With the latest iPad release in March 2012 (simply dubbed "the new iPad"), Apple made significant upgrades to the previously released iPad 2. These enhancements to the new iPad provide app developers the opportunity to expand the capabilities of apps. Some of the more noteworthy improvements on the latest iPad include a more powerful processor, twice as much RAM (1 GB), a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera (previously only equipped with a 0.7-megapixel camera), and a high resolution Retina display. United States-based SightTech is one company that is taking advantage of the iPad's improved capabilities with its EyeSight app.
What is the EyeSight App?
If you break down an electronic video magnifier (CCTV) into its fundamental components, it consists of a camera, a screen that displays the image, and the ability to manipulate the image itself in a variety of ways. For all intents and purposes, the iPad already does this, but it just doesn't do it well. EyeSight, currently available for download from the App Store for $29.99, makes use of the new iPad's more powerful rear-facing camera, its increased processing speed, and enhanced image quality. The app's capabilities are intrinsic to the new iPad's architecture and design, and the iPad, therefore, needs to be taken into consideration when evaluating this app.
The Visual Display
The viewable display area of the iPad itself is 9.7 inches (diagonal measurement). This is a relatively small display compared to many of the commercially available electronic magnifiers on the market, which are typically fitted with a 20-inch display or larger. Using the iPad display, EyeSight allows an image to be magnified up to 12 times. The level of magnification can quickly and easily be adjusted using the pinch and reverse-pinch, gestures commonly used on iOS devices. EyeSight retains the last color scheme and level of magnification used when it is reloaded. This is a very handy feature and prevents you from having to readjust its settings every time you use it.
iOS 5 (the latest operating system for the iPad, iPhone, and iTouch) allows for video mirroring capability. This gives you the option of displaying the image on an external monitor or TV of any size that supports an HDMI or VGA connection. Depending on the size of monitor being used, this allows you to increase the viewable size significantly.
This video from SightTech gives a brief overview of the EyeSight app along with a short video demonstrating the app and iPad being used on an external monitor.
In order for the iPad and EyeSight app combination to more closely simulate the functionality of an electronic magnifier, additional hardware is needed to suspend the iPad above the surface of the viewable area. These parts are available through RAM Mounts, a company that specializes in various mounts and supports for Apple products. The three components required are a suction base mount, a double socket arm, and the cradle that secures the iPad. The combined cost of these three components is less than $90, not including tax. EyeSight is hoping to streamline the hardware and software solutions into one location so that you, the consumer, will not need to scour the Internet searching for the necessary components. As it stands now, the fragmented process of having to track down the necessary parts can be confusing and time consuming.
When the iPad is configured with the above-mentioned hardware, the camera will be positioned at the bottom-right corner of the iPad. This may take some time to get used to since most electronic video magnifiers have the camera positioned more in the center.
EyeSight contains a User Guide with the app. It may be a little confusing for some people to access since the control to access it is a small icon located in the far corner of the display. The icon itself is a small image representing SightTech's company logo. Because the icon is tucked in the corner of the display, the icon disappears from view when Zoom, the built-in magnification program, is first enabled on the iPad. This may prove to be problematic for the population that this product has been designed for since a person with low vision may have difficulty seeing this icon without the use of Zoom. Replacing this small icon with a larger question mark or the letter "i" (often used with apps) may help to avoid confusion for some people. The User Guide itself is not accessible with VoiceOver, Apple's built-in screen reader. The font size of the instructions is approximately 14 point. Increasing the font size to 22 would make the instructions much more readily accessible for people with low vision.
Lighting and Glare
The iPad is not equipped with its own light source. The correct type and amount of light is important for providing the necessary contrast and illumination needed to maximize the quality of the image or text being viewed. Considering that the iPad will be resting approximately four inches from the surface of the viewable area, overhead light sources have the potential of casting shadows and/or reducing the level of illumination of the viewable area. A task lamp may be used to provide extra illumination, but this reduces the convenience and portability of the iPad and EyeSight app combination. The iPad's screen has a glossy finish that could also present glare issues for some people. An anti-glare screen protector may be purchased from a number of retail sources, including Amazon, for approximately $15.00.
Color Schemes and Image Quality
The EyeSight app provides six color schemes: normal, enhanced positive, enhanced negative, yellow on blue, yellow on black, and blue on white. Within iOS itself, you also have the option of changing the level of brightness. Providing an adjustment for modifying the brightness level within the app itself would add to its ease of use.
EyeSight also has the capability of capturing a screenshot, which is then saved as a photo. The app works best when the iPad camera is elevated about four inches from the reading surface. In a stationary position, this iPad /app combination does a reasonably good job at displaying the image. However, when panning material from side to side and up and down, there is a substantial amount of blurring (also known as ghosting). SightTech states that it's working to reduce the amount of ghosting for a future update of the app by digitally enhancing the image via the new iPad's more powerful processing and video buffering capabilities. The single-finger, single tap function cycles you through the color schemes available, but this gesture may be a little annoying for some users. It is very easy to inadvertently tap the iPad screen while using it, which means you need to cycle through all of the available color schemes to get back to the one you were originally using.
The Bottom Line
People retrofitting cameras and stands in an attempt to replicate the experience of a traditional electronic magnifier is nothing new. What is relatively new is the proliferation of Apple products on the market with powerful cameras and processing power that now make a retrofit much easier than in the past. The latest iPad starts out at $499, EyeSight is priced at $29.99, and the additional hardware needed costs approximately $90. For many people, one of the strongest motivators for using the iPad as an electronic video magnifier is the cost savings. High quality video magnifiers can still cost upwards of $2,000 to $3,000. If you already have a new iPad and are in need of magnification primarily for spot reading purposes (i.e., reading prescriptions, ingredients, or recipes), the investment in the EyeSight app and additional hardware components may be worth considering.
The amount of blurring that takes place with the iPad and EyeSight when panning printed material does not lend itself to any extensive amount of reading. An XY table would also be a necessary purchase in order to use the iPad to read for extended periods of time. Because the iPad does not have its own light source, it may also be necessary to invest in a task lamp to provide additional illumination depending on the lighting conditions in the room.
The EyeSight app and the additional hardware needed to turn the new iPad into an electronic magnifier may be a feasible solution for some people. This was not even available a couple of years ago. With the improved image quality and processing speed of the current iPad, we are sure to see other apps that will be pushing the envelope for what's possible for people with vision loss.
Product: EyeSight App