Kindles and their pleasingly trad-dad E-ink screens and authentic recreation of actual, physical books are all well and good. But just as e-readers are reaching critical mass, ebooks as most people think of them are already being superseded.
For that, we’ve got a new breed of interactive iPad application to thank. Blurring the lines between books and apps, they’re a bold new frontier in publishing. And because they’re often lavished with the same love as those strictly limited, super costly physical editions, they’re beautiful things to own too. uSwitch Tech recommends five of the best.
On the Road
There can’t be too many bibliophile teens who didn’t thrill to Jack Kerouac’s brilliantly aimless ode to finding epiphanies in petrol fumes and refusing to become like your parents. Even if its jazzy charms are soured for most readers in later life when they realise that Dean Moriarty’s laissez-faire approach to fatherhood actually makes him something of a swine.
This iPad edition from Penguin features the original text from 1957. But adds audio recordings of readings from the author, letters, documentary footage and abortive and explicit earlier edits so you can compare the final rambling edition to even more freeform initial efforts.
But what makes the book a real step forward for interactive ebooks is the ability to follow the route taken the book's protagonists. With annotations for locations and audio guides to set the scene, it marks out this version as the ultimate literary roadtrip.
With refs to everything from Arthurian myth to Shakespeare to Dante, jolting scene-shifts and an outwardly opaque structure composed of a “heap of broken images”, if ever a poem could benefit from a bit of hand-holding to help readers’ appreciation, The Waste Land is probably it.
To help you get the most out of Eliot’s modernist text, this app features 35 expert critiques from the likes of Jeanette Winterson and Seamus Heaney, as well as comprehensive notes in the margin to bring the allusions into focus.
And there’s plenty here for readers who are already familiar with Madame Sosotris, the shady history of the port Smyrna et al, too. Not least a fascinating early draft showing Ezra Pound’s edits for you to compare, side-by-side with the finished opus. And you get a better class of reading as well, with contributions from actor and bit-part versifier Viggo Mortensen, as well as Ted Hughes and Alec Guinness.
As countless YouTube clips attest, toddlers and pre-teens have taken to tablets’ intuitive user interfaces incredibly easily. And this whimsical tale has the potential to embed itself in their consciousness in much the same way as the likes of the Hungry Caterpillar did in earlier generations.
With a handsome, charming graphical style courtesy of a one-time Pixar animator, every page of this app has a tactile feature, enabling you to play a piano, add paint to skies and swipe the screen to whip up a whirlwind.
Part-animated story, part-allegory for the consoling power of story-telling, this is app is all brilliant. And like all the best Pixar movies it’s wise enough that even adults will learn something.
Stephen Fry doesn’t hold back on gushiness. Not least where Apple products and the experiences they offer are concerned. So it’s entirely reasonable to be sceptical of his claim that the asking price of the iPad is justified by this app alone. But the truth is that this time around Fry isn’t too far wide of the mark.
Based on best-selling book from Theodore Gray of Popular Science Magazine', The Elements takes you on a visual tour of the periodic table. Tap the screen on any element and you’re presented with a 3D rendering of an object fashioned from it. You can then spin it around to view it from any angle. There’s also a galaxy worth of esoteric information for serious science types to wade through, as well as the infinitely more accessible original text.
The brainchild of Atomic Antelope, Nursery Rhymes with StoryTime uses live streaming of audio via Wi-Fi to allow busy parents to narrate stories over their iPhone from another location while their bairns interact with the accompanying pictures using an iPad touchscreen.
Alas, it hasn’t quite got the sweep or de-luxe production values as the Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore. But the remote reading facility is a lovely touch. Toddler anxiety separation isn’t nice. But this at least goes some way to ameliorating that.