In a move that could assist vision-impaired users and potentially aid smartphone development, Amazon (s AMZN) has acquired text-to-speech and voice recognition company IVONA Software for an undisclosed sum.
Amazon already uses IVONA technology on the Kindle Fire, using the software to, for example, read user actions aloud or help navigate the touchscreen. Amazon might now integrate some of these features into its e-readers. (The Kindle Paperwhite lacks the experimental text-to-speech feature that was available on the older Kindle Touch.)
Over the past few years, various advocacy organizations for blind people — most prominently, the National Federation for the Blind — have sued or protested against Amazon’s attempts to sign deals with school districts and universities to bring Kindle devices into classrooms. The organizations argue that Kindle e-readers and ebooks are inaccessible to blind students and are thus prohibited from use in public schools by federal law. More recently, advocacy by the National Federation for the Blind might have helped scuttle a multi-million dollar deal between Amazon and the U.S. State Department that would have provided Kindles to overseas learning programs. If Amazon is able to integrate text-to-speech technology into more of its devices, the company might be able to avoid some legal hassles.
Of course, IVONA’s technology could also help Amazon create a competitor to Apple’s Siri (s AAPL) voice-recognition technology. (Rumors that Amazon is working on a smartphone have been making their way around the internet for awhile.) It seems more likely, though, that the primary driver of this acquisition is Amazon’s desire to avoid future lawsuits — and to get Kindles into more hands worldwide.