The increasing popularity of the use of iPads in schools has led to the development of a number of writing apps, some of which are specifically designed for students who have writing difficulties. Many of these apps share commonalities such as word prediction, text to speech output, and the ability to export to a variety of formats. This review looks at four apps that offer various accessibility features that will greatly improve students’ abilities to produce written output. The apps that are reviewed are iWordQ, Typ-O HD, iReadWrite and Co:Writer for iOS. A description as listed in the app store follows along with the features that they bring to make writing more accessible. For more information, contact Colin Cheng, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Typ-O HD
- Specific Feature Comparison
Cost Cdn $28.99
Description (from iTunes)
iWordQ CA (Canadian English only) is an easy-to-use writing and reading application to assist struggling writers and readers. In Writing mode, a simple text editor is used for writing with the support of word prediction, abbreviation-expansion and speech feedback features. Spell-check and dictionary access is included. You can also use speech recognition. In Reading mode, text is shown in a more visually pleasing manner to improve readability. This is used for proofreading, reading to learn, silent reading, reading aloud, and casual reading/listening. A novel text chunking method (patent-pending) can be selected to enhance comprehension and readability of text to allow you to focus on one text chunk at a time.
Word Prediction: Predicted words are displayed as you type. Tap a predicted word to select it. Usage examples are provided to help distinguish close-sounding words (including homonyms). Even if you are creative in your spelling, iWordQ will still predict. As you move the text cursor, predictions are shown accurately.
Speech Feedback: Touch and hold a predicted word to hear it spoken with high-quality text-to-speech. Words typed or selected from the prediction list will be read out loud. As you complete each sentence by adding punctuation it will be read back to you when you tap ‘space’. Selected text can also be spoken with word-by-word highlighting. Double-tap a word to select a word; drag to extend selection. Double-tap to select a paragraph. Select speech button to display a speech review control and advance forward and backward by sentences/words.
Abbreviation-Expansion: Use your own customized abbreviation-expansions, also known as text macros, to simplify your writing. Abbreviations are also shown in the prediction list. Expansions can include any character including punctuation and multiple paragraphs.
Sharing: Text documents are saved automatically and are retrieved from the File menu. Dropbox support is included for sharing documents across systems. Documents may also be shared through several other connections, including e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Message, the pasteboard, and opening in other Apps.
The iPad onscreen keyboard is hidden and your current sentence from the Writing mode is shown in black text with the surrounding text in grey to focus attention on the current sentence. Select any another sentence by tapping it.
Proofreading: Listen for mistakes while sentences are spoken. Tap an individual word to highlight it and hear it spoken. This is useful to hear whether a word sounds correct. It may be spelled incorrectly, may be in the wrong form, or it may simply be the wrong word. Touch and swipe across more than one word to highlight a group of words that will be spoken out when you lift your finger. This is useful to hear whether word combinations are correct.
Reading to learn: Use the patent-pending Text Chunking to focus on text chunks or segments (rather than individual words) and add breathing space to comprehend your text before moving on. This is intended to mimic a good public speaker. When you tap within a sentence, a segment about that point will be highlighted and spoken. When playing a sentence, a pause is inserted after each text chunk to allow you to catch up before listening to the next one.
Reading out loud: Use iWordQ like a teleprompter and read out loud at the same pace as if spoken by iWordQ or read out loud at your own pace. Sentences (and text chunks) will be highlighted as you move through the text.
Reading silently: Turn speech feedback off and read out silently at the same pace as if spoken by iWordQ or read silently at your own pace. Sentences (and text chunks) will be highlighted as you move through the text.
Casual reading: Tap the first sentence to identify the starting point. Then play the sentences either automatically or manually.
Cost Cdn $16.99
Description (from iTunes)
Typ-O HD is an easy to use dyslexia app that helps you write without spelling errors. Typ-O HD uses a powerful word prediction engine and a sophisticated spelling error model to help you write, even if your spelling isn’t perfect. The integrated synthetic voice let you hear the word prediction suggestions before selecting and check your text before emailing or pasting it into other applications. The app is designed for children or adults with dyslexia. Typ-O HD allows you to use the speech recognition tool which gives you the possibility to speak the word that you want to write.
