What makes an AWESOME app?

The Spectronics Consultancy Team get asked all the time – what is the best app out there? Now we all know that this is an impossible question to answer as it really depends on the person you want to use it with, their skills and abilities, what you want to achieve and finding the right match – this can be complex! In our role of reviewing apps over the past few years we have come to see some incredible apps and also some real shockers!!! But – there are some features of apps which make them more awesome than the next, and I want to share my top ten features that I look for when evaluating apps.

  1. A FREE or LITE version – this is great for evaluating the app with the many clients with many different skills that we see on a daily basis. It is particularly important for those that are more expensive as, in the world of fairly inexpensive apps, cost is a factor and rightly or wrongly, a trial will sometimes be the decider between whether the more appropriate but more expensive is purchased.
  2. Ability to customise and edit content – when working with children and adults with diverse needs it is important to have an app that you can customise for the individual you are supporting. Every person is different and may require different layouts, voice options, symbol displays – and while this might not be possible in every instance, the more options available to choose from will mean the more people you are able to use it with.
  3. Ability to add your own photos – for some of the people we support photos are much more meaningful than symbol sets, it makes the content more individualised too. There are so many apps out there that would be further enhanced by the ability to add your own photos, and later versions of the iPad that have a built in camera make this even easier for creating individualised resources.
  4. Intuitive Interface – apps that are easy to program get a big tick from us! If we can enter an app and start programming straight away it means that you can too, and you don’t have to go and search for a manual. Some apps just look easier and more user-friendly than others and this makes you want to interact with it – so appearance is important!
  5. In built support – we love apps that have easy to follow instructions easily accessible within the app, whether it be screenshots with minimal text explaining how to do various things, or a short slideshow demonstrating how to make edits. If you are new to an app it is difficult to read a whole lot of text and know the terminology that it is referring to – so pictures help!
  6. Support videos – having the app developer demonstrate the app via video is so valuable as part of an ongoing support feature giving real life examples also helps to think about how the app can be used. Having these videos available on the web in an accessible place such as YouTube or Vimeo can mean the difference between app being implemented successfully or not.
  7. Publishing features – it is great when the message, stories or schedules that you create can be published outside of the app. Many apps enable you to post your text to Facebook or Twitter, or send it as an email, whilst others will enable you to publish your completed images and videos to your Camera Roll and even YouTube. This way you can share with the people you want to – and not just with others who own the app.
  8. Saving and Reporting – we love when you can exit an app to do one of the million other activities on an iPad and then can go back to what you were working on – or at least have the option. Some apps also allow you to save or send your student’s data to parents or teachers which is a great way of tracking progress.
  9. High quality voices – Again, I can think of so many apps that would be FABULOUS if they only had a high quality voice, or the ability to add your own recorded voice. People who have limited speech and are using the iPad as their “voice” prefer natural sounding voices (surprise surprise!). Other apps that were developed for more general populations would have so much more potential if the app was able to have recorded voice as an auditory cue or reminder.
  10. Accessibility features – there are so many built-in accessibility features available within the iPad and also third-party accessories that can enable use for people with complex physical challenges. Making the app compatible with the relevant settings, such as speak selection or voice over, and accessories, such as Bluetooth compatible switch interfaces, can mean that the app is accessible to more people.

Obviously the inclusion of some of these features depends on the type of app and it is not always relevant, but we hope this blog post will inspire all of those budding (and existing) app developers out there to consider some of these aspects that are relevant to people with diverse learning needs to make the already great apps that they develop more accessible to more people and an even more AWESOME app!

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About Katie Lyon

Katie is a speech pathologist and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) consultant who has been working with young children and adults with complex communication needs for the past 13 years. She has had worked in various roles including Coordinator of the Non-electronic Communication Aid Scheme and Regional Communication Service in Victoria as part of the state-wide Communication Access Network. She has a keen interest in supporting families, teachers, direct support workers and therapists to access information about AAC and assistive technology through education and training. She currently works part-time with Spectronics and part-time with the Communication Resource Centre at Scope in Victoria.

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