Small screens make reading easier for some

Personal discovery on dyslexia may aid many

Astrophysicist Matthew Schneps was waiting at a bus stop, scanning a scientific paper he had downloaded onto his smartphone, when it dawned on him: he was reading with ease.

That realization surprised Schneps, who has dyslexia, a learning disability that makes reading difficult. He had always felt comfortable in the lab, not the library.

While much of my personal research on how technology can make a difference for people with dyslexia was done before the invention of smartphones and iPod Touches, I learned then that reading was easier for me in narrow columns. The reason is that when the process of reading slows down (for a variety of reasons, including weak or slow automatic decoding as in dyslexia) staying on a line becomes more difficult because one isn’t so sure what to look for content-wise to stay on track (on the right line).

Narrowing the width of a column of text can make this easier. There are many ways to do this:

1. Increase typeface size on a larger screen

2. Put text in columns on a larger screen

3. Read the text on a smaller screen, adjusting typeface size to suit one’s eyeballs.

When you add attention problems to the mix I’m not so sure reading on a small screen makes things better because one’s peripheral vision can pick up distractors more easily making it harder to immerse in the text. This is one of the reasons I’m reluctant to get an iPad mini, even though I love the form factor and size, I do a lot of reading on my iPad and I don’t know how this would work for me. No doubt I’m going to try it but one of the things I’ll be looking for is how deeply I can immerse in text on it vs. the larger iPad screen or my Mac’s larger screen.

Well, let me restate that: I did a lot of reading on my iPad with the Reeder RSS aggregator app before the death of Google Reader but for the past week that’s changed because Reeder on the iPad is on hold and Mr. Reader, while a great app, doesn’t sync with a native (not a web app) Macintosh counterpart. So, I’m using NetNewsWire on the Mac and I have accounts with DIGG, Feedly, and Feedbin all of which I’m not happy with so I don’t use them much.

What (was) great about the Reeder app is that content ruled and the controls had just the right weight to stay out of my peripheral vision unless I needed them. Mr. Reader, while a beautiful app looks a bit like Tweetbot to me (also a beautiful app) but what they do is make the controls of equal weight visually and this doesn’t work for me. Reeder was the perfect mix of easy readability with controls there but in the background.

This is part of the reason I want a native app on the Mac and not a web app: I want to be able to make the screen and reading area smaller so I can scan narrower chunks of text. It looks to me like the new Macintosh OS: Mavericks is moving in that direction by offering things like maps in native application form rather than as web apps. This appeals to me, like “desk accessories” did in the old days.

Both of these ideas: smaller screens making reading easier and the bump in the RSS reader world are bumping into each other in interesting ways right now for me since I do most of my reading in my RSS feed reader.

[via Will Small]

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