So the new Kindles are out. And there is talk of support for audiobooks in the air. And meanwhile, the impending arrival of Alexa officially in India has created a few ripples in the market. People are talking about how the app will work on Amazon’s own range of Echo speakers and of course on mobile devices (the Moto X4 and the HTC U11 have Alexa support).
In our e-book, it would be awesome if those two could work together.
For, yes, the Kindle remains one of the few Amazon products that does not respond to your voice. This was a feature whose absence was not that keenly felt in the days when the Kindles had full QWERTY physical keyboards (remember that time?) but ever since the e-book reader got into touch territory, UI has been a bit of an Achilles Heel.
That is because the Kindle e-book readers have e-ink displays. Now, these displays (even though not in color) are quite wonderful when it comes to mimicking paper, are amazingly legible even in bright sunlight, and consume much lesser power than conventional LCD/AMOLED displays. They do have a small failing though – their touch sensitivity is several notches below what you will get even on an entry-level smartphone.
The result? Although a Kindle is a joy to read on (the fonts are wonderfully sharp, can be read in the dark in most models and text can be resized), typing on it can be close to a nightmare, especially for those accustomed to much faster touch interfaces like those seen on smartphones and tablets. You actually have to hit a letter, pause and then hit the next one, as there is a clear lag between the time when you hit a key and the letter appearing on the display. It does work once you get the hang of it if you are patient enough but it is a messy arrangement and can be infuriating for those used to faster-responding touchscreens. If I had a Dollar for every friend of mine who has complained about the Kindle being “laggy,” I would have perhaps enough to purchase the new ones!
Which is exactly why I think Alexa, Amazon’s voice-based personal assistant, is SO needed on its e-book readers. It would be wonderful to simply say “Alexa, search for Origin by Dan Brown” instead of typing it out slowly. Similarly, it would be easy to say “Alexa, take a note” or “Alexa, highlight this sentence/paragraph” instead of tapping on the display and painstaking marking out the area to be highlighted. And yes, so much simpler to say “Alexa, what is the meaning of zymurgy” instead of highlighting and long pressing a word. It would be perfectly fine if Alexa did not reply by voice – it could simply execute our commands or display the reason why it could not.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Incorporating an AI assistant into the Kindle would be quite a task and some would also point out that it would push up data consumption of the device (a significant factor when you consider that on the 3G versions of the device, data is free as long as you use that connectivity to browse the Kindle Store and download books). But all said and done, the addition of Alexa could remove the one real headache the Kindle has – that of entering information. An alternative could be bringing back the QWERTY keyboard. But that would be so…2010.
Come on, Amazon, you have made the Kindle impervious to water. Now, make it vulnerable to voice.
Please? Pretty Please?