The Kindle Fire is a family of Android tablets that are tightly integrated with various Amazon.com services. The platform edition that works in them is significantly different from most other Android tablets, as it does not use the Google infrastructure, instead offering alternative services directly from Amazon.
More information about the background of this situation can be found in the material “A story about the little-known aspects of Android OS using the Amazon Kindle Fire” , here we will focus on an overview of those original accessibility features that are present in Kindle Fire devices.
First of all, it should be noted that the line of Kindle Fire tablets running the Android OS includes several models. At the time of this writing, these are the classic Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD 7, Kindle Fire HD 8.9 and Kindle Fire HD 8.9 with LTE module.
Of the differences that are significant in the context of non-visual accessibility, it should be noted that the first generation Kindle Fire operating system was originally based on the Android 2.3 stack and had only accessibility features for the visually impaired. The Kindle Fire HD 7 system was already based on the Android 4.0 stack, but it still lacked the functionality of a screen reader, although it was technically already possible. Full accessibility for blind users appeared only in the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, which also ran on a system based on the Android 4.0 stack.
However, since the beginning of 2013, Amazon.com has been updating the Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD 7 software, with the new version of which should come with updated accessibility features similar to the Kindle Fire HD 8.9.
Thus, at the moment, two generations of the Kindle Fire tablet accessibility tools can be distinguished.
The first generation of accessibility tools is not adapted for the totally blind, since it only includes setting the text color (white, black or bright brown), font size and the option to read aloud, but not as a screen reader, but as a regular TTS reader. Amazon also positions the functionality of the built-in dictionary with the interpretation of complex words as an accessibility feature, but it is actively used by people without any significant restrictions.
Of greater interest are the second-generation special features, which differ in the presence of functionality for completely non-visual work. Therefore, it makes sense to dwell on them in more detail.
The main accessibility innovations with the release of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 are the full Voice Guide screen reader and Explore by Touch mode.
The Explore by Touch mode is probably familiar to users who have had experience with Android from Google, since this functionality first appeared on devices with this version of the Android platform back in late 2011.
In fact, we are talking about a special touch navigation mode that allows a blind user to explore the contents of the screen by sliding a finger over it, but without activating the controls.
Well, Voice Guide is nothing more than a simple screen reader that provides synthesized speech to a graphical user interface, including in Explore by Touch mode.
Since the Android 4.0 stack is used, where the functionality of linear navigation on objects has not yet been implemented, the degree of convenience of non-visual accessibility is not very high. There are only a few modified standard control gestures for basic functions, and there are no specific accessibility gestures.
|Unblock device||Swipe at the bottom of the screen with two fingers from right to left|
|Open the quick settings panel||Swipe down from the top of the screen with two fingers|
|Scroll through carousel items, library content, or turn a page in a book||Swipe left to right or right to left with two fingers|
|Activate on-screen control||Tap twice with one finger|
In fact, Explore by Touch simply adds either a second touch or a second finger to the standard gestures.
The accessibility menu can be accessed through the Quick Settings panel, which is invoked by swiping down from the top of the screen with one finger (with Explore by Touch active, with two fingers). Next, in it, you should click on the item “More”, then in the section “Settings” select “Accessibility”.
In addition to those already listed, you can also perform some additional settings there, for example, disable screen rotation (auto-rotate the screen), which often interferes with blind users.
Synthesis of speech is activated in the “Text-to-Speech” section. While viewing a book, you need to click on the screen to display the “Reading Toolbar”, where you can open the “Settings” (Settings).
After activating this function, at the bottom of the screen, next to the reading progress bar, the “Play” button will appear, which is responsible for enabling the reading of the text aloud.
Unfortunately, Kindle Fire devices initially come with a text-to-speech engine that only supports US English. A female voice from IVONA Software is used.
By the way, on January 24, 2013, the purchase of IVONA Software by Amazon.com was officially announced, so IVONA TTS products became part of the technological assets of the Kindle Fire developer. This indirectly confirms Amazon’s significant interest in speech-to-text solutions, which gives reason to hope for the further development of this functionality in their products.
In general, Kindle Fire devices are targeted at English-speaking users and users living in countries where Amazon.com has a strong presence in the market. Unfortunately, Russian-speaking countries do not belong to them, and so far there are no prerequisites for changing this situation.
The Kindle Fire is a further development of the Kindle, a simple e-reader without a feature-rich operating system. They are also predominantly focused on surfing the Internet and consuming electronic content from Amazon.com stores and mainly books. Although the Kindle Fire also has its own application store, through which you can expand the functionality of the tablet and find new ways to use it.
To summarize, it can be noted that the functionality of the non-visual accessibility of the Kindle Fire tablets as of April 2013 is not very high and is at the standard level for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. The main advantage of these devices is integration into the Amazon.com eco-system, which, unfortunately, is not yet very relevant for countries with a dominant Russian-speaking population. Nevertheless, if for one reason or another the possibility of joining Amazon’s service infrastructure is interesting for a blind or visually impaired user, then the Kindle Fire is quite capable of providing him with the functionality of basic non-visual accessibility.
In addition, the Kindle Fire is very cheap devices, and the ability to flash them with a version of the system from Google allows experienced users to get a relatively productive Android tablet at a fairly low price, besides, with all the standard services: Google Play Market, Google Search, Gmail and others. … Perhaps this is one of the most common uses for the Kindle Fire in countries where Amazon.com is not officially represented.