Apple’s iBooks Store and Reader to Support VoiceOver


p>As Apple began taking pre-orders today for its new iPad device, they released a few more details about the product. Most exciting among these for VoiceOver users is the news that iBooks, the application that doubles as a digital bookstore and electronic book reader, will support VoiceOver.

Apple’s iBooks page describes its accessibility thus:

Unlike a paper book — or e-books on other devices — you can change iBooks on iPad to suit the way you read. Turn iPad to portrait to view a single page. Or view two pages at once by rotating to landscape. Change the text size. Even change the font. Touch and hold any word to look it up in the built-in dictionary or Wikipedia, or to search for it throughout the book and on the web. iBooks works with VoiceOver, the screen reader in iPad, so it can read you the contents of any page. Even with all these extras, reading is so natural on iPad, the technology seems to disappear.

Our readers will remember the controversy last year when the Authors’ Guild tried to block text-to-speech on Amazon’s Kindle book reader, claiming that text-to-speech was equivalent to audio book performances by human narrators.

The guild will find it much harder to argue that bizarre stance this time, as the access is being offered via VoiceOver rather than a generalized text-to-speech option. By taking this approach, Apple will be providing VOiceOver users with a streamlined experience, and putting the Authors’ Guild in a position of specifically having to oppose access for visually impaired users to their content. We do not believe the guild will want to try to take such a hostile stance.

The iBooks application will also work as a reader for free books in ePub format, whether that content was purchased from the iBooks store or not.

Once again, Apple is putting visually impaired users on equal footing with their sighted fellows.