Kindle Fire HD Audio, Audible & Kindle Fire HD Whispersync for Voice

I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the “audio” changes that Amazon has announced for their slate of e-readers and Kindle Fire tablets.

Text-To-Speech

First off – let me state that I too think that not having Text-To-Speech (TTS)  (or speakers) on the Kindle Paperwhite is a big mistake. When the Kindle Touch was released, I felt that one of the things I disliked about it most was not having TTS.

Text-To-Speech was a thing of brilliance.  When one of my friends raved about how great her e-ink Nook was, I could retort with “But does it have Text-To-Speech?”  When she needed to buy her niece an e-reader, she chose the Kindle 3 because it had Text-To-Speech.  That was the main item helping her “go over to the dark side”, as she thought of it.

Another friend had a son-in-law that suffered a serious stroke in a rugby accident and had to learn how to redo almost everything.  Allowing him to use the Kindle 3 with large font and slow TTS allowed him to enjoy books again.

Yes – the voice was monotonous.  But I also got a big kick out of hearing punctuation and occasional mispronunciations.  I could speed it up or slow it down.  I could switch between a male and a female.  The only time I really got annoyed was listening to scriptures – so switched to reading them instead.

When have I used TTS?  On nights when I could not sleep and wanted a quiet voice to help me go to sleep. Recovering from eye surgeries and eye injuries when I could not open my eyes.  Recovering from a kidney stone when I was too exhausted to move from shaking so hard from pain the day before.  Running/walking on a treadmill when a new book came out and I didn’t want to turn pages or wear glasses.  Running around an indoor track when I had a book that I wanted to listen to.  On a car trip across Michigan to Chicago to visit my mother-in-law when the battery on my phone was dying.  These are just a few examples.

Amazon has taken this “luxury” away from low-end e-readers and those users.  Instead – they now want to use their tablets to make more money for their subsidiaries.  (More on this in the second half).

Whispersync for Voice – Part 1 – Basic details

Amazon is now touting Whispersync for Voice.  Switch seamlessly between your e-book and audiobook.

Of course, it has to be an Audible audiobook (owned by Amazon) and a Kindle e-book.

Supposedly – here is how it works:

Step 1) Buy the Kindle Book.  Great! I have tons of Kindle books!  I have several series of Kindle books.  In fact – I have every In Death book by JD  Robb on both the Kindle and also on Audible.  This will work perfectly.  (Insert cyncism here)

Step 2) Add Narration. Sounds good – I’ve bought about 75 Audible books to listen to while marathon training.  This will be just like Text-To-Speech, but this is no monotone voice.

Step 3) Switch between reading and listening.

I’m in.  This will be awesome.  But here is the catch – you need a Kindle and the free Audible app.

Perfect – I have Kindles and I have the free Audible app.

But what about users that don’t have a smart phone and can’t use the free Audible app?  Does this mean this option is not available to them?  No – because it also works on Kindle Fire! Here are all your choices for the Kindle Fire.

Don’t have a Kindle Fire? Don’t have a smart phone for the free Audible app? Maybe you can buy those at Amazon.com.  Otherwise – Whispersync for voice will not work for you.

Kindle Fire owners can listen and read simultaneously.  This works good for me – but not everyone reviews devices (therefore having access to lots of them) and has that capability.

Again – Kindle Paperwhite will not give you any of these audible capabilities – Whispersync for Voice or Text-To-Speech.

Whispersync for Voice – Part 2 – another way to earn money

My next post will have a bit more about the Audible side of things, but lets face it.  The reason Amazon has switched away from Text-To-Speech is that is did not make them an extra penny.  It wasn’t on all books and they hid the checks for that well.  But, it did not cost a penny more to buy a book with TTS enabled than it did to buy a book without it.  In fact, some of the more expensive books did not enable this.

With Whispersync for Voice – guess what?  It doesn’t come free with (hardly) any books!  Yes, there are certain free Kindle books that also have free Audible books to go along with them.  These are mainly classics and copyright free.  Here is the link to the Free Whispersync Books.

However, with the exception of the above books, Audible books cost money.  Sometimes a lot of money.  Usually more than the Kindle Book.  Amazon is offering some discounts – but I’m not sure these will last forever, or that there are not a lot of conditions.

So – if you want Whispersync for Voice on anything other than 26 titles, expect to pay for it.  Amazon is not stupid – they took away a free service and are trying to convince us to pay for it.  Bravo for their marketing strategies.

Whispersync for Voice – Part 3 – my complaint

I’ve just started looking into this – but I already have a big complaint.  Maybe my complaint is not the fault of Amazon, but of greedy publishing companies and greedy authors.

