Interactive books for kids hit the App Store every week, but mature readers have fewer options as most turn to iBooks and eBooks. But, that doesn’t mean a few gems that use digitization well without compromising content don't every year. This sector is grossly under-reviewed and the offerings can be very pricey making it hard for readers to decide which book-apps are right for them. These are the best of the lot from 2011, which, if you read them all, should keep you busy well into the New Year.
Al Gore’s digital adaptation of his book on climate change, Our Choice, is rendered wonderfully for iPad. The former Vice President greets readers of this book-app with a video explaining the importance of the subject matter, and then you can swipe through the visual table of contents and pop open a page with a tap. While this is an abridged text, it is loaded with special features and videos. The unfolding photos and photo commentary are particularly compelling. If you care about the subject matter, or want to see how nonfiction can exploit digital publishing, Push Pop Press’ book-app is well worth checking out.
A hybrid history and art history interactive book and futuristic tourist guide, the second of three book-apps in Italian publishing giant’s Mondadori’s Virtual History series, Ultima Cena – or in the U.S. App Store, The Last Supper – blends features and text to create a fully immersive experience. The prose is a lucid translation from the Italian, and the app looks not only at the masterwork itself, but also at Da Vinci. The stand-out feature is a proprietary technology called a “bubble viewer” that allows readers to hold the iPad and rotate it 360 degrees in any direction, so they can experience everything from the Santa Maria Delle Grazie to 15th century Milan almost as though they were there in person.
The History of Jazz is less a book than what the publishers call an “interactive timeline,” which aptly sums up what it offers. Music should be heard and performances watched, not read, so the app is text-light, but very video-rich. An Internet connection is required to stream the YouTube videos. Using a navigation menu that look like construction paper piano keys, readers explore this uniquely American musical genre from its birth in the 1890s through to the present day. The History of Jazz is crammed full of videos of Ragtime, New Orleans Classic, Dixieland, Chicago, “Jazz Age” Big Band, Swing, BeBop, Cool Jazz, Slow Fusion, Acid Jazz and more wrapped in a simple, appealing UI.
Touch Press and Eliot’s own publishing house Faber & Faber bring T.S. Elliot’s epic poem "The Waste Land" to life in a groundbreaking way. Together they turn an oblique, but tremendously important modernist poem into a fascinating foray into the mind of the author and make plain why the work retains relevance today. Even the typography is kept intact, along with extras like notes by Elliot, explanations of obscure references and other conventional literary aids. This digital book has two features that set it apart from any academic book I have encountered. The first is a 'specially-filmed performance' of the poem by Fiona Shaw, which syncs to the text, and a real treat, an audio recording featuring T.S. Elliot himself.
Man In Space is a digital rendition of the 50th anniversary edition of Sky at Night Magazine. While not a book, per se, both the print issue and the iOS version have much more to say than many “books” in the App Store. The app traces the history of space travel from Yuri Gagarin’s first spaceflight in 1961 to the International Space Station and peeks into the future. This BBC (Bristol, the publishers, are the BBC’s magazine division) packs this digital magazine with videos and interactive features. The GUI shines: the menu system is intuitive; the images are crisp; the text is well integrated with the digital features. The 3D images are the standout. Unlike other video-rich offerings on this list, Man In Space does not require an Internet connection, but it does mean the book will use a lot of memory on your iPad. If you like outer space it’s well worth the iPad space.
On the Way to Woodstock, is another “interactive timeline” book, by the same publisher as History of Jazz, but this time 955 Dreams takes on an iconic American era and focuses at least as much on history as music. The app uses the same basic GUI as Jazz, but turns it attention instead to the American experience in the 1950s and 1960s. Videos and text take readers from the idealized 1950s through the social, cultural and political upheaval of the 1960s and only then delves into the Woodstock music festival, which, in many ways, was both the apex and the death knell of the “Age of Aquarius.”
Tim Flannery’s book, Here on Earth, about Darwin, Dawkins, evolution and how to reshape our thinking on related matters, is a thought-provoking choice that requires a greater cerebral commitment from readers than other entries on this list. The multimedia version of this bestselling work, “traces the history of the planet, the history of humanity, and the impact that we have had on our planet.” The unabridged text is accompanied by 25 interviews with the author, videos from award-winning filmmakers, social network integration, even Air Play support. It’s not for the intellectually timid, but the special features make the app much more accessible than the print book and the subject matter is one everyone needs to ponder.