When I got my iPad almost two years ago one of my objectives was to look at how it would work to enrich the experience of illustrated or reference compared to print. Immediately I heard about The Elements: A Visual Exploration, by Theodore Gray. Gray had previously published The Elements as book in 2009 and is Founder and Creative Director of Touch Press. The funny thing is – I’m not even really interested in the content!* But I was entranced by being able to spin each element, the excitement of reference material that allowed you to see something from each side.
*A sign that you are a digital junkie is buying an app not for the content but for the capability.
Apart from its beautiful 3D display I was also excited about the fact you could receive ‘up-to-the-minute’ market prices from Wolfram Alpha. it was the first time I’d seen an app with fully updatable data and frankly, it was pretty exciting! It was ground-breaking in oh-so-many ways! In the days when having an iPad was still fairly unusual I could get many an excited viewer when I demonstrated this title. I mentioned The Elements back in September 2010 in the post The Digital Reading Experience: Enhanced Ebooks, Apps and Multimedia.
Since then I’ve become somewhat of a Touch Press groupie and have followed each of their subsequent app developments. I believe they are producing the best apps I’ve seen on the market and have excelled at building (content) rich partnerships. Touch Press working with Faber & Faber for Solar System for iPad combined two of my favourite digital innovators and won the first FutureBook Digital Innovation Awards in March 2011. With The Waste Land for iPad they again collaborated to create one of my favourite apps for last year and the well-deserved winner of the FutureBook Award for Digital Innovation for an adult app in December 2011. (My other favourite app is mentioned at the end of this blog post!)
“The wealth of content provided, and the beautifully fluid way that content has been packaged, make this an absolute delight for any poetry nut, or indeed, anyone.”
I haven’t stopped raving about The Waste Land app since I first purchased it. Again – am I a T.S. Eliot fan? No. Have I listened to more of this poem than I would otherwise have done. Yes. Working together Touch Press and Faber & Faber have done what they set out to do. They have bought this poem to an audience that has not previously engaged with it. I love so many of the clever features they have created with this app. The interactive notes. Fiona Shaw’s performance in synch with the text; being able to listen to different people reading the poem and change between them by touching the poem. By changing orientation features are shown or out of sight. Enjoying looking at the original manuscript with editor Ezra Pound’s handwritten comments. This is what app development is meant to be. Interesting, surprising, engaging. One of the things that excited me more than anything else was by presenting poetry in this form it has the possibility of making it accessible to many more people. Not just students or poetry lovers but also people who would not consciously seek out poetry and lovers of good app design. Like me! If, like me, you want to understand more about the partnership between Faber & Faber and Touch Press then perhaps the video below from the UK Arts Council will be of interest. The video does run for 15 minutes so settle down and enjoy it – the time passes quickly. As a bit of a nerd I enjoyed understanding more about their approach to building their functionality and keeping it separate from the content. It is a panel featuring the CEO of Touch Press, Max Whitby; Henry Volans, Head of Digital Publishing, Faber & Faber; John Cromie, Lead Developer on The Waste Land app and Hilary Kenna, Designer on The Waste Lands app. They talk about the features, content and design of The Waste Land app in particular, but it is illuminating when considering app development generally.
Faber & Faber have worked with Touch Press on the upcoming Shakespeare’s Sonnets, along with Illuminations and The Arden Shakespeare. I recommend watching the David Tennant video, I hear via Twitter it is quite popular!
When Touch Press comes out with a new development I watch the videos and find out as much as I can about them. They have the ability to create superior technical and design implementations while partnering with superb content owners.
I realise this has been a bit of a Touch Press rave, and I do admit to being a huge fan of their work. But just to add a bit of balance into the post – my other favourite app last year was The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore by MoonBot Studios. Amazing. Of course I pretended I downloaded for the kids but I enjoyed perhaps even more than they did. I did find however that it also raised the bar for two toddlers. Static iPad stories with highlighted text and sound affects don’t appear to meet their interactive assumptions any more!
If you want to investigate this brilliant app then the video below is one minute and eight seconds of fun.
Do you have a favourite app that I should play with? I’d love to hear what you recommend?