BREAKING: Amazon’s Kindle for iOS Updated with Accessibility

I remember the feeling quite vividly—sitting in my college courses on the first day of class, staring at a syllabus with books I knew I’d never be able to obtain in an accessible format before we were to review them. I attended a great university and had access to a fabulous disability services office, but far too many books were simply out of reach in a timely fashion.

I’d talk to peers who would download their books onto a Kindle, and as time progressed, soon they’d load them on their iPhones and iPads to tote around wherever they went. But, sadly, Amazon seemed to stubbornly push inaccessible Kindle products onto the market without any regard to the blindness community.

That all changed yesterday morning, though, and many have voiced their excitement for the newly accessible Kindle for iOS application (available now through Apple’s App Store). That’s right—the blind, visually impaired and dyslexic now have full access to Amazon’s catalog of over one million books, magazines and newspapers, all at the touch of a button in the Kindle Store.

After playing around with the app, connecting my braille display and exploring tactilely and buying (more than) a few books to try out, I want to share some initial impressions and a general breakdown of what you can expect from the app.

The Interface

Amazon’s Kindle for iOS has a simple interface upon startup. If you have purchased books already, you’ll be taken to your cloud bookshelf with an option to download each title. If you’ve already downloaded these texts, you can click and launch them with a single-finger double tap gesture, or a split-tap gesture.

While in the book of your choice, Amazon has made the interface incredibly simple, boasting no buttons, labels or other controls you may expect to see in an app like this. You are presented with the book’s text—and that’s all. This is nice because the text fills the entirety of the screen, making it much easier to scroll line by line with your finger.

The Reading Experience

I’m not a huge fan of audiobooks. The dramatization of text by some readers tends to be a turnoff for me, and it’s important that I have access to the text in a way that I can read character by character if need be. Solid, intuitive and flexible navigation is imperative for any reading app or device–and it’s why I’ve really enjoyed using Apple’s iBooks app the past year or two.

In terms of navigation, Kindle for iOS is absolutely on-par with the iBooks experience. I can navigate character by character, word by word, and line by line, which is excellent. In one word—it’s “flawless”.

Since there are no on-screen controls while in the reading view, you can either interact with the text by a read all from top gesture (which is a two-finger swipe downward), navigate via a rotor gesture (use the rotor to select whether you’ll move by character, word or line), move your finger through the text or move between pages (with a three-finger swipe left or right), which prompts the app to automatically start reading content on the new page. It’s simple, easy and very effective.

Making Highlights and Creating Notes

This is easily one of the most exciting features I’ve found in the Kindle for iOS app—and best of all, it’s very accessible. To highlight a section of text, or to create a note about something you’ve read, perform a single-finger, double-tap and hold around the general area in which you’d like to make your annotations. Hold your finger in this spot for a moment, and then lift it. If you’ve done it correctly, VoiceOver will announce “pink highlighter”, which represents the color used to mark your selected section…but we’re not done yet.

If you were to flick around the screen at this point, you’d see options to change the highlighter color, share the selection and various other options, but here’s the kicker—you can actually adjust the selection (from edge to edge) using the flick gesture up and down. Flick until you find “left most edge” and “right most edge”. By flicking up and down while focusing on either edge, you’ll move the edge of your mark forward and backward. If you pause for a moment after adjusting your selection, voiceOver will announce the contents of your highlighted section. Wow!

After selecting the text you’d like to mark, you can save it as a mark, create a note or look up a word in the dictionary. You can also Google your selection and search for it on Wikipedia, as well. I think this is leaps and bounds ahead of anything else out there—and I’ve already used it to annotate several of the books I’m currently reading.

Accessing the Menu While Reading a Book

Since there are no controls found on-screen while reading your book, you’re probably wondering how to perform basic features like bookmarking a page, navigating to a specific page or location, etc etc. All of this (and much more) can be found in the menu, which is accessible by performing a single-finger double tap (or a split-tap gesture) anywhere on-screen while in the reading view. VoiceOver will announce “menu On”, and you’re now able to explore the options for your book.

