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 email@example.com?
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.
It’d be great if both Amazon and Apple could meet in the middle. Updating my Kindle 3 to the latest version as of last year, was a pain. It wouldn’t update automatically, so I had to manually download and install two updates via USB. Amazon couldn’t even be bothered to issue a combo update.
For this font addition, I had to look around to determine, as best as I can, that this update isn’t available for my Kindle. Why not just say so?
On the other hand, Apple keeps auto-downloading and insisting that I upgrade my aging iPhone 5 to their latest iOS. That forces me to wade deep down in the Setting menus to get rid of an large upgrade file that I never asked for and could easily get through iTunes if I wanted.
Doing too little (Amazon) or too much (Apple) is equally a pain. Both should make updates easy but leave the choice up to us. Is that too much to ask?
@Michael: I’ll check again to make sure the list is complete, and meanwhile it’s useful to let owners of the 3 know they’re out of luck for now. Ideally Amazon can fix that later.
I’ve installed the update with Ember Bold on my Voyage, my Paperwhite 3rd generation and my Paperwhite 2nd generation. It wasn’t available for my 1st generation Paperwhite.
The Kindle 3 was made years ago and I don’t find it strange that Amazon doesn’t put much effort into supporting it these days. It probably wouldn’t take much to just add a font but to give it the same features as the new Kindles could cause a lot of problems. I have no idea if it’s hardware will support them. My guess is that even in the unlikely event that the CPU and limited RAM of the early Kindles could support the new features there’s probably not enough room for a firmware that large. And how much might it slow the device down?
I once had an Ipad 2 and it kept updating and with each update it got slower and slower. It finally became such a pain to use that I sold it.
@Barry: Well, as noted, even the addition of just the one font would help–and wouldn’t be a technical challenge. David
I’ve downloaded and installed, but have read more than a page in bold font. I’ll try it out later. Good for Amazon for this option.
Now if only there was a way to reject the dreadful ragged right margins on some books.
Will you finally now shut up and stop writing so many posts on the bad typography on the Kindle?
While I agree that Teleread has overdone it a bit their intentions were good and they were never rude and it looks like their efforts may have born fruit, unlike Goodereader’s unfulfilled Indiegogo projects.
Hopefully, your comment is in jest. I am very thankful that Amazon finally provided the bold text. It is much easier to read on the Kindle -my 86 year old father is very happy with it. If not for the “out there constant” posts regarding this – nothing probably would have been done.
Want your *choice* of font sizes on the Kindle? Want your choice of fonts? Want to change justification? Want to change paragraph spacing? Want your choice of margin widths? Want you choice of line spacing? Want you choice of gamma?
You can’t get ANY of this on Kindle so, no, Amazon still has a ways to go to give users control over typography and, no, a single bold font is not a solution.
Your comment is idiotic
@Michael: Of course not, given the to-do list. 😉 In Jeff Bezos’s place I’d listen—the ideas there could help the company as well as customers. Meanwhile I’m baffled. Why would the editor of a blog called Good E-Reader bash TeleRead for constantly pushing for tech improvements that made reading more fun? Does this mean we should call you Bad E-Reader now?
Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog.
My Paperwhite is just 6th-generation, so I guess I’m out of luck.
Hmm. Apparently you’re in luck, Chris. Either something changed or I missed something. Go to https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_left_v4_sib?ie=UTF8&nodeId=201307450. I’ll tweak the copy.
Ah, I see. Amazon’s system of updates are really confusing. The link in the article went to one that was for 8th-gen and it said it wouldn’t work on earlier devices. But nothing said there was a different one for a 6th-gen, too.
Got it, downloaded it, and it works. Can’t say I’d use that font much, but it’s nice that it’s there.
It’s working on my 6th generation Paperwhite.
@Barry and Chris: Happy for you both! Let’s hope the new font will appear soon in the Kindle apps and on the Fire tablets as well.