TouchChat HD - AAC: Communication App for the iPad, non-HD version for iPhone and iPod Touch. Supports direct touch, with picture and text cells to help verbal communication and an extra twist....
Just another communication App? At first, I thought so, however, there are a few interesting features that set this aside as being something a little different.
There are 3 different versions available in both the HD version (iPad) and non-HD (iPhone and iPad Touch). Please be careful if you intend to buy this App as they aren't properly portable between devices. This review will mention the HD version, but they are the same when it comes to functionality.
TouchChat HD AAC, TouchChat HD AAC with WordPower and TouchChat Lite. TouchChat HD AAC costs £99.99 and has all the options and features mentioned in this review, whilst TouchChat HD AAC with WordPower cost £199.99 and has many pre-designed page sets. For many, however, having your own custom-made vocabulary pages would be the ideal solution. Starting simple and then building up in complexity as time and ability advances and an extra £100 for pre-written pages seems a little steep maybe?
TouchChat Lite costs £6.99, has the functionality of the HD AAC with WordPower App, though without an audio sound or the ability to use photos with your buttons, which seems to make it a rather expensive 'try before you buy' version.
Check out TouchChat's comparison table for what is and isn't included in the versions.
How it Works
The first thing to notice is that there is no switch support for this App, so if switches are 'your thing' then look elsewhere and save yourself a bit of time (try looking at TapSpeak Choice or those with intermediate or good literacy skills, take a look at Predictable).
TouchChat works along the tried and tested route of having pages of buttons, with each button being able to relay a spoken message when pressed. Pages can be set up from within the App itself, though there is an extra 'add-on' called TouchChat Windows Editor that cost $59 that allows you to edit pages from your PC, though you will also need to purchase iShare to enable you to copy over the pages to your device. This costs an extra $59 for 6 months (it all adds up). Personally, I don't see why you'd pay the extra to have the ability to edit and copy pages from your PC at the extra price, you may disagree).
How the Buttons Work
Buttons can contain either text and/or pictures or symbols. Pictures can imported into a button from the picture library on your device or you can choose any of the 10,000 SymbolStix symbols that come with the App.
There is also a setting to allow you to change the size of each individual button, by increasing the amount of columns and rows the button takes up. Also, you can change the button's background colour and border.
TouchChat has a setting called 'Activate On Release' which for some, will be quite useful. Instead of the touchscreen accepting a press as soon as your finger presses the screen, it waits for your finger to lifted from the screen before accepting the press. This can be useful for people who often miss the intended button on the initial press and then slide their finger to the intended button. When they then lift their finger off, this button is deemed as being pressed. This can help make up for the inability to put spaces between the buttons.
There are also settings for 'Dwell time' and 'Release time', though these options seem to have no effect and therefore seem to be a bit of a red herring.
The Extra Twist
In addition to the usual pictures, text and TTS (Text To Speech) capability (having the device use a digitised speech engine to turn the button's text to speech), there are 30 additional actions that a button can carry out. Some of these include:
- Play a music file (track) and Stop playing music
- Play a video file (that is stored on your device)
- Add 'ing', 's' and so on to the last word
- Record audio clip and playback (not sure how useful this would be for most users)
- Add the date and time to your message, the current battery charge level for your device
- Clear message, word or last character
- Volume Up or Down (doesn't change the device's volume, just the volume of the TTS voice)
Now there is another twist. You can assign multiple actions to the same button and alter the sequence in which they are played out. Let me try and give an example of how this could be used - Using the commands whilst a music track is being played, Stop Library Audio + Clear Display + Navigate Back. This would stop the music currently playing, clear any message in the message bar and navigate back to the previous page. This can all be programmed to just one button - pretty neat!
The App is Alive, with the Sound of Music
OK, sorry for the title, but let's take a couple of these button actions to one side and examine their uses for a minute.
You can play music files from a button! This isn't new, as you can do this from within the SayHi App, however, in SayHi you can't tell the App to stop playing the file (you have to wait till the track has finished, a nightmare if it's Bohemian Rhapsody). In TouchChat there is a button action to stop playing the track. Along with the ability to navigate to different pages, you could use this App to act as an mp3 player. Also, if you can get your head around copying viseo files to the iPad's Camera Role, then you can play videos too (though there isn't a button action to stop the video, a tap on the screen usually restarts the video with sound but no picture).
For those who are able to type, the ability to call up the system's keyboard (the one usually used to input text into other Apps). This in itself is pretty good for those with literacy skills, however, you can also assign buttons to have predict text (up to 10 predictions). Added to this is the ability to predict the next word or alternatively to predict the next letter.
TouchChat also interfaces with various social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter and Tumlr), as well as Email. After building your message, you can press and hold the message bar to bring up a menu to allow you to select which social media account to send it through and then your message is posted/tweeted, along with a little text link to the TouchChat site.
If you select Email, it will bring up a standard Email window, with the system keyboard for you to enter an Email address and optional Subject.
With all of these social network features, the user will need very good fine motor skills to be able to target the reletively small buttons, especially when it comes to sending Emails. With sending an Email, you would also need some literacy skills to enter the recipient's Email address.
I reckon the social media (Facebook, Twiiter) side is more applicable to those using this App than Email, as I imagine users using the Email option may suite a different App, that is more suited to those with good fine motor skills and at least some literacy skills. Though I'm sure there's someone out there that may prove me wrong.
TouchChat HD is pretty well thought out. It supports multiple linking of pages so you can incorporate category pages (food pages, drinks pages etc. that link from a single, related button.
I really like TouchChat's ability to play music and video files and also having the ability to stop music playing at any time.
If you have literacy skills and can access the relatively small buttons of the system keyboard, the word and character prediction is also very good.
There is a Lite version available, though not for free, they charge £6.99 for you to trial the App. The Lite version has no voices available or any other type of audio playback capabilities. It also doesn't allow the transfer of page sets to be transferred to other devices, via a PC (using the TouchChat Windows Editor and iShare, both have extra cost implications as mentioned previously). This is not the same as backing up your pages to iTunes, in case of data loss on your device. The Lite version also doesn't support the social networking feature.
- Ability to link pages from other pages
- Ability to increase the size of buttons, colour them and import symbols and pictures
- You can play music files from pressing the buttons, as well as stop the music. You can also play video files
- Has an optional 'Activate on Release' function, allowing a button to be activated when you release your finger from the screen
- Built-in support for sending your messages to social media sites and Email
- No support for switch users
- No padding (spaces) can be placed between cells to help prevent targeting errors (though Activate on Release function may help some)