- word prediction available in UK English, US English, German, Spanish and French
- choose themes for the US English dictionary: math, physic, chemistry, history, biology, engineering, sociology
- change the look of the app: background colour; font; prediction keys
- speech recognition
- listen to your word before you select it
- Dropbox sync
- save your notes inside the app
- voice output
- phrase prediction
- send email or print directly from the app
- spell check – Typ-O knows the most common spelling mistakes, and will often suggest words even if you have misspelled them
Cost Cdn $22.99
Description (from iTunes)
iReadWrite makes reading easier and ensures accurate writing as you use your iPad for school, work, or leisure. This easy-to-use reading and writing App runs directly on the iPad with no Wi-Fi or 3G access necessary. It includes powerful support features that benefit struggling readers and writers of all ages, especially those with dyslexia, dysgraphia, or other learning difficulties. iReadWrite is an affordable all-in-one solution for anyone looking for reading and writing support as they work on their iPad!
- Text-to-Speech with Dual-Color Highlighting: Read text aloud with dual-color highlighting. Highlighting the sentence in one color and the word being read in another color helps with focus and reading comprehension. Highlighting colors can also be customized to suit your preferences. By having your writing read aloud, you can ensure that what you wrote is what you actually meant to write!
- Contextual Word Prediction: Use word prediction to complete a word being typed or suggest the next word. Suggestions are displayed on the left as a user is typing. Simply tap the word you wish to use. Word prediction uses context and the phonetic spell checker to help predict the best suggestions. Develops writing skills and helps construct sentences with ease!
- Phonetic Spell Checker: The phonetic spell checker allows you to identify and correct spelling mistakes including phonetic and flexible spelling errors (e.g. no vowels). The spell checker, which has been tuned for common dyslexic spelling errors, also uses co-location to look at the words around the error and make better suggestions.
- Sounds like and Confusable Word Checking: Words that sound the same as well as those that are easily confused are identified along with alternate choices and definitions to help you easily choose which word to use.
- Text and Picture Dictionary: Provides text definitions as well as images for selected words to help expand vocabulary and improve comprehension.
- Customizable Background and Text Colors: Customize the background and text colors based on your needs or preferences.
- Choice of Voices and Fonts: Choose from a variety of natural-sounding text-to-speech male and female voices and easily-readable fonts including OpenDyslexic. Speech rate for voices can be set to Slow, Medium, or Fast via the Preferences menu.
- Import documents: RTF and TXT documents can be imported into iReadWrite from anywhere.
- Share Documents: Documents that you create can be shared via email, Facebook, Twitter, or Messages.
- Print Documents: Documents can be printed on AirPrint compatible printers via the Export Menu.
Cost Cdn $22.99
Description (from iTunes)
Co:Writer® is a writing tool that aids with phonetic/inventive spelling, grammar, and topic-related vocabulary. Co:Writer has been a trusted friend to writers and communicators for decades (tracing its roots back to the days of the Apple II in the late 70s).
- HOW DOES CO:WRITER WORK?
As letters are typed, Co:Writer predicts the intended word with a selection of word suggestions using powerful grammar-smart word prediction. These suggestions can be read aloud with a swipe. Selecting the intended word places it into the document. For feedback while writing (and after writing) built-in text to speech can be used to read letters, words, sentences, and the entire document.
- 4+ MILLION TOPIC-SPECIFIC DICTIONARIES:
Co:Writer has access to a main prediction dictionary (that includes core words) and Topic Dictionaries (that includes topic specific words). Co:Writer can access over 4 million topic-specific dictionaries which are activated based on the writing task.
A small sampling of the variety of topic dictionaries:
- America’s Cup
- Apple II
- Compare and Contrast
- Grumpy Cat
- History of the Peloponnesian War
- Mahatma Gandhi
- SPELLING SUPPORT:
Co:Writer handles the widest range of spelling mistakes through its Flexspell™ technology including phonetic spelling and inventive spelling errors (letter omissions, word ending omissions, letter reversals, etc).
Examples of how Co:Writer aides with phonetic and/or inventive spelling:
- Before Co:Writer
- The blk jargon flu over the bra lfnt.
- R u hpy to ce me?
- I no hw to nor the fone.
- After Co:Writer
- The black dragon flew over the gray elephant.
- Are you happy to see me?
- I know how to answer the phone.
- Before Co:Writer
- GRAMMAR SUPPORT:
- Co:Writer bases its prediction off of proper grammar, and uses its understanding of grammar to accurately predict words within the framework of valid sentence structures.
- Examples of how Co:Writer aides with grammar:
- Dogs are furry. (noun, verb, adj.) – When you typed d-o, you get plural noun choices
- Three very mangy dogs ran down the street. (adj., adv., adj., noun, verb… etc.) – After typing three, very, mangy, you get plural noun choices, then you get plural verb tenses.
