App DevelopmentStrategy and Innovation

WillowTree’s head-tracking application Vocable wins three W3 awards, including Best in Show

The Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts has announced the Winners of the 15th Annual w3 Awards — honoring WillowTree’s Vocable AAC mobile app across three categories:

  • Best in Show: Mobile Features - Best Use of Mobile Camera
  • Gold: Mobile Apps/Sites - Health & Wellness
  • Silver: Mobile Features - Best Experimental and Innovation

Receiving over 3,000 entries from across the globe each year, the w3 Awards honor outstanding Websites, Marketing, Video, Mobile, Social, and Podcasts created by some of the best digital content creators across the industry.

Vocable is a free, open source mobile app that uses AR head movement tracking to help individuals with conditions that restrict or inhibit speech, such as MS, stroke, ALS, spinal cord injuries, and even COVID-19, more easily with their caregivers and loved ones.

A former WillowTree designer uncovered the need for this technology in mid-2019, when his girlfriend became temporarily paralyzed due to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and the couple found that there was a lack of affordable software available to help individuals communicate without speech.

Less than a year later, a team of fourteen WillowTree designers, developers, and researchers released Vocable AAC into the App Store and Google Play, reaching over 1,000 users worldwide in just a few weeks.

How did this team come together? WillowTree takes a unique approach to innovation, building in dedicated time for teams to spend on projects like Vocable outside of client work. In an interview with Fast Company in August 2020, I said of our company’s approach: “We realized that we have to do the innovation work on our own dime.” These investments in innovation help our team members use their digital expertise to tackle problems they see in their communities or their personal lives, and enable the company to test new technologies, such as the ARKit and ARCore tech that enables Vocable’s functionality.

Almost immediately after the release of Vocable, leading hospital systems from all around the country, including Duke Health, Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, and St. Barnabas NJ, began piloting the app with their patients experiencing speech impairment, including successful uses for intubated patients suffering from COVID-19.

Today, Vocable is available in six languages, and has been downloaded over 3,500 times across iOS and Android, with the majority of active users using the app consistently each week. The team’s most recent release on Android included the capability for users to create custom preset phrases in addition to choosing from the 60+ existing preset phrases.

With Apple’s latest hardware releases featuring the iPhone 12’s 5G connectivity, A14 bionic chip, and LiDAR scanner, we expect the use of AR and machine learning in mobile apps to continue to rise. Fortunately for our clients, WillowTree’s unique approach to innovation ensures that our team members have already invested the time to learn and build digital products using these technologies.

Read more about the w3 Awards and view additional winners at, and be sure to get in touch with our team if you want to bring the latest technology into your digital products.

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