Apps iOS News Videos

Our Choice: The First in a Wave of Truly Enhanced E-Books?

Our Choice, a new e-book app penned by Al Gore and developed by Push Pop Press went live in the App Store Wednesday, bringing a unique take on the e-book reading experience to iOS (both iPhone and iPad). It combines audio, photos, video, maps and infographics with text in a package that truly earns (for the first time in my experience) the moniker of “enhanced” e-book.
The app boots directly into a video in which Al Gore himself describes how to use Our Choice (embedded below), including hands-on demonstrations of the interactive interface elements in action. That’s the first sign that Push Pop is thinking about the e-book as app in a way that’s conducive to great user experience. Even if a new interface is well designed (as Our Choice’s is), providing a simple, one-time explanation of something brand new that goes beyond static instructional graphics is a smart move, especially if you want to appeal to more than just seasoned tablet veterans.
And then there’s the books’ cover page: a full 3-D rendering of the earth, complete with a pinpoint marker indicating where you (the reader) are currently located (so long as you authorized the app’s request to use your location data at launch). By tapping on the screen, you can switch the view to a research-based prediction of what the earth will look like if global warming continues unchecked. The location feature provides a nice personal touch, as you can see exactly how your own area will be affected.
The rest of the app is both a natural extension of, and a far cry better than interactive reading experiences that have preceded this one in other magazine, newspaper and book apps, like The Daily, for instance. Embedded videos and audio are intelligently placed, and interactive elements like animated infographics come to life with simple, yet sophisticated multi-touch gestures. Pinching, zooming and swiping to navigate feels remarkably natural, and because the book in many ways resembles a textbook rather than a linear story, the ability to jump around back and forth between sections and elements makes perfect sense here. Compare and contrast data, refer back to an earlier section, or just show a friend an interesting video or infographic quickly and easily with the app’s visual navigation style.
Our Choice already existed before today as a traditional paper book, and while it contained static images and charts, the information has a much greater impact presented as dynamic graphics in the iOS app. It is somewhat reminiscent of hands-on displays in museums, and it really helps information that might otherwise be boring leap off the page.
It may be that Our Choice is just uniquely well-suited to Push Pop’s publishing model, but the company’s founder thinks it’s a model that can do well for many different types of books. And according to Push Pop Press co-founder Mike Matas (speaking to the Huffington Post), it’s a model that should be easy for others to leverage:
It’s over 400 pages–if you want to make an app, the approach is to hire a team of engineers to handcode each page. But to build a nice book you need the creative loop of being able to try things. We ended up building a platform, a tool that the publisher could use independent of a programmer to lay out the entire book.
Other apps, like The History of Jazz have explored the potential of the enhanced multimedia e-book experience, and Inkling has delved into interactive textbooks. But if Push Pop can really make the process incredibly simple and easy to implement for licensee content producers, it could prompt a wide-scale change in digital reading and what readers expect from the book.
Matas stresses that what’s important with the creation of this kind of content is getting everything except for the content out of the way, in order to allow “the content to fill the frame.” Doing that, while also taking advantage of the iPad’s bells and whistles has been a challenge for developers and publishers alike, but at least in this case, Push Pop Press seems to have managed it.
The app isn’t without its limitations (you can only use it in landscape mode, for example) but it does a far better job of actually improving upon the experience of reading a book in print than anything else I’ve yet seen. Reading Our Choice on the iPad isn’t like reading a digital version of the print book; it’s a completely different experience, and this time that’s a good thing.