Far too many kids struggle to read at an age-appropriate level, but Google is betting that technology could help them get up to speed. The company's experimental Area 120 unit has released Rivet, an app for Android and iOS that aims to make reading practice both accessible and rewarding. It offers more than 2,000 books ranked by difficulty, and uses speech technology to coach kids on their pronunciation. Rivet can read words or whole pages, highlighting words as it goes along, but it can also listen to a child's own reading and offer feedback on the words they didn't get right.
The app also relies on game mechanics to spur young readers. Kids earn points and badge, and it customizes the whole affair with avatars, recommended books and themes. Area 120 also promises "energizing games" and "surprises" to keep readers on their toes.
Privacy is unsurprisingly important. All that speech tech is strictly on-device, and the app requires parental consent. Data is only used to improve the reading experience inside the app.
The app works on phones, tablets and Android-friendly Chromebooks, although it's only available in English in 11 countries (including the US, Canada, Australia, India and South Africa) as we write this. You can expect Rivet to expand, however. The developers vow to add more content, support more regions and better integrate Rivet into classroom situations. While this comes from an experimental division, there's a chance it could become a go-to app for reading in schools.