Thursday, August 8, 2013

Kindle Update Adds More Language Support

Looks like the three newest Kindles are getting software updates today. It's always a surprise when one of my sleeping readers suddenly turns on by itself, like some kind of dormant ghost in the machine awakening from slumber. Today's update is coming to the HD8.9, HD7, and the 2nd generation Fire (sorry Paperwhite!), and adds four new or otherwise improved features.

1) Language Support for Brazilian Portuguese

In support of Amazon's recent foray into the heart of South America - home of their namesake, the behemoth river Amazon - this new update adds the ability to change the native device language to Brazilian Portuguese. Amazon opened the Kindle Store in Brazil last December (, as well as expanding KDP distribution to the Brazilian market at the same time, with the Kindle devices themselves arriving shortly thereafter. And while there are over 13,000 titles available in Portuguese on the Brazilian Kindle Store, the three newest Kindle devices are only now getting support for the language. Slight faux pas there, but better late than never I suppose.

2) New Keyboard Languages

You can now also change the language and layout of your onscreen device keyboard to any one of 37 additional languages (over and above the dozen already installed by default), thereby allowing you to communicate in your own language! At right is a screen cap of the new Norwegian keyboard, which adds a few additional glyphs, as well as changing the spacebar name to its equivalent in the chosen language. This will greatly improve the usefulness of the device for a far broader audience, for everything from doing searches to making notes and comments. 

To add new keyboard languages, go to the Settings menus and select "Language & Keyboard." Tap the "Keyboard" option, and you will find a new option to "Download Keyboard Languages," which takes you to a list of 37 additional choices beyond the twelve or so default options. Once you download the language of choice, you will find it available as a choice when you press and hold the space bar on the keyboard. Note that the Keyboard section of the Settings menu will still show only the default languages that shipped with the device.

3) Multicolor Highlights

Notice on the screenshot to the right that there are now three additional color choices when you tap a word to bring up the dictionary popup menu. Rather than the single standard yellow highlighter, you can now choose from Pink, Blue, or Orange as well. As an author I'm a big fan of multicolor highlighting, for everything from research to outlining, and I can easily imagine this becoming a favorite feature for those who use Kindle Print Replica Textbooks for their studies. Even if you have borrowed the book, you can add you own highlights to it, and they won't appear to anyone but you - and when you borrow (or later buy) the book again, they will still be there! The beauty of digital highlights is that you can erase them with a tap, and the content is none the worse for wear.

4) Share Notes & Highlights from a Print Replica Textbook

And speaking of Print Replica Textbooks, you can now share any notes or highlights you might make in the text at hand by emailing them to classmates, or anyone else who has that same book. I've never actually seen a Print Replica Textbook, so I can't tell you how well this works, but I imagine it's little more than an additional option on the popup menu, probably under "More..." or as an option when you tap on Note or Comment. The value of this will be obvious to students in study groups, and I hope they add it to standard books as well, since it would be highly useful for reading groups or friends and family scattered across the globe. The option to broadcast your comments to the universe at large via Facebook and Twitter is fine for general use, but directly sharing notes and comments would be greatly welcome in the interconnected global world we all now live in.

All in all this a fairly significant update. While it doesn't add an abundance of broad use feature, what it does add expands the Kindle platform's usefulness to a broader range of users in specific and meaningful ways. Amazon is clearly pressing their advantage as they expand into International markets, as well as improving functionality for niche markets such as students. For those target markets, these are all incredibly powerful updates.

As always, if you don't want to want for your device to auto-update, you can go to the Kindle Software Updates page at Amazon and manually download and install the upgrade. Detailed instructions are on the download page.