Basic Controls inside the Menu

After opening the menu, you will be presented with several options pertaining to your book. In the top-lefthand corner, you will find a button labeled “Home”, which will take you back to your bookshelf. At the center and top of the screen is a text label which states the name and author of the book you are currently reading.. Single-finger flicking to the right (or navigating to the upper-righthand corner of the screen), you’ll find a “Bookmark” button. This will bookmark the current page (the page visible when you opened the menu).

One Note about Bookmarks

Editor’s Note: After posting this review, I discovered it is, in fact, possible to determine whether the current page is bookmarked through the button in the menu. VoiceOver users will need to have “hints” enabled, and the application will report whether or not a bookmark is already set for the current page. Thanks so much to @arm4r and @paras12 for tipping me off to this!

If Amazon could make one improvement about this menu, it would be the ability to see whether a bookmark is currently present for the page. I believe they could accomplish this by having VoiceOver announce “Bookmark selected button) if a bookmark has already been set for the current page. The trick here is—if a bookmark IS already present, pressing this button will remove it without any indication to the VoiceOver user.

“Return to Book” Option

In the very middle of the screen, there is an option to jump back into your book. This option remains present in some subpages of the menu—but not always.

The Bottom Row of Controls

The bottom row of controls holds most of the nitty-gritty details most users will want to access. From left to right, these controls include:

  • Back: This option appears to always be “dimmed”. Not sure what it does…
  • View Options: This menu controls various aspects of the visual presentation of your book, including font style, font size and brightness.
  • Go To: This menu offers a wide variety of locations in which you can be taken to throughout your book. I’ll discuss this menu in greater detail in a moment…
  • Search: The Kindle for iOS app comes with an insanely powerful search tool, which allows you to comb the entire contents of your book for a word or phrase. I’ll cover this one, too, in a bit more depth a little later.
  • Sync: This option will sync the reading position of your current Kindle device with the furthest point reached on any other device. This could be quite handy if you use Kindle for iOS on an iPhone AND an iPad.
  • The Progress Slider: The progress slider is located just below this row of five buttons, and represents your current location as a percentage. You can adjust this slider with the flicking gesture up or down, or you can do a single-finger, double-tap and hold to adjust more precisely.

The “Go To” Menu

This menu allows you to jump through your book at varying navigation levels, such as by page, by bookmark or back to the beginning. Some “go to” options include:

  • Cover: This option will place you on the cover of your current book.
  • Table of Contents: Choosing this option will take you directly to the table of contents, allowing you to navigate by chapter or section. (NOTE: The table of contents DOES work with VoiceOver, but you’ll have to navigate slowly with your finger because these are not visible as links.)
  • Beginning: Selecting this option will take you to the very beginning of your book, past the cover, table of contents and most introductory content.
  • Location: Pressing the “Location” button will allow you to navigate directly to the page of your choice. Use the keypad to type the page number, and then locate an “OK” button toward the middle-right section of the screen.
  • Book Extras: Here’s where Kindle shines over most any other options you’ve likely tried—this section contains crowdsourced selections taken from the book, which means other readers took the time to select portions of the book that stood out to them, highlights and memorable moments, and favorite quotes. There is also a section which includes notes for parents. One other interesting thing about this menu is the ability to toggle “spoilers” on and off, which will help you avoid any revealing content as you dig through the extra features of your book.
  • My Notes and Marks: This section lists all of the bookmarks and highlights you’ve made throughout the book. Note that you can remove these by using the “Edit” button at the top-lefthand corner of the screen.
  • Popular Highlights: Keeping with the notion of crowdsourcing, Amazon pulls in the most popular highlights from all other users reading the currently selected book. This is one feature I absolutely love! Kindle for iOS tells you the location of the highlighted section, as well as how many people have highlighted it.
  • X-Ray: X-Ray allows readers to explore “the bones of a book.” Tap on any page as you read to find chapters and locations that mention ideas, characters, and important places, as well as background info, biographies, and more from Shelfari and Wikipedia.
  • Before You Go: This section contains options for you to rate, review and share the currently selected book. The selections made here will no doubt factor into the recommendations Amazon makes to you for future reading.

