iPhone, iPad and iTouch apps for people who have low vision, and teachers of students who have a vision impairment (Updated to include the iPad 2)

I’ve trialled all the magnification apps listed in the app magnification chart, some are user friendly and have good quality screen magnification combined with the capacity to quickly refocus and zoom. Others are less functional. I’ve also listed some apps that teachers may find useful when conducting disability awareness or simulation sessions.

I’ve not found any apps with all the features many users who have low vision will need. For example: contrast adjustment, foreground and background colour adjustment and white on black/black on white options are features that I haven’t been able to find in any magnification apps.

Challenges for users requiring magnification and considering utilising an “i” device may include;

  • Holding the device steady, finding or creating a suitable stand for stability
  • issues with using a camera for magnification that isn’t centrally located in the device – something to be aware of now with the iPhone or iPod Touch, but being a small device it’s fairly easy to adjust to having an off centre camera.

I considered adding a rating for each of the apps, but after some discussion with colleagues, decided against the idea. It’s better for each individual (teacher or user) to focus on creating a list of features that they require a magnification app to have that will meet their visual needs, then search for an app that best meets that criteria.

My personal criteria are;

  • Inbuilt illumination option
  • easy zoom functionality, either pinch or slider
  • full screen magnification
  • quick auto focus when moving across text

My preferred magnification apps that most closely meet my criteria are;

Easy Reader with LED $1.19 (also compatible with iPad2)

Magnifying Glass with light $1.19 (or free with advertising)

Magnifier $1.19

iCanSee FREE

I’d be very interested to hear feedback and also suggestions for additional magnification apps to consider.

Now that the new iPad 2 is available and it includes a built in camera, I’m looking forward to trialling more magnification apps on a larger screen, (I’m hoping to receive a iPad2 very soon) the larger screen format of the iPad, may mean that functional magnification options are available to more people requiring higher levels of magnification, at a fraction of the price of a traditional CCTV (Close Circuit Television). It’s possible to purchase an iPad and magnification apps for around $500 rather than the $5000 that many CCTVs are priced at. The iPad 2 device’s true portability and multifunctional capabilities through utilising task oriented apps will add an interesting addition to the list of possible tools (SETT process)* we can consider to provide access to print based (and digital texts) materials for people who have a vision impairment.

The ZoomReader app from Ai Squared was showcased at ATIA conference earlier this year, unfortunately it still isn’t available to purchase through iTunes, I’m looking forward to trialling the app once it is released. Here’s some information about the app from AI Squared.

“ZoomReader will be a combination video magnifier and OCR app. It uses the built-in camera on an iPhone or iPod Touch to zoom in on printed materials, apply color filters, and to take a picture of something and have the text in that image read out loud…At $19.99, it’s a very competitive and affordable price point for a mobile application that does real time screen magnification, OCR reading of images, plus voice recognition.”

You Tube video of ZoomReader in action.

Girl using monocular telescope 1

Girl using monocular telescope 1

I’m now working on trialling and evaluating apps that may be useful for enhancing distance vision; many individuals who have low vision rely on using a monocular telescope (sometimes not very “cool” looking) to give them visual access to things in the distance such as signs. There are some camera apps that may assist, here are a couple;


10 X camera tools $1.19

10 X camera tools iconUseful features include; Add text notes to photos, Snap multiple photos with continuous tapping, Date/time, file size, resolution, and GPS Tag location, Black & White option, live zoom magnification on screen using slider.

Camera Zoom $1.19

Camera Zoom Pro iconUseful features include; up to 5 X live magnification on screen with digital zoom slider on screen, anti hand shake


Please share any tips or apps you’ve tried and found useful in enhancing distance visual access.

* More information about the SETT process

iPad 2 Update 31/5/2011

Evaluation of iPad2 as a Low Vision Aid, using magnification apps

I finally received my iPad2 and held it in my hands last week after quite a protracted wait between ordering and actually receiving it, I’ve been able to use it all weekend to find out if it lives up to my expectations!
The reasons I decided to purchase an iPad 2 (I already have an original iPad) was to have access all the features of the original iPad – PLUS the additional features of:
• front and rear facing cameras
• faster operating speed – according to Macworld May 2011 1.6 X faster than the iPad, and 1.9 X faster than the iPhone 4
• lighter weight
• ability to “mirror” all apps (particularly handy for teaching and training)
• ability to lock screen rotation
I was particularly keen to evaluate the iPad 2 for use as a low vision aid. Even though I had read some reviews describing the iPad 2 cameras as poor – I really wanted to find out for myself. http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/03/just-how-bad-is-the-ipad-2-camera/

One of the first problems I encountered, after a lot of searching was… No LED light??? Therefore I wasn’t able to activate the additional lighting on any of the magnification apps I tried. Using magnification apps in anything but a well lit area, or bright sunlight achieved very poor results. Although there is an illumination sensor on the rear of the iPad2, magnification in less than perfect lighting conditions really requires additional illumination – which unfortunately isn’t available in the iPad 2.

