10 Interesting and Innovative E-Books/Apps

Please see my previous posts about what I mean when I speak of innovation and e-books. With that in mind -- and with an open mind, I promise -- here are some of my favorite "innovative" (or okay, at least interesting) e-book apps. In no particular order...

1. Inkling: Inkling is a free iPad app that takes traditional college textbooks and re-engineers them for the tablet format. It's that element of "reengineering" that makes Inkling interesting, I think, as unlike many others in the e-textbook space, Inkling isn't simply coverting print to PDF.

2. The Waste Land: TS Eliot's "The Waste Land" is one of the most important and difficult poems in 20th century literature. The iPad app is a collaborative effort between Faber & Faber (which owns the rights to the poem) and Touch Press (the maker of the beautiful bestselling science e-book The Elements) and also includes video contributions from the BBC. The app provides both historical information and interpretive guides for the poem.

3. Wreck This App: Wreck This App takes the popular Wreck This Journal and ports it to the iPad. Like the print version, the app encourages readers to "wreck" it -- a destructive exercise in creativity, if you will. This is one of those apps that will ask to you to consider the differences between the physical and the digital as there are huge implications for shredding a page in Wreck This Journal. What's done is done. In the app, what's done is erasable, reset-able -- and that begs the question, does this encourage or more less creative exploration?

4. Choice of Games: Choice of Games is a gaming company more than a publishing company. It makes choose-your-own-adventure apps for a variety of mobile devices. There's a lot to like about Choice of Games, as among other things, it has openly wrestled with the gender dynamics in the fantasy/gaming genre. It's also made available ChoiceScript, the code by which anyone can built their own multiple choice games.

5. Cathy's Book: Even in print Cathy's Book offered a challenge to the traditional idea of a "book." Cathy's Book is more than a diary; it's a collection of evidence that help the reader piece together "the story." Readers can call phone numbers and visit websites, for example, as they move through the narrative. The iOS apps simply expand on this, adding video and accelerometer effects, for example.

6. The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore: The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore is the first app from Moonbot Studios (iTunes link). Part storybook, part animation, part video, part book, part app -- this e-book/app demonstrates a lot of the possibilities of a new technology (new genre?). One question for the designers: why, if you're doing all you can to disrupt the notion of what a book entails, do you require readers to "turn the page"?

7. Highlighter: One of the big concerns about our move from physical to digital books is the loss of marginalia. There are a number of startups that are trying to tackle this problem, but one that's caught my eye is Highlighter. Highlighter lets publishers (and remember, in this new Web 2.0 world, that's all of us) enable marginalia on their websites. With Highlighter, readers can highlight (duh), comment and share, and publishers can in turn track readers' engagement.

8. Graphic.ly: I'm biased when I say this, but here you go: I believe that comic books and graphic novels are some of the most important literacy tools we have at our disposal, and I think we are fools to do anything that would hamper the culture of sharing that happens around them. That's why, among other reasons, I've got Graphic.ly on this list. There are a number of other comic book apps, but I really like the way in which Graphic.ly highlights the community around a comic, not just the content itself. Graphic.ly isn't restricted solely to the iPad either. It offers mobile, desktop, and Web apps.

9. LetterMpress: We can lament the demise of print at the hands of e-books all we want, I suppose, but the fact of the matter is there have been a lot of technological changes since the advent of the printing press. The way in which printed texts are, well, printed differs substantially from Gutenberg's movable type machinery. Earlier this year, I backed a Kickstarter project for an app called LetterMpress that was a blend of old and new printing formats. As the name suggests, the app is a virtual letterpress and lets you design, lay out and "print" pages by assembling wood block letters on a press bed.

10. Kindlegraph: And in other "let's figure out how to approximate the physical world of books in a digital format," there's Kindlegraph. Kindlegraph aims to replicate the traditional book-signing experience by enabling authors to digitally sign e-books. The app uses DocuSign's API, so someone can request an autograph from an author who can in turn write a short message and sign it. Sure, we can lament the loss the experience of standing in line, waiting for [insert famous author's name here] to sign your well-loved copy of [insert famous book title here]. But in this brave new world of e-books, we need brave new solutions, right?


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