, Amazon unveiled Ember Bold via Kindle update 5.8.7. Props! Why not write a thank-you note to firstname.lastname@example.org?
You’ll get the boldface upgrade automatically in time if you own a Paperwhite of the 6th Kindle generation or higher, an Oasis or a Voyage. Or via the just-given update link, you can find instructions to upgrade manually—look in the left column for specifics for individual models. My Paperwhite and Oasis upgraded just fine, and as one of the contrast-challenged, I appreciated the results. No luck if your Paperwhite is more ancient than 6th gen, but perhaps Amazon can fix that shortcoming in time for owners of older devices, including the Kindle 3.
Among those joining TeleRead in our calls for all-text bold were Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader, Len Edgerly of the Kindle Chronicles, Barry Marks, and Jamie LaRue of the American Library Association. Nate nicely summed up the legibility-related reasons for the new font:
“Readers with old eyes or certain vision problems frequently find regular weight fonts difficult to read. That’s why they use reading apps like FBReader which offer an all-bold option, or why they buy ereaders like Kobo which let you install your own font.
“This issue doesn’t bother all readers, but if you have ever encountered a webpage with a font which was too light to read then you can appreciate the problem. (Just multiply it by one hundred, and you’ll understand what some readers are going through.)”
Kudos, then, to Jeff Bezos and friends for the Ember Bold. Now here’s what else they can do to catch up with the typographical options of Kobo and other brands:
1. Offer a bold on-off switch that works with all fonts so we’re not just stuck with one bold font. Ember Bold is sans serif. How about people who cherish serif? What’s more, Kobo even lets you adjust the font weight—in other words, the level of bolding—via a slider. I would highly recommend this second option as well. Same for the ability to choose whether you want all-justified text or “ragged right.” The image above shows how much more customizable the Kobo Aura H2O, not even the latest Kobo reader, is compared to Kindle typography even if the E Ink screen of the Kindle Oasis is better. In the end typography wins. All kinds of typographical adjustments could happen through an advanced menu that novice Kindle users could ignore.
2. Also let people install their own fonts, the way Amazon used to. I remain baffled why this is no longer possible without hacks. Why is Amazon arbitrarily limiting users’ freedom? Kobo lets me copy over the fonts I need for optimal readability.
3. Use sliders to allow users to vary margins, line spacing, and type sizes more precisely than Kindles allow. Once again, Kobo has this feature.
In addition, isn’t it also time for Amazon to offer all-text boldface on its Fire tablets and in its apps for Android and iOS?
Just as sweet would be usable TTS for sighted users, not just blind people (even though the blind should be first priority). Amazon once included TTS with an interface that was helpful, at least, to the sighted. And as shown by the blind-optimized TTS built into the most recent basic Kindle, the cost of TTS for all wouldn’t be that high with a Bluetooth approach eliminating the need for a speaker or even a headphone jack. Hello, National PTA? It isn’t too late to learn hard on Amazon for the restoration of TTS for all, in cases where book publishers don’t object.
Everyone, please keep speaking up! Let’s see more progress at Amazon. Along the way, perhaps you can remind the company that heavy readers pull more than their weight in book sales. Many of them are among the very people who’ll most appreciate more versatile typography. Result? Sales of more books. And of more Kindles as well.
Addendum—kind of related: It goes without saying that Kindles and related apps need to be able to read ePub.
Related: Amazon Polly Could Lead to Better TTS in eBook Apps, from The Digital Reader.