Review: iPoe for the iPad/iPhone

As a follow up to this old post of mine about interactive books for the iPhone/iPad, I would like to mention a new entry in the field: iPoe.

iPoe is a beautiful collection of 3 of Poe’s unforgettable masterpieces: The Oval Portrait, The Tell-tale Heart, and the Mask of the Red Death; all enriched with a biography and an highly valuable extra section, The Sketchbook, documenting the creative process by graphic artist David Garcia Forés. iPoe is the second attempt of PLAY Creatividad, a creative firm based in Barcelona, at making an interactive books, after Forgotten Colors, their initial project. To have a glimpse of the beauty of this app, I suggest you to have a look at the trailer on the iPoe site.

One thing that must be positively stressed is the shift from the format of an HTML book, packed into an app (through the Baker Framework), to a Cocos2D-based app. This surely adds smoothness and richness to the animation and interactive effects that the app offers and also reduces a lag that somehow affected the user experience with Forgotten Colors. The app mixes “plain text” pages with richer pages including graphics and animations, often of the interactive kind. Apart from a few glitches with the user experience (sometimes double tapping brought me on the previous page, other times not; at times just swiping randomly on the graphics also produced the same effect of turning page; also, swiping to change page does not work satisfactorily; furthermore, when you select a story to read, the app brings you always at the first page, although you left reading on a different page, etc) that can be surely improved upon, what I always find interesting to look at is <i>how the interactivity aspect enriches the reading experience<i>.

Now, after looking at several apps implementing interactive books, it is clear that one must distinguish the first time the interactive book is read.

The first time, the app offers a discovery experience, where at each page you could/would/should discover which effects the designer decided to embed there; sometimes they reveal themselves automatically, other times you have to actively look for them in several possible ways (touching the graphical artifacts, playing with the accelerometer etc.) This may result in a more or less pleasant kind of experience depending on many factors, including the mood  at the time of reading, but mostly the age of the reader. I have noticed that children are really keen on how they can affect the story they are reading, and also like repeating the same discovery experience several times. For me, I am always impressed by the creative aspects of the animations and the effects, and sometimes puzzled at the novelty or originality of the view that is conveyed by the graphics over the text. Yet, I have to say that it seems really difficult to find a formula that makes interactivity add a value to a book such that it makes it an integral part of the reading experience. One factor here is that of a balance between the intrusiveness of the animation/interaction aspect and the fact that they always repeat in the same way.

All in all, I feel that we are still at the dawn of the interactive book era and that much has to be found out as to how the reading experience can be enriched through animations and interactivity for different age targets.

Apart from that, I think that iPoe is a wonderful app, and if you like Poe, or have never read his stories and feel like trying some, iPoe offers you a great value for little money.

Check out iPoe on iTunes: iPoe - The Interactive and Illustrated Edgar Allan Poe Collection.

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