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Smartphones, Authors' Guild challenge Kindle 2

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Just days after the big announcement of Amazon's revised Kindle e-book reader, two notable bumps on the path to mass adoption have formed like frost heaves on a Maine road.

Why buy a Kindle when a smartphone will do?

First came word of an upcoming program that will bring e-books to smartphones everywhere – iPhone, Blackberry, and Android included. Called Shortcovers, the app from Canadian bookseller Indigo Books & Music (the largest of its kind in the great white north) is different from similar software-based e-book readers because of its parent's relationship publishers. PC World explains:

While smartphone-based e-book readers have been available in places like Apple's App Store for a while, it's Shortcovers' close ties to the publishing industry that set it apart from the pack. Because of the company's connections with major publishers, it's been able to secure the rights to brand new books that are often tough (if not impossible) to find on other services.

Kindle's tech edge

Many argue that, despite software that allows e-books to be read on smartphones, the Kindle retains an advantage. Its E-Ink display is so easy on batteries that it can go without a charge for two weeks, and it's easier on the eyes than the LCDs found on Blackberrys, iPhones, and other smartphones. PC World Bizfeed blogger Robert Strohmeyer is firmly grounded in that camp. He touts not only the Kindle's great screen and battery life, but its one-handed design, free 3G internet, and the low cost of new books.

Is 'Read to Me' a 'performance'?

Jeff Bezos' announcement that along with new "whispersync" technology, the Kindle 2 will include a new feature that reads any book aloud with a computerized voice ruffled feathers at the Authors' Guild.  The copyright advocacy group claims that the new feature (which could probably benefit from IBM's humanized voice improvements we talked about here) oversteps its bounds. Fast Company blogger Kit Eaton explains:

In the words of Paul Aiken, Executive Director of the Guild: "They don't have the right to read a book out loud... That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law."
Aiken is claiming that any text-to-speech system that reads aloud from published books is the same as an audio book. An audio book, which is a voice performance of a text by an actor, a human being, introduces all the emotional flavors and subtle real-life cues into the reading to make the story "come alive" as you listen. That's versus the Kindle 2, which uses an inhuman computer voice to simply regurgitate the written text as the (synthetic) spoken word.

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