The second problem I encountered was the image quality, blurry, grainy, and increasing the magnification makes the image even more blurry and unreadable. After looking into the specifications of the iPad2 camera, as compared to the iPhone 4 the reason for the poor image seems to be the difference in the camera specifications and the display resolution.
iPad2 rear-facing camera less than one megapixel 0.92 front facing camera VGA up to 30 frames per second VGA-quality still camera (640×480)
backlit sensor to give better low light performance. Display – 1024-by-768-pixel resolution at 132 pixels per inch (ppi)

iPhone 4 rear facing camera 5 megapixels. (iPhone 3Gs has 3 megapixel camera)LED flash, backlit sensor to give better low light performance. Front facing camera has VGA-quality photos and video at up to 30 frames per second Display: 960-by-640-pixel resolution at 326 ppi
http://ipod.about.com/od/ipadcomparisons/a/ipad-iphone-3gs-ipod-touch.htm has a useful comparison chart of the specifications of the iPad2, iPhone4 and iPod Touch
http://digitalphotobuzz.com/ipad-2-camera-review-compared-to-iphone-4 “how does the actual image quality of the iPad measure against the iPhone 4′s camera? Unfortunately its a disappointment, I don’t think the iPad is going to replace the 8×10 viewcamera any time soon. Especially in low light situations. the images taken on the iPad 2 are pretty bad. The noise that you get makes low light images look splotchy and almost have an appearance of a watercolor image”
Unfortunately, I found when using magnification apps that the quality of the iPad 2 camera isn’t able produce images of good quality, contrast or clarity. I had hoped that the larger screen of the iPad2 compared to the iPhone 4 would result in improved and enhanced image and magnification options for low vision users, instead the larger screen makes the poor image quality more apparent as magnification increases. The magnification apps I trialled that worked on the iPad2 hadn’t been modified or adjusted to make full use of the iPad 2 larger screen size. The apps launched in a small size (similar to an iPhone 4 screen size) and to obtain a whole screen view, I had to activate the 2X button, which digitally enlarged the view to the whole iPad 2 screen, but also enlarged the “white noise” blur and made the image very grainy.
Positioning the iPad 2 and stands
I haven’t had the opportunity to trial any stands as yet, however looking at the reviews there are several available which may suit magnification apps. I’m not sure if these stands will hold the iPad 2 in an appropriate horizontal position to facilitate using magnification apps, and given, in my opinion the poor quality of image quality when using magnification apps, I’m not sure it would be worthwhile purchasing a stand for this purpose alone.
Jadu Skadoosh approx USD $69.99? adjustable, portrait and landscape mode www.jadu-industries.com
Slide portable iPad 2 stand http://www.expansys.com.au/just-mobile-slide-stand-for-apple-ipad-208325/ approx $40 AUD adjustable, portrait and landscape mode
Summing up – Unless the next version of the iPad camera is vastly improved, it’s unlikely that the iPad will be a viable option for magnification for people who have low vision.
If one of the features important to you is good magnification of text, or small objects you may find the iPad 2 is not up to the task – the iPhone 4 performs better than the iPad 2 due to:
• 5 megapixel camera in the iPhone 4 as compared to less than 1 megapixel camera in the iPad 2
• image quality when using the whole screen of iPad 2 is poor contrast and lacks clarity when increasing magnification levels
• inbuilt LED illumination available in the iPhone 4, absent in iPad 2
• smaller size makes it easier to hold the iPhone 4 steady to obtain the best possible picture.
• Smaller size makes the iPhone 4 easier to hold, and operate controls, pinch – zoom or slider magnification controls as compared to the larger, and heavier iPad2
I imagine the camera quality in the iPad 2 may mean that magnification and OCR apps such as ZoomReader may not ever become available for this device.



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About Anita Raftery

Anita is a teacher who has worked in the area of special education for the last 20 years. Most recently Anita worked as a Head Teacher – Disability Consultant with TAFE and as an Assistant Principal – Vision Support in schools in the North Coast Region of New South Wales. Anita’s expertise in inclusive technology has seen her facilitate professional learning activities, coordinate the North Coast Assistive Technology Group and support the allocation and implementation of technologies for students across school and TAFE settings.

21 Responses to iPhone, iPad and iTouch apps for people who have low vision, and teachers of students who have a vision impairment (Updated to include the iPad 2)

  1. Greg Alchin says:

    Hi Anita,
    Thanks for another great blog! Well-written and well researched. Keep up a much valued work!

  2. Thanks for the positive feedback Greg. I’ll pass it onto Anita as she checked in as a guest blogger for the Spectronics team to post this. :)

  3. Zivan Krisher says:

    It is nice to see such a professional level evaluation of the merits of IOS devices as AT tools.

    I’m got the 16x Magnifier App on an iPod touch. as the 4x magnification available on the free apps I found wasn’t strong enough for me.

    First off the 16x magnification level is too distorted, but the 8x is usable.

    What I did find, is that the fixed focus of the iPod Touch 4G camera, and I guess the same will be true for the iPad 2, doesn’t do well at close range and the distance I need to keep from the page makes it hard to keep the camera steady.

