Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
One of the most thrilling parts of creating interactive book apps is re-imagining how we experience stories. Everything from how pages are turned to even whether we need ‘pages’ at all, the evolution of stories on a new platform demands fresh thinking. The possibilities are immense for publishers who are pioneering this industry one app at a time, yet some of the most exciting features can also be a book app’s downfall.
Book apps can delight young minds with everything from three-dimensional imaginary worlds, to music, atmospheric sound effects, responsive characters and an extended set that reveals more of itself with each tilt of the iPad (to name just a few). All of these elements can enhance narrative engagement when they’re thoughtfully integrated, intuitive and relevant.
However, it can also be the very added extras that create frustration, interrupt the narrative flow and affect comprehension. These are the primary reasons some educators have doubted book apps — and they weren’t shy to share these industry grievances at a recent EdTech conference I attended on “Tots and Technology” in Texas.
So interactive book apps do cool stuff but aren’t actually educational?
Absolutely not. The point is that just as book app publishers need to innovate around what books look like, feel like and act like in this new world, we also need to be thoughtful with how these features come to life. In essence, we need to optimize the user experience and provide options so that the interactive features remain enhancements rather than detractors.
It is no secret that children love tapping screens. The cause and effect relationship of seeing things instantly happen when they touch is fantastic. But, in interactive storytelling, this isn’t always the best way to get the most out of the experience.
In some cases (and especially because Apple advocates a response to every touch), you can have characters talking over the narrator, the scenery changing and characters singing and dancing — all before the story has had a chance to set this up. And we all know that trying to coax kids to listen and wait before activating animation doesn’t always go that smoothly. Ever read about Mischel and Ebbesen’s Stanford marshmallow experiment? Case in point: Kids like instant gratification, even to their own detriment.
Enter a feature we designed in our book apps some time ago to respond to this very conundrum: Delay Interactions.
In one simple setting, parents and teachers can delay interactions on each page until the narrator has read it. Since taps won’t activate anything while the narrator is reading, this increases engagement with and understanding of the story before the elements on screen will respond. It’s a simple-sounding feature with a powerful role to play in maintaining the integrity of experiencing a story while letting it come alive further in a timely manner.
This setting is relatively straightforward technically but groundbreaking in how it solves many of the resistance points to book app use in homes and classrooms. It’s just one example of how developers and publishers have a responsibility to innovate in both the shiny stuff and the practical features that respond to user behavior. Wait to enjoy the first marshmallow and you get two instead!
It’s features like this that we hope will allow us to continue on the mission of making book apps a meaningful and enjoyable part of a child’s well rounded education. These kinds of innovations should give confidence to parents and teachers that book app products can deliver optimal reading experiences that are enhanced like never before.
My company, Wasabi Productions, is an Australian-born startup focused on creating original storybook content for two-to-six year olds. Our books are designed from inception with touch screen technology in mind, meaning that reader interaction is central to the narrative development. Lazy Larry Lizard, our first app, was published in May 2010 shortly after the iPad’s release. We’ve since launched four additional apps across two series with a fifth, Gorilla Band, going live on 15th August and many more planned for the coming months.