As I mentioned – I have every In Death book by JD Robb in both Kindle Book format and Audible audiobook format.  Heck – I even took today off work and ran 21 miles on the treadmill reading the latest book that just got released (device utilized: Kindle 3 with perfect page buttons). Books that have Whispersync enabled are marked accordingly on their information page.  I checked 10 JD Robb books and nary a single one of them has Whispersync enabled.  This is ridiculous!  I have paid good money for both versions and cannot use this feature.  Since we know that Amazon will do almost anything to make money – this leads me to believe publisher are playing their greedy games.

Current experience with Whispersync

I’ve been playing around with Whispersync on my Kindle Fire 1 and iPhone.  I downloaded the free Kindle Book and free audiobook of Dracula by Bram Stoker.

It was a bit confusing at first because I had read on the Amazon.com website that the Whispersync technology worked within the books on the Kindle Fire.  Upon digging a little more, this does not apply to Kindle Fire 1.  Next weekend I will have the Kindle Fire 7″ HD and can test this new method on that device.

Testing method one – advanced a few pages on the Kindle Book of Dracula and sync’ed the Kindle Fire.  I had to refresh the Audible app on the iPhone, but it found the location of where I had left the e-book and asked if I wanted to go to that location.  4 stars.

Testing method two – let the audiobook of Dracula play for 15 minutes on my iPhone and refreshed the app and sync’ed the Kindle Fire.  No message on the Kindle Fire asking me if I wanted to match up with the different location based on the audiobook.  1 star.

Testing method three – let the audiobook play for a few more minutes. Refreshed app. Closed book on Kindle Fire. Sync’ed device. No notice. Opened the book and found the Sync to farthest page read. It let me know that I was at the farthest page read. 1 star.

I also repeated testing methods 2 and 3 on my Kindle Keyboard with the same results.

So – clearly there are a few disconnects at this point in time between the audio to e-book sync.  But – kudos to the Audible app because it is working well.

11 Responses

  1. What would be good is if Amazon, which owns Audible, would offer purchasers of Kindle e-books the option to buy the audible version for, say, $5. They could have two-tiered pricing on bestsellers: $9.99 for the e-book alone or $14.99 for both the e-book and an Audible version. They could limit the discount to those who purchased the “bundle.”

    • Roberto – we are researching some of the deals they are offering. It does look like they are going to do some “pairings” so you get the audiobooks for a very excellent price if you have bought the Kindle Book.

      I’m probably going to have to work even more hours now to get my hands on all the deals I can.

  2. Only 13000 books are currently enabled. That number will go up quickly, but there is some work to code them together. So the books you own will likely be usable when amazon and or the publishers update them.

    Also you should know the kindle 3 got a firmware upgrade to allow it to do whisper sync by itself. So amazon is supporting older products.

    And there are about 130 or so books that have pretty cheap (under$4) upgrade prices.

    • Thanks, Adam. I’m sure the numbers will increase, but I also think there will be some publishers that hold off allowing some of the functionality. Just like some never allowed the books to use Text-To-Speech.

      I also think it will provide a great opportunity to get some of the free audiobooks into the hands of users that could not have got them previously.

  3. New from Amazon: Software Update Version 3.4
    for Kindle Keyboard includes:
    6. Whispersync for Voice: Now you can switch back and forth between reading and listening without losing your place. Whispersync for Voice will synchronize what you read on any Kindle platform device with Audible playback on Kindle Keyboard, Kindle Fire, or on Audible apps for iPhone and Android.

  4. Thanks for this post focusing on the elimination of text-to-speech. This issue, along with what I feel is Amazon’s sneaky attempt to force people to pay for something previously free, is not getting the attention it deserves.

    I’ve never had a problem with the robotic voice on the Kindle Keyboard (I rather like it), and apart from the uses noted in this article, it’s also a great tool for writing–it’s nice to have the voice read back your work to help you catch mistakes. Eliminating text-to-speech is a huge downgrade and the main reason I am not picking up a Paperwhite–or any future e-ink Kindles with no audio and less storage space.

    • I hadn’t thought of using TTS as a playback device.

      I actually find that the robotic voice allows me to enjoy the books and fall asleep faster than when I listen to audiobooks. I think the intonations and expressions of the narrators grab my attention more and don’t allow me to doze off as readily.

  5. Do I understand Whispersync correctly? I can listen to a book on my computer, Fire, or android phone, but read (only) on my Kindle? In other words, I cannot download the narration onto my Kindle? I realize I have TTS on my Kindle, but my question concerns the Audible narration specifically.

    Thanks!

    • Jen,

      I believe you can download the audiobooks in MP3 format and play them on your Kindle. I don’t believe that format will support Whispersync technology because Amazon/Audible are saying that will only be if you use the Audible app for android/iPhone/iPad or on the Kindle Fire HD devices. Audible does allow you to download in multiple formats.

      Does that help?

  6. [...] No, they never had sound in the first place, but the omission of the speakers and TTS is still a depressing surprise to plenty of people besides me. And remember, the fun comes from an outfit billing itself as "Earth’s Most [...]

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