The Optelec App
By Clara Van Gerven
At CSUN last week, Optelec released a free magnification app for iOS. Magnification apps are many, and so far what I have seen has failed to impress me - there's a reason why companies like Optelec can charge hundreds of dollars for portable digital magnifiers. The Apple hardware is not quite up to doing great magnification just yet. Ai Squared's $19.99 ZoomReader may be the best of a fairly bad lot, with a light, a few color contrast options, decent magnification and some OCR. That said, I had high hopes for Optelec, since they can usually be relied upon to make a good product. The app was swiftly installed and opened, and it soon explained why Optelec felt that this was a good investment at the low, low price of no money at all. The instructions for using the app are vague, hidden under the About Optelec section, and mostly refer the user to Optelec's hardware. Hm. So I used my knowledge of iOS to focus (the camera does not autofocus for some reason, so I did a tap and hold) and to zoom; the regular reverse pinch works. When the user performs the gesture, the magnification level is displayed on screen, which is quite nice. The downside? Magnification only goes up to 3.5x, which for most folks won't do much good. I tested it on my computer screen - that part works fine - but it didn't really help much, and didn't even quite look like 3.5x. You can invert the brightness and use the light, but with the magnification so limited and the inherent limitations of the camera, it's hardly a lifesaver. As it is, this app would appear to mostly be a ploy to get iOS users to use Optelec's (rather good) digital magnification hardware. It's no shocking revelation, though it does feel a bit disingenuous; I would personally have preferred a paying app that made a real attempt at helping the user.