More digital reading pleasure thanks to a special smartphone app

Date of news: 14 December 2020

Can a phone app make people enjoy reading digital books more? Research by linguist Roel Willems (Radboud University Nijmegen) and app developer Niels' t Hooft (Immer) shows that it is possible. Together with reading specialist Niels Bakker (Reading Foundation), they presented the first research results on the Immer reading app during the scientific conference of the Reading Foundation on Thursday 10 December.

Willems, 't Hooft and Bakker investigate reading behaviour, and especially the reading of long, narrative texts. That so-called literary reading or 'deep reading' still mainly happens on paper. Despite the wide range of e-books and e-readers, digital reading of books does not seem to appeal to a large audience. Willems: ‘We still know surprisingly little about how literary reading works on smartphones. Digital reading has for too long been seen as "normal" reading, but from a screen. At the same time, fewer people seem to be reading in the Netherlands, and screens can no longer be ignored in society. Here is a great opportunity for reading promotion.’


Reading online and offlineImmer is an early-stage startup working on the future of reading on screens. The company developed the Immer Leesapp, a free app that helps readers to read more, easier and better on a smartphone or tablet. To determine whether the features of the innovative app have an effect, Willems, 't Hooft and Bakker conducted research, the results of which were presented at the scientific conference of the Reading Foundation on Thursday 10 December.

The study looked at two obstacles identified in digital reading surveys. People often miss an overview when reading an e-book; they indicate that they 'get lost' in the text. In addition, they feel overwhelmed by the large amount of text on an e-reader screen. A solution for both obstacles has been devised in the Immer app. It contains a position indicator, which indicates on the screen where readers are in the text and how much they still have to read. To make the text less overwhelming, the app offers small portions of text with varying lengths on the screen, so that the screen always looks slightly different (portioning).


The first results are promising. Readers appreciate a literary story more when they are presented with the text in small portions of varying lengths. The appreciation for the story increases when the readers can see where and how far they are in the story. Both features together ensure that the reader experiences fewer obstacles and can focus longer on the content of the story. ‘t Hooft: ‘I think it is great that with help from the scientific world we can see exactly what effect our design innovations have, and how we can further improve them. I hope that next year we will be able to test a number of other elements in our app with Radboud University and Stichting Lezen, such as reading with meditative sound and breaking books into reading sessions.’

About the researchers

  • Roel Willems is associate professor at the Center for Language Studies and the Donders Institute at Radboud University Nijmegen. He investigates the psychological processes that play a role in literary reading.
  • Niels Bakker is a research specialist in reading behavior, affiliated with Stichting Lezen
  • Niels' t Hooft is an app developer and founder of Immer. The most recent version of the Immer app can be downloaded and tested for free at