TORONTO - Speed reading has been around for more than half a century, but new apps are bringing the technique into the digital age, helping users breeze through books faster.
ReadMe!, a new app for iPhones, lets readers control the pace of their reading from 50 to 1,000 words per minute.
"It's about being able to read a book like Harry Potter in an hour and a half and still have the full comprehension of it," said Pierre DiAvisoo, who created the app and is based in Boras, Sweden.
Readers select an e-book in the app, which is available worldwide and costs US$1.99. After opening the speed-reading technology it shows one word at a time. The app does not work on e-books that have sharing restrictions.
Within just minutes, most readers can learn to double their reading speed to between 400 and 450 words per minute without losing comprehension, according to Spritz, the Boston-based company that created the speed-reading technology.
"Reading hasn't really changed in thousands of years. Speed-reading techniques are still focused on consuming texts in lines and reading left to right line-by-line," said Frank Waldman, the chief executive of Spritz.
He added that the technology combines rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP), with eye research to present words at the ideal recognition point for quick understanding.
As people start reading on small devices, and even smartwatches, Waldman said Spritz will be a more convenient way to comprehend information.
But a small study from the University of California San Diego showed that speed reading may not lead to the same level of comprehension as normal reading because it is harder to go back to clarify understanding.
"If you're looking for the equivalent level of understanding as natural reading then I think it will make comprehension poorer," said Elizabeth Schotter, a researcher involved in the study.
The study, which did not include Spritz technology, showed comprehension was about 25% lower using the RSVP technique. But Schotter added if people just want to skim content quickly, the apps might be beneficial.
"If people just want to see text and absorb it passively then this is the way to go. It's a treadmill provided to you and you don't need to do much work," she said.
"But if you want to get more out of it, it might be worth the effort required to move your eyes over a line of text," she added.
DiAvisoo admitted that not all types of reading are suited for speed reading.
"If I were to read about atomic physics or something I would probably not pick up as much through speed reading," he said.
Spritz also has an app for all Web browsers called Spritzlet, which lets users speed read on the Web. Several other speed-reading apps also use the Spritz technology.