    Working with a low vision optometrist friend of mine, I found that placing a +16 diopter lens in front of the iPod Touch camera both magnified the image to a level where I could use 4x magnification and lowered the minimum focus range to just a couple of inches.

    I have a leather case for my iPod Touch with a camera hole, I am able to squeeze the +16 diopter lens between the cover and the camera where it is held in place quite well, though I wouldn’t leave it there when not in use.

    Looking forward to your report on the iPad 2. The iPad 2 should arrive in stores over here soon and I intend to get one.

  4. Anita Raftery says:

    Hi Zivan,
    Thanks for commenting and sharing your strategies for using magnification apps on the iPod Touch.
    I’m still waiting for the arrival of my iPad2, so haven’t had the opportunity to trial apps for magnification and distance viewing on it yet.
    I have downloaded and trialed the ZoomReader app http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/zoomreader/id414117816?mt=8 I’ve achieved mixed results with most of the features, magnification, contrast options, the OCR and text to speech. It would be wonderful if there was a free trial version available, at $23.99 AUD it isn’t a cheap app.

  5. Zivan Krisher says:

    Hello Anita,

    I have also purchased the ZoomReader app, but since I use an iPod Touch, at the moment it refuses to install on the device.

    AiSquared knows about this problem and has promissed to correct it soon.

    I was hoping to get better results from it, at least in the magnification and color filters department if not with the OCR which will not work well with the iPod Touch or iPad 2 cameras. Even if it did work well with the iPhone.

    I too am awaiting the delivery of my iPad 2.
    I wouldn’t have gotten it for the camera alone, but am interested to see what a 9.7″ display will do for me as a makeshift digital magnifier.

  6. Royce McMinn says:

    How is the search going for a suitable stand? I am interested in a stand to use with the iPad 2. I am waiting for the next iPhone release before replacing my old iPhone 3G, but would also be interested in a reading stand for the iPhone.


  7. Zivan Krisher says:

    I tried the iPad, for distance viewing with the camera app 5x zoom.

    I used a low vision test chart from 2m.
    I was able to get a 2/10 while my unassisted vision is 3/69.
    This is the same result I get with my 8x monocle.

    Despite these reasonable results, I must state that the quality of the camera is very low, and even I with my low vision can see that the image is grainy when zoomed in. Things get worse if the lighting isn’t perfect.

    • Hi Zivan. Useful feedback on the iPad. I will pass this on to Anita. Cheers Greg.

    • Sean Tikkun says:

      I have worked with a student of mine both with his iPhone and iPad2. Gotta say that the iPhone is far better. The real nice apps seem to be more consumer based, like product bar code scans and map apps.

      The power of these tools still are in the availability of digitized text. But to really unlock them you need to master tools like bookshare and RFBD

  8. Zivan Krisher says:

    Possible stand.

    This is an 8 legged flexible stand.
    It could possibly hold the device over a page or up at a distance target, or anything in between.


  9. Hi Zivan
    Thanks for this link – looks very interesting and definitely worth checking out.

  10. Hi Royce,

    Anita has now updated this blog to include the IPad 2 and possible stands.

    Cheers, Greg.

  11. Sean Tikkun says:

    Thanks for all the hard work! I’ve been focusing so heavily on consumer based apps for general education, I needed a quick catch-up on my area of specialty?

    Suitable stand you say? I’ve built one model and am happy to build custom stands to suit peoples needs. I am working on custom metal bends that suit a variety of purposes. So feel free to contact me as I love pet projects like this in the summer!

  12. Elaine Wiseman says:

    I have an IPad which has been giving me a new lease on life since I now have low vision due to the progress of macular degeneration. Reading books on my screen has been easier because of the print size and the black on a well-lit screen.
    Hoping to prepare myself for problems that might arise in the future..I went
    into this site and it seems that the IPad 2 doesn’t promise too much in the way of clear magnification with good background light.
    Right now I can only work with my original IPad ..so am looking at programs like Dragon dictate and whatever is available for reading e.mail etc.
    Can you tell me what apps. are available for my original IPad for future use…
    Thanks for this informative site.

  13. Wes Ferguson says:

    The evaluation you have performed of the myriad of apps that are available for those with impaired vision is an invaluable service, to say the least.

    In your evaluations of theses apps on an iPad2, your major objection of the iPad2 is the low resolution of its cameras. The cameras on the latest versions of the iPad as well as the iPad mini have much higher resolutions than the iPad2: 1.2 MP for the FaceTime camera on the screen side of the iPad and 5.0 MP for the iSight camera on the back. The iPad mini is certainly a more portable device and might be particularly suitable for children who have impaired vision.

    Do you plan to evaluate the newer iPads?

  14. I would like to let you know about ‘erem – Listen to Your News’ app that is beneficial for blind and visually impaired. ‘erem’ app reads the news aloud to you from the news sources you select or enter into the app. In fact, erem app can read aloud any RSS feed you define in the erem app. ‘erem’ app is FREE and is available in more than 10 languages at the App Store and Google Play. Please visit erem-app.com for download links and more information.

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