April 2012 Issue  Volume 13  Number 4

Apps and Applications

What is This?: A Review of the VizWiz, Digit-Eyes, and LookTel Recognizer Apps for the iPhone

Have you ever found a can and had no idea what was in it? Have you ever mixed up socks and couldn't tell their color? VizWiz, Digit-Eyes, and LookTel Recognizer are three iPhone apps that can help identify items. An iPhone 4 was used for this review but these apps work on most iOS devices with cameras.

VizWiz Identification App by ROC HCI

VizWiz is a free and easy-to-use identification app. You take a picture of an item, record a question, and then send the photo and question to your choice of: anonymous Web volunteers, IQ Engines (a photo recognition software platform), your Twitter followers, your Facebook friends, and/or an e-mail contact. Answers are returned to VizWiz.

How to Use VizWiz

When the app opens, the "Camera" button will be on the screen. Point the camera towards the object to be identified. Get as much of your object in the view field as possible. Double-tap the camera button and listen for the sound of the camera taking the picture.

After the image has been captured, a new screen will load with a Record button. Double-tap the button and the phone will vibrate. Speak your question clearly. Double tap the screen when you're finished. A new screen will load to choose the destination(s) for your question and picture. Choices are made via toggle switches. Double tapping each switch activates or deactivates it. Once you've made your choices, activate the send button. A "Back" button is always available to return to the previous screen.

After the Send button has been activated, VizWiz loads the "View Answers" screen. The rate at which answers appear varies, depending on the item and the responders you've selected. New answers are spoken as they appear, along with where the answer came from. It may take some time for all answers to arrive. You can close the app while you wait. When you re-launch the app, the answer screen will be there.

VizWiz Test Results

Ten minutes elapsed between the time the "Send" button was activated and the results were reviewed.

Image: A can of Healthy Choice Tomato Basil Soup received two responses.
Question: "What's in this can?"
IQ Engines said: "Healthy Choice Soup"
A Web worker said: ""This is a health drink. It is useful for heart."

Image: A can of Diet Coke received one response.
Question: "What's in this can?"
IQ Engines said: "Diet Coke"

Image: Brown, white, and off-white animal print blouse
Question: "What does this blouse look like?" received three responses.
Web workers said: "A cloth of some kind."
Another Web worker: "Like a tiger skin."
IQ Engines said "Animal print."

Image: A faded Adidas black sock.
Question: "What color is this sock?"
Two Web workers said: "gray."
IQ Engines said: "Adidas gray sock."

Image: $50 iTunes gift card received three responses.
Web worker said: "Unable to tell what kind."
Web worker said: "Can't see that. I see it's for $50. Try moving camera out."
IQ Engines said: "Bar code."

I re-did the photo, following the Web worker's advice and positioned the camera a little further from the card. Two responses:
Web worker said: "iTunes gift card"
IQ Engines said: "bar code."


This app can be very useful when trying to identify items. It's free and easy to use which makes VizWiz a very good option. For more information visit the VizWiz website, which contains a tutorial and information about how the app was developed.

Digit-Eyes Audio Scanner and Labeler by Digital Miracles L.L.C.

Digit-Eyes ($29.99) is a bar code scanning app for the iPhone and iPod touch. In addition to reading the Universal Product Codes (UPC) or European Article Numbers (EAN) that appear on labels for a variety of objects, this app also reads customized bar code labels that you create. There is a free Lite version with limited features if you'd like to try it before you buy it.

How To Scan

When Digit-Eyes is opened, the "Scan" button is on the screen. In order to scan a bar code, you first need to find it, which can be daunting because usually there is nothing to distinguish its location on a label or product. On boxes, the codes are frequently on the opposite end of the sides that are meant to be opened. If a can has a wrapped label, the code is usually near the seam. If a can does not have a tactile label, such as a soda can, it needs to be turned until Digit-Eyes can find the code. The code on a jar with one label is usually toward the side of the label, away from the center. If the jar has two labels, it will be on the back label. Usually the front label is larger. On some rectangular packages, the code is on the longer of the two small sides. It takes some practice to get comfortable with scanning, especially if you can't feel the bar code on the product you're trying to identify. The Digit-Eyes website has sheets you can print out and use for scanning practice. Unlike a laser scanner, which can be moved quickly across an item, you need to move more slowly with Digit-Eyes, since it uses the phone's camera.