The Search Feature

The search functionality in Kindle for iOS is by far one of the most powerful I’ve seen in a reading option. But as impressive as its ability to search through your text, I’m in love with the way it displays your results.

After selecting the “Search” option, you’ll be presented with a standard search/edit field and the iOS keyboard. Type your query and press “Go”. The app will process the text and present you with a list of results, with the page number listed to the left of the section where your word or phrase is present. You’ll also notice a count at the bottom of the screen for the tonal number of instances the app found for your search.

Where Amazon Did It Right

I think it’s often easy for us to assume companies aren’t listening to our accessibility concerns, or the timetable for accessibility isn’t moving fast enough, but the Kindle for iOS app is a classic example of patience paying off. There are no flaws I’ve found in the app’s accessibility, with only one minor preference issue. There has been extensive beta testing for the accessibility improvements, as is obvious by the flawless execution made by Amazon.

The standout feature, and one which Apple can take cues, is the highlighter found in the reading view. The granularity at which your highlighted selection can be edited is remarkable. If you flick around the screen, you’ll notice VoiceOver report “left most edge” and “right most edge”. Performing a flick gesture up or down will reposition the respective edges of your highlighted section (before you approve it). This is highly impressive,a and not present in iBooks.

Summing It All Up

My allegiance rarely sways between two products. I tend to stay loyal to solutions that have worked well for me in the past—and I’d assume many reading this can relate to that idea. But, given Amazon’s impressive offering and the affordability of many selections, I could see myself using Kindle for iOS more often than the iBooks offering from Apple. It will be intriguing to see if Amazon continues this stance on accessibility, and extends it to their other software and hardware offerings.

Want to Enter the #AccessibleKindle Giveaway?

Fedora Outlier is absolutely thrilled about the accessibility of Kindle for iOS—and so much so that we’re giving away a $25 gift card to Amazon.com to one lucky winner. for details and a couple ways to enter, visit this post about the giveaway. Hurry, giveaway ends on Wednesday, May 8th at 5PM EST!

Let’s Discuss…

What is your take on the Kindle for iOS update? Have you purchased or downloaded any books yet? What has your experience been like? Take a moment to share your thoughts in the comments section!

20 Comments

  • Shannon says:

    I was thinking about downloading the new kindle app because it is finally accessible and your overview is extremely helpful in giving me a tour of the app and it’s great functionality. Thanks for posting this!

  • Matthew says:

    This is excellent news. It’s unfortunate that Amazon took so long and made accessibility such a low priority while others like Apple have long since proven that it can be done and done very well.

  • Lisa L says:

    I’ve had to resort to using the accessible version of Kindle for PC, from time to time, and it lacks a lot of important functionality. I’m so glad this version has had a little more thought put in to the design. And, as others have said — still no substitute for making the Kindle accessible out of the box. Give A blind consumer by any other name is still a consumer; Apple has already realized that as the Baby Boomers age, they’ll be looking for accessible products. Really glad to have this version for my iPhone, but I’m not really ready to give Amazon much love until they go the whole distance.

  • Jane Jordan says:

    Thank you for such a detailed review. It’s one thing to hear a company say that an app is more accessible. It’s even nice to update the product and find it’s true. But it’s better when someone can take the time to go through the features set and really put it through its paces. I don’t know if I will use some of the features, like note-taking and highlighting yet, but I’m glad to see it is there and that those who need it (I a looking at students here!) can use it.