- OTHER FEATURES:
- Built-in Text to Speech (swipe prediction guesses to hear before selection)
- iCloud Support
While there are already numerous apps that allow users to create notes, memos, or full-fledged documents, these apps do not address the needs of students who have writing difficulties. Several features stand out in an accessible writing app. These features include the ability to export documents in various formats, the ability to customize formatting (such as making text more visible using high contract colours or selecting fonts that will aid those who are dyslexic), various editing tools such as the use of a dictionary, word prediction to allow users to select words that might not have existed in their vocabulary or that they might not otherwise have been able to spell correctly, text-to-speech allowing writers to hear their writing, as well as other features including the use of external inputs or the use of customized vocabulary lists. All of these features work collectively to ease the writing process and promote accessibility to a greater range of users. The four apps that are being reviewed all contain a combination of features that make the writing process easier but they don’t all perform in the same manner. A more detailed examination of these apps will help identify their strengths and help determine their target user.
|Email Attachment||SMS 1||Dropbox||Google Drive||Airplay Printer||Export to apps||Save|
All of the four apps were set up to export the typed document to a variety of formats. iWordQ had the greatest scope in being able to export to all six of the commonly used mediums (Facebook, Twitter, email, text messaging, Google Drive, and Dropbox) in addition to having the ability to be sent to an airplay enabled printer or to be saved on the device. It was also the only app that was able to attach the created document as an email attachment.
|iWordQ||Variable||3 themes||many||1.2, 1.5, 2|
|TypoHD||Variable||4 these with fixed fonts||BIU||single|
|iReadWrite||1 to 36 pt.||Variable||14 (incl. OpenDyslexic)2||Font colours||single|
None of the four reviewed apps will ever come close to performing like Microsoft Word or any other professional word processor. Their intent is not to produce a refined document but rather a document that is easy to read. As such, many of the apps only offered a handful of background colours or themes, a similar selection of font choices and none of them allowed creating a document that was anything but single spaced. However, iWordQ allowed the user to view the document with either 1.2, 1.5 or 2.0 spacing. Of the reviewed apps, only Typ-O HD allowed for formatting of selected text in bold, italic or underline accents. iReadWrite distinguished itself by offering the OpenDyslexic font which is unique in the way that the characters are formed to increase readability for readers with dyslexia. This app also allowed customizing the colour of the font. However, nothing offered as many font choices as Co:Writer with variations of fonts such as Arial with bold, italics, or bold italics. Unfortunately, the option to bold or italicize on an individual word basis is not available.
|Auto-Correct||Spelling Suggestions||Spell Check||Misspelled word underlined||Dictionary|
4. iReadWrite does not underline misspelled words but the spell check symbol turns red when errors are present.
Editing addresses the ability for the user to recognize writing errors, to be able to easily correct mistakes or to be able to access tools to determine the appropriate word usage. None of the apps except iWordQ allowed the user to look up the definition of words. Rather than include their own dictionary, iWordQ piggybacks off the built-in iPad define function. Another common tool was the ability to identify misspelled words. iWordQ and Co:Writer maintained the convention of inserting a red underline underneath misspelled words whereas the spell check icon would change colour to red in the iReadWrite app. Furthermore, iReadWrite distinguished itself in this field by further identifying homonyms that might have been incorrectly selected. iWordQ was the only app that did not have a spell check tool. iWordQ and iReadWrite incorporate an auto-correct feature, a feature which the user is able to turn off in the settings menu in iWordQ.
|# of words||creative spelling||placement|
|iWordQ||Yes||Yes6||Yes||5||up to 10||Yes||3 choices|
|TypoHD||Yes||No||Yes||3||fixed at 4||Yes||2 choices|
6. iWordQ allows users to create their own usage examples.