Whether scanning an item that came with a bar code or scanning a custom label, the technique is the same. The only difference is that it's easier to find the code with a custom label since the label can be felt. To begin the scanning process, double tap the "Scan" button. The phone will make a ticking noise as it scans. Move the phone slowly in front of the item or move the item slowly in front of the phone. Gradually increase the distance. When Digit-Eyes locates the code, it will beep and say what the item is. In the case of a can of soup, Digit-Eyes accurately identified that it was Healthy Choice brand, along with the kind of soup and the size of the can. Similarly, with a can of Diet Coke, Digit-Eyes added the size of the can. Digit-Eyes has an extensive database, but if it cannot recognize the code, the user can then enter a description using the iPhone's virtual keyboard. The next time that bar code is encountered, Digit-Eyes will recognize it. When Digit-Eyes recognizes a bar code, there is a button you can select to perform a Google search to get more information about the item.

If Digit-Eyes can't read the bar code, try another location on the object. Frequently, manufacturers put codes in the same general area on specific products. Your device determines how far the phone should be from the item. For the iPhone 3, the distance should be 4 to 6 inches. For the iPhone 4 the distance is 4 to 12 inches and for the iPod Touch it's 8 to 16 inches. This is not an exact science and distances may need to be adjusted.

Custom Labels

Digit-Eyes allows the user to create audio labels for items that do not already have a bar code. When scanning custom labels it's not necessary to have an Internet connection, since the label's description will be stored in your phone. Pre-printed bar code labels are available from the Digit-Eyes website at a cost of $19.99 for 255 labels. A less expensive option is to buy blank labels and print your own bar codes. Instructions on how to do this are on the Digit-Eyes website. Set-up for this is a multi-step process and sighted help will be needed the first time. Once you have successfully set up your printer and created your first label, unique new bar codes can be retrieved directly from the Digit-Eyes website and printed. Sighted assistance will not be required since the printer has already been set, assuming that you're using the same type of blank labels. When the bar code is scanned, Digit-Eyes wilt prompt the user to say a name for the label. Options are also provided to delete or re-record the spoken information.

Text labels can also be created. You type the text on a form on the Digit-Eyes website. The text is formatted and then you print out the text on your own label.

A pack of 50 pre-printed, washable bar code labels, good for identifying clothing, is also available for $19.99.

The Digit-Eyes website contains audio tutorials and clear instructions.


Although Digit-Eyes is a bit expensive and has a learning curve, it's very useful. The ability to create custom labels is a big plus.

LookTel Recognizer by LookTel

The LookTel Recognizer ($9.99) uses a photo library and a bar code scanner to identify objects. The photo library must be created by the user and the app developers recommend that a person with little or no vision have a sighted person take the photographs. I do not have any vision and was able to successfully photograph various objects including cans, clothing, and boxes for my photo library without sighted assistance. Objects should be photographed on a plain background with the maximum amount of the object in the view field.

To take a picture, double tap the "Capture Image" button. Once an item is photographed, LookTel Recognizer will prompt you for a recorded description. The app will indicate that the description was recorded. Once an item is entered into the database, hold the camera in front of the item. LookTel Recognizer will speak the recorded description. No buttons need to be pressed. It might be necessary to slowly move the camera until it recognizes the item and speaks its description.

LookTel Recognizer also contains a bar code scanner. To scan an item, double tap the "Start Bar Code Scanning" button, hold your device about 6 to 8 inches from the item, and slowly move the camera. When the bar code is located, the app will beep and speak the item's name and any other additional information. While Recognizer is scanning it does not give any type of audio feedback like Digit-Eyes. To insure the app is still scanning, check the scan button and it should say "Stop Bar Code Scanning." When LookTel Recognizer locates the bar code, it sounds a beep and speaks the item's information. If the bar code isn't known, a Google search is automatically started for the bar code's information.

LookTel Recognizer, like Digit-Eyes, named the brand, type and size of the scanned soup can. It named the Diet Coke can and said the size. Using Recognizer, I photographed the same animal print shirt from the VizWiz test and the description was entered into the photo library. Even when several unlabeled shirts were presented along with the photographed one, the app recognized the animal print shirt.


LookTel Recognizer allows for two ways to identify items: through photographs or using bar codes. Once an item is in the photo library, it's convenient that scanning does not require any buttons.

The LookTel Recognizer site contains clear documentation on how to use this app.

The Bottom Line

All of these apps can be very useful for someone with a visual impairment. Since VizWiz is free, it's worth putting on your device. If you can afford it, I'd get both Digit-Eyes and LookTel Recognizer. No app is perfect, but these three apps can make identification much easier.

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