Okay—so sure, you don't have time to read, even though you would, you know, like to do so more, and so on. You and all of us. So that's why it seemed so attractive when the makers of the app Spritz announced their product in February, promising to “reinvent reading.”
Forget the whole pesky thing of reading entire sentences. The app's text-streaming technology instead displays just one word at at time to remove the “inefficient eye movements associated with traditional reading,” according to creators' press release.
Users can choose how quickly the display moves, from 250 words per minute (WPM) up to 1000. At the highest speed, you could blaze through a book like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—the longest one in the series at roughly 257,000 words—in about four hours.
This week, Spritz released the classic self-help guide The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as a test read in conjunction with Oyster, a subscription book borrowing app. The title choice makes sense: If you’re interested in being more efficient, you’d probably like to read a bit faster.
I’m an avid reader, and like most book lovers, I wish there were more hours in a day I could spend curled up with my Kindle or a library book. Spritz sounded like the perfect way to make that happen, and I was pumped to test it out.
The user interface has three buttons: “Back” to return to the beginning of the sentence, “Play/Pause,” and “Rewind” to go to the beginning of the book. I decided to start at a loping 350 WPM and hit play.
ABOVE: Choose carefully. CREDIT: Spritz
A bar at the bottom shows your progress and how long it’s taken you to get that far. I paused at one percent, which took me three minutes. I realized I felt a little dizzy when I looked away from the screen. But I felt like I absorbed what I’d read so far.
I clicked to go back a couple of sentences, and accidentally hit “Rewind” and went all the way back to the beginning of the book. There is no way to fast-forward to the last part you read. Okay. I read it all again a little faster, at 400 WPM, to see if I’d missed any details the first time around.
I did notice some things I hadn’t initially absorbed. You have to be completely, 100 percent concentrating for Spritz to work. If your mind wanders for a split second, or if you blink your eyes a little longer than usual—like one might if they were straining their eyes to read very quickly—you’ll be lost.
The book was making good points, but I felt like I didn’t have time to reflect on them. It was on to the next word and the next one and the next one, with no time to ruminate about the greater message.
When I got to two percent, I slowed the app's word display speed back down to 350 WPM. When I’d been trying Spritz out on the company's site a month ago, I could read the short sample text at 550 words per minute, but that turned out to be way too fast if trying to simultaneously read the text and comprehend it all.
I was beginning to question the choice of Seven Habits for Spritz’s first book. At three percent of the way through, the book asks you to look at an image on the page 34 and think about it for a few seconds. This presents two problems: 1) There are no page numbers, and 2) There are no images displayed. Just the whizzing stream of text.
Another issue with this particular book: As a rhetorical device, the author frequently peppers in statements from other people.
“I don’t know my wife and children any more.”
“Everything I do will be perceived as duplicitous or manipulative.”
See how those sentences are on their own separate lines, and in quotation marks? That’s how you know someone else said it, not me. Text in Spritz lacks this distinction. Without any page layout, punctuation marks or italics to indicate this, it reads like sometimes the author is just admitting really sad things about himself.
If Spritz had a huge library of books, and I’d just happened to pick this one, I’d understand that it was a formatting issue or something. Some books read better as hard copies or as ebooks; it makes sense that some would be more or less optimal with Spritz. But this is their flagship book. I’m only three percent of the way in and I’m already facing the limitations of the platform.
At this point, I accidentally hit “Rewind” again and was stuck at the beginning of the book. The three buttons are only pixels apart on the screen, so my cursor had just moved a teensy bit away from “Play” and suddenly I was back at the intro. Okay. With no fast-forward option, I put it at 600 WPM and tried to follow along and see where I left off.
ABOVE: The entire Spritz user interface, highlighted in blue. CREDIT: Spritz
I got caught up again. Now the author says I have to look at the image on page 54 before reading any further. Again: There are no images displayed with Spritz. Seriously, why did they pick this book?
After a few minutes, the bar tells me I’m five percent of the way through the book in only 16 minutes. Between the accidental restarts and taking a couple short breaks to check my email, get a drink of water, and rest my weary eyeballs, it’s actually been an hour.
There’s no way to bookmark where I am, so I guess if I want to keep reading it another time, I’d have to race through it from the beginning at 600 WPM again. No thanks.
So: The user interface is poorly designed (icons are too close together) and lacks functionality (no fast-forwarding or bookmarking.) The book they chose doesn’t make any sense for their platform (since there is no page layout and it doesn’t show images.) And it took me just as long to read it as I would have in boring old book form.
Between all of that and the searing eyeball strain, I’d say Spritz isn’t ready for mass consumption just yet.