7. Co:Writer predicted words considerably faster and with more accuracy.
Word prediction is the ability for the app to make word suggestions based on the letters that the writer inputs. One feature that makes word prediction more effective is the ability for the user to hear the words that are suggested, a function which all of the apps have included. iWordQ adds a usage feature where the user is able to hear and view the word in a sentence aiding writers in understanding the context of the word. The mechanisms for hearing the predicted word varies from app to app. Some apps will reqd the word aloud when the word or the speaker symbol next to the word is tapped (Typo-HD and iReadWrite) whereas the other apps require a swipe. This has an effect on how the word is inserted into the document. iReadWrite has designed their app so that a single touch reads the word out loud and then either a double tap or a swipe (an option in the settings menu) will insert the word. The other apps only require that the word is tapped, arguably an easier action. All four apps suggested words that fit the context of what the writer was trying to communicate such that suggested words not only made sense according to spelling but as well as meaning. Co:Writer and Typo-HD allow the user to customize the prediction dictionary to match their language ability. Whereas Typo-HD has three settings, Co:Writer allows customization from a basic level of 1,000 word to an advanced level incorporating over 40,000 words. Furthermore, Co:Writer brings to its platform, its highly decorated prediction engine that handles the widest range of spelling mistakes including phonetic and inventive spelling errors. While, all of the apps took into account creative spelling when making word prediction choices, Co:Writer had the greatest accuracy in predicting misspelled words. For example, all of the apps were able to offer the suggestion “giraffe” when “jiraf” was typed but Co:Writer was able to predict it with fewer keystrokes before the word came up. In another example, only Co:Writer came up with the word “elephant” when “lfnt” was entered. Typ-O HD and iWordQ have expanded their prediction to include short phrases which potentially shortens typing time. The number of predicted words displayed on the screen varied with the fewest being five (Co:Writer) and the greatest being over 10 for iReadWrite. Only iWordQ allowed customization of the number of words that were displayed on the screen. Finally, both Typ-O HD and iWordQ allowed customization of the word prediction location.
|Word/phrase abbreviations||Profanity Filter||Vocabulary List||Personal Words|
Often, students who have difficulty writing due to accessibility issues benefit from reducing the number of keystrokes that are required when writing. This is achieved in a variety of ways. iWordQ uses a word/phrase abbreviation where students access these stored words or phrases with an abbreviation. For example, hayd might represent “How are you doing?” Other features related to vocabulary include the use of a profanity filter (Typ-O HD), or customizable vocabulary lists related to the word prediction feature. iWordQ, and Typ-O HD both allowed for either preset or custom vocabulary lists that would result in the program selecting these words first while using the word prediction feature. Co:Writer brings to its app, a feature called Web scraper where the user is able to access over 4 million topic-specific dictionaries. By typing in a topic name, the word prediction engine will suggest words related to that topic. Multiple topics can be selected. Of course, accessing the webscraper utility requires access to the internet. However, once a topic has been created, the topic list and words associated with it stays on the device such that the user could work without internet connectivity.
|iWordQ||2 choices||Allows editing||5 settings||No|
|TypoHD||1 female||Not editable||fixed||No|
|iReadWrite||3 choices||Not editable||3 settings||No|
|Co:Writer||1 female||Not editable||variable||No|
A core component in what makes an accessible writing app is the ability to hear text read aloud. Co:Writer and Typo-HD only provide the option of one female voice, whereas iReadWrite and iWordQ offered multiple choices, all of which were very clear and gave an option for either a male or a female voice. While most of the apps did a fairly good job in reading words accurately, iWordQ incorporates a feature within their app that allows users to edit the way in which words are pronounced. As such, unique or uncommon words can be correctly read. Co:Writer offered the greatest range of playback speed incorporating a slider bar to allow users to set the speed at which text is read back, while iWordQ and iReadWrite offered five and three pre-determined speed selections respectively. While Typo-HD previously offered greater range of playback, it currently only offers a fixed speed playback.
|Modes||Silent Reading||Highlighting||Highlight colour||Other|
10. Text chunking is a patent pending reading method to enhance comprehension and readability of text by presenting the text as a sequence of text chunks that allows you to focus on one segment at a time (mimicking a good public speaker where pauses are inserted in places for phrasing and emphasis).
11. Separate highlight colours for background text and current word being read.
Another defining feature of an accessible writing app is the ability to have the writing read back to the user. While all of the apps reviewed were capable of performing this function, iWordQ clearly distinguished itself from the other apps by offering three different modes to support different learning needs such as reading for comprehension or reading for proofreading. These modes include reading in steps, sentence by sentence or continuously. Although iReadWrite also offered the ability to read sentence by sentence as well as continuously, playback control was less refined in that the reading was either playing or stopped without the ability to pause. Once stopped, reading would start from the beginning of the document again. iWordQ takes reading a step further by adding a silent reading feature whereby the user is able to turn the reading voice off but the document still boldfaces each sentence so that the user can read the document to themselves. iWordQ also offers a features that makes reading text more accessible to users by implementing a feature called text chunking in which text is read in chunks or segments (rather than individual words) and adds breathing space to allow for better comprehension before moving on, mimicking a good public speaker. Of the three apps that provides some form of highlighting during playback, Co:Writer and Typo-HD only offers the highlighting in a muted shade which may not be necessarily visible to all users. iReadWrite offers wide variability in this area by allowing the user to select the colour from a colour palette.