    One thing you forgot to mention in your review is how the Kindle app works with a Braille display. Some users find it to be a snap, others (like me) find it to be sluggish, but it beats iBooks in reading with Braille on one point. When you issue the command to turn pages in the Kindle app, you are immediately put at the top of the next page, unlike in iBooks where you have to jump to the top of the page to continue reading.

    I won’t go so far and say my allegiance is swaying. I won’t use one format of e-book over another–there’s no point to that. I will buy from whichever provider has the content. I am, however, very glad that such a large competitor in the e-book market has opened up their content and made it available to us.

    iBooks, Read2go, Blio, Nook, Voice Dream Reader, and now Kindle. If Kobo would fix their app so I can move around in a book, I think I’d be covered for all my reading material for e-books.

  • Dan Roy says:

    I downloaded the Kindle app yesterday and really love it. I haven’t explored all the highlighting features yet, but, that will be a bonus. Kindle has many many books that you won’t find anywhere else. Also, you have access to many magazines and newspapers. The magazines and newspapers on ibooks, are, for the most part inaccessible. this is a great day for all blind book readers.

  • Mike Reed says:

    My wife has been reading books on her kindle for years and now, thanks to Amazon, I can finally join her. I have found the app to be a pleasure to use and am looking forward to a continued great experience.

  • Imran Ahmed says:

    I am totally glued to the Kindle app as I have downloaded dozens of free books, samples of the books I am interested in and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience thus far. Look forward to Amazon’s progress on other platforms and devices!

  • Jamie Seeger says:

    Hi
    I downloaded the kindle app the other day and I am really enjoying it. Amazon finally got it right and made their growing collection accessible to us blind and visually impaired.

  • It truly does feel like Christmas has come in May! I have a Kindle Keyboard, but reading on the iPhone is a better experience by far. I’d also like to add that if you have Serotek’s DocuScanPlus, you can email your scanned documents directly to your phone for reading from within the app: http://samobile.net/help/scanplus/kindledsp .

  • Justin Ekis says:

    I’m absolutely thrilled about this. There is one feature that will make Kindle more useful than iBooks for me. I can loan books to others, making it easier to share the experience of reading and discussing the same book. I just love that both the Nook and Kindle apps are now accessible. I look forward to also being able to read Kindle Books on my Mac in a future release of that software. Also, I can’t wait to test Whisper Sync for voice, syncing my position between my Audible and Kindle apps.

  • Ana Jacob says:

    This is fantastic news. I haven’t read a whole book using the Kindle app yet, but I previewed one and love how the app handles it. I only recently learned that Amazon let’s you borrow Kindle books from friends. That, combined with Amazon’s limitless selection, all the features Kindle offers, and this newly accessible, easy to use app will make Amazon my go-to source for purchasing books. Thank you, Amazon.

  • Well, I downloaded the Kindle app yesterday, and to my surprise, its much better than what I expected from Amazon. I haven’t downloaded any books yet, but I’ve looked at a few sample books which I found, and I think the interface is really good. It reminds me of iBooks in a way.

  • This is a really exhaustive review, thanks. I’ve linked to it in my own blog post about the NFB press release, for a balanced picture.

  • Angela Matney says:

    Excellent review! One note re bookmarks: If hints are enabled, the app will announce whether double-tapping will add or remove a bookmark.

  • Mike Wassel says:

    Glad that this finally happened. I need to really give it a try now.

  • jmnlman says:

    To be fair Amazon did try to include text to speech in a lot of their Kindle devices. It was the publishers and authors Guild who cried and moan until it was locked out on most of the books. Or at least the publishers had the choice to lock it out. So it’s not like they been ignoring us on purpose.

  • Alena says:

    What a great review. Thanks for sharing some details about the app that I hadn’t explored yet.

  • Katie Pleva says:

    This review is very well written!
    I’d like to thank you for explaining how to bookmark and define words in the app.

  • S Morris says:

    great review– getting my Iphone tomorrow and will be downloading the kindle ap. I agree with someone else though I’d value your (or anyones) thoughts on using the kindle ap with a braille display

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