A New Way of Reading? A Look at Spritz
Recently I was listening to a new-to-me podcast, The Kindle Chronicles, hosted by Len Edgerly. As you might imagine from the title of the podcast it’s about all things Kindle. (Tip: his interview with Paul Biba is a must hear if you’re fascinated with the Amazon is a monopoly hysteria.)
One of the episodes (TKC 323 Maik Maurer & Frank Waldman) introduced me to a very interesting reading interface called Spritz.
You can visit the Spritz website here.
Spritz is designed for reading under very specific reading circumstances and conditions. The interface flashes the words of a text one at a time. Because of that, it’s suitable for a small display, such as a watch (just saying!) or other wearable device, handheld devices, and in conditions where mobility is limited. It might not be convenient to hold a device and constantly move your hand or arm to swipe pages, for example. Or, perhaps, you have limited mobility.
I’m still getting my head around the implications, but if they can address certain issues, I think they’re big. That makes Spritz a target for acquisition, I should think.
Before I get to my own experience with using Spritz, I have some screen caps to share. A little later in the post, I’ll give you a link to the Spritz site where you can test it yourself.
I downloaded a paid app ($1.99) called Read Me, that integrates with Spritz. I hooked that up to my dropbox account and downloaded two titles into the reader. One was fiction, the other non-fiction. The screenshots are from an O’Reilly title, Web Programming with SASS. You can see the greyed out background, which shows the text of the book. The stripe across the middle is the Spritz display, which flashes one word at a time. As you can see, the word is anchored, depending on its length, with a red letter to orient your eye. That anchor point does not move.
With Spritz, your eye does not track the words in a linear fashion. The words are delivered to you one at a time. There is no left to right (or other direction) tracking needed.
What’s it Like?
The concept sounds like it would be a rather tedious process. But, it’s not. Head over to the Spritz site to see it in action. It’s . . . interesting. I’d say it need some refinements but this is pretty nice.
I found the look and feel to be quite elegant. The sans-serif type works well for people with vision deficits such as dyslexia and other low vision problems. You can set the speed at which the words are displayed. This is where I encountered my first set of issues. The default felt too slow, but the interface does not have a very granular control over speed and I ended up stuck at slightly too slow or too fast. Analog “dials” have some advantages over digital settings, particularly when the digital offerings are less than optimally granular. (Increments of 25 words)
There was another issue, and it’s a pacing issue, I think. Or something quite dreadful. (Hypochondriacs of the world, unite!)
Proceeding, for now, on the assumption that it’s not Something Dreadful, it seemed to me that every word, regardless of length, stayed on the screen for the same period. I don’t know if that was relativity in action or the actual experience.
Now, you’d expect that long words might need to stay longer while short ones do not. My perception/experience was the exact opposite of that. I ended up unsettled and wondering if I don’t have a developing neurological deficit, or if this actually uncovered something about the nature of my dyslexia. Because here is what happened: short words of 1 or 2 letters vanished. Somewhere between my brain and my eyes, something got dropped.
At first, I thought Spritz was skipping these short words. But it wasn’t. At sufficiently slow speeds, I processed those short words. But when it was slow enough for me to “see” them, long words were on the screen for an unbearably long time. So, at a speed that was comfortably speedy with longer words, a sentence such as this:
This is a walk in the park.
“Read” to me like this:
This walk the park.
It might be a matter of practice, but as a result there were sentences that made no sense to me, and, as noted, it was unsettling indeed to discover that words “disappeared.” Quite literally, I did not see them. I would be interested to know if others have this experience. I don’t know at the moment if using it more would resolve the problem, or if the solution is that short words actually need to be on the screen longer. I do know I’m a fast reader under normal conditions.
I also don’t know if the problem is the Read Me app. I know that the app is not interpreting css very well. (Oh, great. Yet another reader with its own borked css/html interpretation.) In Read Me, I remained baffled about how to make Spritz start working. I just blundered about until it did. When it’s working, the word where the Spritzing will start is outlined in a red circle. And then, off you go!
Some other Issues
Spritz does not render italics and I found that in fiction I lost whole sections of meaning where text was italicized as a means of conveying information that is not actually contained in the word. Italics are a textual prosody, if you will, and Spritz does not convey it. I expect this is would be easily overcome by any of varying means.
Fiction is an immersive experience and anything that yanks you out of the immersion stops the story. Speaking only of fiction, there is a huge difference between these two sentences.
“I love you,” he said. (no italics on the word “you”)
“I love you,” he said. (italicized “you”)
Spritz does not convey the difference between the two. That seems a serious shortcoming. Serious enough that I think Spritz, as currently implemented, is not suited to fiction.
This is a fascinating technology. It doesn’t take much imagination to see all kinds of ways in which something like this is useful, beyond someone reading on their commute by train or bus. People with limited mobility might find this invaluable.
I’m looking forward to seeing future iterations of this. If you test this out for yourself, please do come by an leave a comment with your thoughts and experiences.