|External Keyboard||Stylus Support||Speech-to-text12||Keyboards|
|iWordQ||Yes||No||iPad 3 +, mini+||QWERTY|
|iReadWrite||Yes||No||iPad 3 +, mini+||QWERTY|
|Co:Writer||Yes||No||iPad 3 +, mini+||QWERTY|
With writing apps, it is important to recognize that the ability to input text in an accessible manner is equally as important as receiving verbal feedback. All of the apps reviewed allowed users to use an external keyboard for typing text. With the addition of dictation support on newer iPads, all of the apps now provide speech-to-text support as long as Siri is enabled and an internet connection is available. Typo-HD provides dictation support to legacy devices through its own dictation engine (internet connectivity is still required). When using the built-in dictation tool, voice inputted text shows up as a suggestion in the word prediction window.
All of the apps seemed to support 3rd party keyboards although Typo-HD and iReadWrite made it onerous to switch from one keyboard to the next compared to Co:Writer and iWordQ which presented the keyboard options in a menu context.
While iOS7 in theory provides switch access to apps, many of these apps have glitches within them that make switch control either unusable or extremely limiting. For example, using Switch Control in iWordQ, creating a new document causes the program to enter a negative loop where the user is unable to proceed during the file naming process. In iReadWrite, users may only be able to access part of the settings menu unless they access a complicated system of scrolling down.
14. Help is available online in the form of videos.
15. Co:Writer is also available as Co:Writer Universal which is subscription based. Current rates are $59.99 per year but access is available on multiple platforms for a single user.
Other than the standard features that accompany accessible writing apps, there are a few other considerations to make when choosing a writing app. One consideration might be the ability to get assistance in using the app. iWordQ offered the most comprehensive help documents with a comprehensive built-in user guide for the app. iReadWrite went to the other extreme and offered no assistance whatsoever even on their website. In fact, the company has largely abandoned support for the product opting to go with their flagship app, Read&Write for iPad instead. Co:Writer took a different route in offering support through the creation of how-to videos that are accessible through their website. Typo-HD provided basic in-app support by providing an index of the symbols with further support on their website in the form of videos and a user guide. Related to support is the issue of continued development and refinement of the functionality of the app. It appears that both Typo-HD and iWordQ are still offering continued development with recent updates released this year. Co:Writer was last updated half a year ago but iReadWrite has not been updated in almost two years. In terms of cost, most of the apps sold for between $20 and $29.
When choosing a writing app, it is clear that no single app will provide all of the features that are available. Therefore, it is important to identify what features are important to you and what you are willing to live without. All of the apps had their strengths and certainly some of them had very specific users in mind when they were created. Below is a summary of their strengths and their ideal use.
Strengths: greatest exporting formats including airplay printers, provides usage of words, ability to create shortcuts for words/phrases, customizable vocabulary lists, editable pronunciation of unusual words, 3 modes of reading text back, text chunking, and speech-to-text on newer devices.
Areas of Weakness: Strong overall performer but had the weakest word prediction engine.
Ideal User: your average user. This program represents the greatest number of features and the best value of all the apps.
Strengths: Its simplicity is its strength as well as having the ability to create bold type, italics, or underline text, speed settings, and speech-to-text for all devices. Very intuitive to use.
Areas of Weakness: Lacks a help file, voice settings and customization of app.
Ideal User: the cheapest of all of the writing apps reviewed. This app would be a better choice for someone who requires text-to-speech but does not have a newer device.
Strengths: Many font choices including OpenDyslexic, dictionary that can be read aloud with pictorial support, duo text highlighting. The spell check also identifies homophones and words that are frequently used incorrectly.
Areas of Weakness: Very few exporting formats, limited features, lack of support.
Ideal User: Users with dyslexia might find the OpenDyslexic font that this app offers useful.
Strengths: Many font choices, a time tested prediction engine and the ability to generate topic lists for virtually any subject makes this a powerful writing app.
Areas of Weakness: Relatively limited features relative to some of the other apps.
Ideal User: A more advanced writer who may already have the writing skills but requires vocabulary support.