Launched yesterday, after nine months of hype, the Blio reader fell so short of so many expectations (expectations that have become basic market requirements for digital reading), it was deemed by many as a failure. What struck me is that many of the failures are fundamentally at odds with the one thing that Kurzweil was touting above all else: accessibility. But accessibility is not just about text-to-speech. Accessibility comes on many levels. And Blio didn’t hit ANY of those levels.
1. The first release is Windows-only. Yes, most digital reading is still done on actual laptops and desktops. And yes, most of those machines are not Macs. But given that Adobe (with all its Apple woes) can develop a platform-independent e-reader in Adobe Digital Editions, you’d think someone over at KNFB would have considered this a gating issue. Why trim down your potential customer base by limiting what platforms your software can run on? Particularly when, in this day and age, you have so many options? We hear that iOS and Android versions will be released “soon”. As soon as the Windows one was? Why all the different OS-dependent rollouts?
2. The Windows text-to-speech functionality is notoriously bad. Why dedicate your first release to a platform that has KNOWN ISSUES with TTS, while you are advertising the accessibility options? It makes no sense. According to PW, “[Blio executive Peter Chapman] acknowledged that most people’s Text To Speech (TTS) would likely have problems because, “the TTS software on most Windows machines isn’t very good.” KNFB, Chapman said, is in the process of making new and affordable TTS software available through the Blio bookstore. Chapman said consumers dissatisfied with their TTS can purchase better (but significantly more expensive) software immediately online that will improve its quality. However, he said they are working with TTS software vendors to offer a better and much cheaper TTS software that will allow users to choose different voice qualities and he said it will be available very soon.” This is just a botch. A botch at the heart of Blio’s value proposition.
3. A small offering. Blio launched with only 11,000 titles. This is mind-boggling. There are HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of books available digitally. Publishers are already sending files to the new Big Six – Amazon, B&N, Sony, Google, Kobo and Apple. Adding another vendor to the file distribution is not hard. Why did KNFB not solicit more content? Do they expect people will adopt Blio if there are no books to be read on it? Yes, they’re adding 7-800 titles per day, but given all the books that are already available from other vendors, you still have to actually COMPETE.
There are many, many other issues being reported, but these four really spoke to me. Kurzweil’s partnership with NFB suggested a product that would have accessibility as a priority. And this launch was truly disappointing.