A little bit app-alled
Last week, I downloaded a picture book app of one of my favourite picture books. I was excited. While I waited for the electronic version to download, I eagerly read my dog-eared copy of the book. I imagined what the app version would look like. I saw the characters moving around their scenes on the pages. I imagined all the bits you could tap on screen and the extra sound effects. I wanted 3D. I wanted to make things happen in the book, and of course, I wanted to turn the pages.
So as the app was ready to launch, I eagerly pressed the ‘Read to Me’ button. It read to me. And that, unfortunately, was about it. There was minimal animation and activity added to the pages. I couldn’t turn the page either forwards or backwards. I could pause the text, but that was it. I was a passenger, the app was my driver.
When I chose the ‘read by myself’ option, it was a bit better, but still lacked the interaction I craved with such a loveable character. Isn’t it funny how in a book, he absolutely came to life, but on my screen, he was just a picture on a screen.
But great apps go a step further. They offer the book but with elaboration of the images and of the characters. The story doesn’t just become the story that the words tell, but one that the child can help to create and feel a sense of inclusion in the world of the character.
I’ve tried out some fantastic picture book apps. There is movement in illustrations. When someone goes somewhere, you can tap and take the character there. There are extra layers of dialogue. The narrator reads the story, but tapping on characters will result in extra comments or greetings. There’s movement. The story on the page comes alive. The secret to a great app – lots of interaction for the user.
One of my favourite picture book apps is Nosy Crow’s Three Little Pigs. The narrator reads the story, but as the user taps on the pigs there is extra dialogue which enhances the story. You can drag the pigs and walk them along. The user gets to help the pigs build their houses. And as the big bad wolf comes along, you blow into the microphone to blow down the pigs house! This isn’t an app you just put on and watch the book on screen. From start to finish there are lots of interactive points including lots of great quirks.
I don’t think apps will ever replace books—especially children’s books. I do think that picture book apps will continue to develop and enhance reading experiences for young children. And I think if apps take advantage of the technology that this will be an exciting change.
So if you’re designing a book app, I urge you to think off the page. It’s not just a matter of scanning in pages and reading the text. This is your chance to really make magic happen. Otherwise, you might take someone’s favourite book and make it just a little bit app-alling.