John F. Kennedy claimed to be able to read 1,200 words per minute — a skill that seems only fathomable for the genetically blessed clan of Camelot. But with the debut of Spritz, a new speed-reading app that premiered at Mobile World Congress this week, the ability to blaze through War and Peace could be closer than you think.
The new reading technology will launch in April as part of Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and Gear 2 smartwatch. Its makers claim it can double or even triple your average reading pace.
Understanding how it works, however, requires a quick lesson in how we read.
Unless you read Arabic or Hebrew, you’re probably accustomed to moving your eyes along lines of text from left to right, deciphering each word as you go. According to the company’s blog, your eye looks for a certain spot within each word called the “optimal recognition point.” Once your eyes have locked onto the ORP, it’s only then that your mind registers the meaning of the text at which you’re staring. In between, punctuation acts as a signal for your brain to assemble those words into a coherent thought.
During that process, your eyes spend about 80 percent of the time just physically moving from one word to the next. The remaining 20 percent is dedicated to actually digesting the information you’re reading.
Spritz claims to be able to “help you get all that time back” by aligning words in a way that saves you eye movement.
Take, for instance, the figures below. The ORPs are highlighted in red. As you can see, the best fixation point is different for each word. Basically, as a word gets longer, the farther to the left of the center your eyes have to travel to locate the ORP. If the ORPs are not aligned, as in the first image, it takes your eye extra time to read.
To reduce that waste, Spritz presents words to you one at a time, centered around each individual ORP.
At first it feels a bit like a rapid-fire assault. The Spritz module commands attention, but it is especially helpful on a smaller screen like my iPhone. And I can only imagine what a godsend it’d be for Google Glass — and Glass could even tell when you weren’t looking at the text and pause playback.
There are, of course, downsides to a box that shoots words at you (the most obvious being that if you’re distracted by something, you miss an entire paragraph). But the company is aiming to license this technology for maps, photos, videos and websites, which means that there will most likely be an option to repeat a paragraph (or two) in the mix as well. No word on if or when it’ll come out for iOS or Android.