Our Choice: Looking at Books in a New Light

We are still exploring uses for our mobile devices and cellular and WiFi networks, but one feature or function that has always been hanging around is this notion of content consumption. As devices get better and networks get faster, the possibilities and opportunities continually change.

Reading from the web is certainly a big portion of this content, and companies, publishers and individuals are constantly exploring how to best get their content to their consumers and how to monetize it. The world of book and magazine publishing has been especially shaken up as our mobile devices have become increasingly more powerful. The idea of simply trying to re-create the physical experience on a mobile device is a path that many established publishers, arguably incorrectly, are heading down.

Push Pop Press is looking at this from a different angle: they are looking at book publishing essentially from the ground up. Their thought is to look at the devices we currently have access to and the conditions in which they reside and then build a platform using those capabilities to create the best possible experience for the user. It is a book, but at the same time, it is something completely different. Our Choice by Al Gore is their first book utilizing this new platform. Let’s take a look and see how it works.

Design and Interface

The interface to this new electronic book platform is extremely clean and simple. There are two modes: the table of contents view and the reading view. The table of contents view isn’t exactly how it sounds. You’ll see a large image with the title of the chapter you’re currently viewing, and some dots below showing how many chapters are in the book. Swiping across the large image will move you between chapters. You actually won’t see what’d you’d typically think of as a table of contents — that can be a little unnerving, but I didn’t seem to miss it.

Our Choice intro screen

Our Choice intro screen

Below the large image and chapter titles you’ll see the actual content of the chapter. They’re just small representations of each of the pages. You’re able to swipe across that bottom row to skip ahead and backward quickly. Tapping or pinch zooming on an individual section will magnify it and bring it into reading view. Double-tapping or pinching reduces the size and takes you back to the full chapter view. Skipping forward and ahead isn’t the easiest thing to do on the iPhone interface; Everything is a bit too small to see exactly where you’re jumping to, but it can still be helpful for jumping to general areas.

Chapter view showing the Introduction chapter

Chapter view showing the Introduction chapter

Once you’re in the reading view, a simply swipe forward or backward will move you through the content. It is a book, so a majority of the content is, of course, text. Push Pop Press has done some interesting things here and worked hard to incorporate a lot of fantastic images, videos, animations and interactive graphics along the way. As you move along you’ll see these graphical bits, and tapping on them will activate them. Tapping on a photo will magnify it to full screen with a really cool zoom out effect. Tapping the other graphics and videos will fire them up and allow you to interact with them. They are seemlessly integrated into the content of the book and really add some fantastic visualization.

Something interesting to point out, and it is probably a testimate to a thoughtfully designed product, is that there are no instructions or settings to change anything at all. It’s not really necessary though, because the interface is easy to figure out after a couple minutes. It’s intuitive and just makes sense.

Navigating the Content

I talked a bit about this in the previous section, but we’ll dig in a bit more and show some screenshots of how this works exactly in the application. Essentially, you’re holding the contents of a book in your hand, and you’ll have chapters and pages to flip through. The way in which you move throughout the text along with the intertwined graphics are what make this a much different experience than reading an actual physical book.

Chapter view again, this time of the Harvesting the Wind chapter

Chapter view again, this time of the Harvesting the Wind chapter

Below is a slider of each page in the chapter. Sliding from side to side you’ll get a view of all the pages and tapping or pinch zooming on one will zoom in on that page and you can start reading. On the iPhone, this isn’t too useful for finding a specific page as the display is just too small to really differentiate one page from the next. It could help you to make a quick jump say halfway through a chapter or something like that, but anything more specific just isn’t going to happen. That said, it’s still a handy feature and one I used frequently.

Reading

This is a book, and although it is very different from what our brains want to think of as a book it acts in much the same way. After you’ve zoomed in on a page, you can simply flip through page by page. Swiping from left to right or right to left will take you forward and backward in the book.

A basic page with a heading and some text

A basic page with a heading and some text

One thing I did miss a bit was a bit of customization, mostly for the text size. I would have enjoyed to have some control of that aspect to adjust the size of the text to fit more or less on each page. It’s at a comfortable level for most people I would say, but I ran into some issues when hitting the graphics. I was forced to move forward a page or two to finish the sentence or paragraph I was reading, and then flip back to the image. Not a major issue, but for me, a smaller text size would have lessened my back and forth flipping. Granted, this is a small display, so there is likely no perfect solution for this.

Showing some text and an image that can be zoomed in on

Showing some text and an image that can be zoomed in on

Graphics

Where this application and book really shine is with the graphics scattered throughout the text. These are all incredibly well made, beautiful and informative. You’ll see a mix of photos, videos, animations, interactive maps and infographics. The interactive infographics are pretty incredible — they are easy to interact with and engage you in a way that’s flat out impossible in any other platform. Working with these was truly a new learning experience.

Interactive infographic. Turn the dial and the graphic changes.

Interactive infographic. Turn the dial and the graphic changes.

One graphic showing how wind engery is captured and utilized allows you to interact with it by blowing on your iPhone. Yes, that’s right, your iPhone will sense you blowing on it, the windmill will spin and the graphic will fully animate. It’s pretty amazing.

Blow the windmill and the graphic animates.

Blow the windmill and the graphic animates.

Final Thoughts

Though this is a review of the iPhone application Our Choice written by Al Gore, it is more so about the new platform developed by Push Pop Press. The experience of reading a book in this fashion is a very different experience than what we’re used to. I credit Push Pop Press for really pushing the envelope and utilizing the platforms we have available to create a new, more interactive book experience.

It is great to see someone stepping back and starting to re-create the book experience from scratch to best utilize the technology currently available. As I understand it, Push Pop Press is trying to develop a platform for book publishers to use with their own publications. They’re pushing the envelope for an entire industry, and I’m excited to see the evolution of books on our mobile devices.


Summary

Our Choice is the first electronic book built on a new platform developed by Push Pop Press.

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