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Review: iSign

September 8, 2008
Overview In a creative effort to exploit the iPhone’s mobile and graphical abilities, iSign is an exciting sign language reference tool that has great potential. Although it is very limited, with only 164 gestures to date, iSign could become a very powerful and important product.


iSign is simple: pick from a list of words to see a 3D demonstration of a sign language gesture. The animation is great and each gesture is displayed at an angle that most clarifies movements, according to the developer. There is no search option, although users can jump to a letter in the alphabetical list of words, similar to the function of the iPhone’s contacts list.


While this app is a great idea, it is not comprehensive enough to be very useful as it now exists. It seems to be aimed at beginners who already know simple sign language basics, but need an easy way to consult a visual guide. Sure, if I’m looking for my backpack, I’ll be able to sign “backpack”, but not “where is my backpack.”

Also, the app is way too large—161 MB—for what it is. This may have to do with the independent developer’s animations and probably increases the limitations of the product. An app this large should surely have more than 164 gestures, especially when entire videos game apps that have multiple animated elements are much smaller. The app’s current word list can be useful, with gestures for emotions, actions, places and more, but it doesn't take long to realize that there are simply not enough words. What this app does do is open the door of possibility. It presents a use that seems perfect for this powerful mobile device, one that many may not have thought of. Imagine the advantage of an animated sign language reference tool in the palm of your hand. While there are free reference videos available online (they can’t be viewed on the iPhone’s Safari browser) a mobile app like this could accelerate the learning process for those new to sign language. With more work to cut down the app’s size and increase its vocabulary, this app could make a huge difference for sign language learners. While these steps may be taken by the current developer, it seems like a larger company might have a better shot at creating a smaller, more effective product of similar nature. For now, let’s hope for some extensive iSign updates.


iSign is a great idea and has potential, but its vocabulary is currently very limited. If you speak sign language or are learning, it’s worth supporting this developer’s cause, but some serious additions are warranted.

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