The iPad is a great ebook reader, but it also offers a unique platform for a growing number of book-app hybrids that are pushing the limits of digital publishing. We have seen these interactive iPad books featured prominently in the New and Noteworthy and Staff Favorite sections on the App Store home page, and the titles are often amongst the top-grossing iPad apps around.
A lot of that has to doing with their pricing points, these are also some of the more expensive offerings on the App Store. And, while often featured by Apple, I noticed it is pretty hard to find a lot of user or critical reviews of these book-apps.
So, I have collected some of the best non-fiction offerings right here for you. Whether you love history, science, music, art, space travel or just love the digitally enhanced written word, there’s a book-app just for you.
Remember please that lists, unlike guides, are in no particular order, these are all great choices, depending on your interests. If I forgot your favourite, please leave a note in the comments too, I would love to discover more of this sort of App Store fare.
The Elements: A Visual Exploration
by Element Collection, Inc $13.99
If you’ve seen the original iPad ads, you’ve already met The Elements the first in a series three books (The Planets and Gems and Jewels being the others) from this publisher. They all seem to use essentially the same user-interface (UI). This original title covers the periodic table of elements, in a way that will engage even the least scientific of readers.
From the opening song listing the elements to the ever-catchy tune of “A Modern Major General” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, to the optional 3D specs you can purchase from the publisher to see each of the building blocks that make up our world pop before your eyes, this app puts the entertainment into edu-tainment in a serious way.
There isn’t a text per se; the data is pulled from superlative science search engine WolframAlpha, but that’s a plus since their information is the best. While this app can’t replace a chemistry textbook, it will certainly get you through a good part of your chem 101 final in a more pleasant way than the dry tome you will likely pay $75 for in September.
Virtual History – Roma
by Mondadori.it $9.99
The first of a series of interactive books for iPad from Italian publishing giant Mondadori, Roma (read full review here) is simply astonishing. I picked this title only because it may have a more broad-base appeal than it’s equally mesmerizing sibling,Virtual History – The Last Supper, (read full review here.) Both set the bar in digital publishing for iOS.
Using a proprietary technology to incorporate a feature they call a “Bubble Viewer,” the reader can immerse themselves in a fully three-dimensional environment, by rotating the iPad as you would rotate your head to view a surrounding.
Whether it’s the Roman baths or the market at Pompeii the experience is one of seeing everything, from all sides, up and down, in rich detail, and combined with features like interactive timelines, 3D objects to rotate, overlays and more the book-app will enthral; the use of new technologies alone makes this app well worth the $10 investment.
How does it read? Remarkably well, Roma is not an academic title, but the prose is fluent and the breath, from pre-Roman Italy to the rise of the empire-toppling “barbarians” is outstanding. Whether you like art and history, gladiators, architecture or mythology, if it happened in Ancient Rome, Roma has it covered in an insightful new way.
Expect new titles from Mondadori coming soon and only The Stay at Home GeekMom will bring them to you first!
by Push Pop Press, Inc. $4.99
Al Gore has transitioned from yet another former Vice President on the Wally World ribbon-cutting circuit, to being one of, if not the, preeminent spokesman for the Global Warning movement. Seriously, he is at least as well known for his books and speeches on the subject as for anything he did in office.
The Vice President greets readers of this book-app with a video explaining the importance of the subject matter, and then you can swipe through the visual table of contents and pop open a page with a tap.
The app is based on the apparently text-richer book by the name title, and is loaded with videos, of course. The unfolding photos and photo commentary are standout features. If you care about the subject matter or want to see how non-fiction can exploit the digital publishing landscape you should definietely check this one out.
The History of Jazz – an interactive timeline
Music lovers have a plethora of great book-apps to choose from. The History of Jazz is one of the best and most popular. The publishers call it an “interactive timeline” which aptly sums up what this book-app offers. Music is meant to be heard and performances watched, not read, so the app is a tad text-light, but very video-rich.
Using a navigation menu that look like construction paper piano keys, you can explore this uniquely American musical genre from its birth in the 1890’s through to the present day. The History of Jazz is crammed full of YouTube-hosted videos showing performances by everyone from the great Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton, to Joshua Redmond, the African-American, Jewish, Berkley-based saxophonist, whose “Molten Soul” music is leading Jazz in daring new directions.
Ragtime, New Orleans Classic, Dixieland, Chicago, “Jazz Age” Big Band, swing, bebop, cool jazz, slow fusion, acid jazz, even vocal jazz, it’s all here, in a simple engaging format. Don’t plan on enjoying the app offline though, it requires an internet connection to stream the videos. But, Jazz fans and the uninitiated will learn from the minimalist, but informative text, and performances by Kenny G, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and almost every other Jazz great. It’s treat for the eyes and the ears.
Man In Space
by Bristol Magazines Limited $4.99
Man In Space is a digital rendition of the 50th anniversary edition of “Sky at Night Magazine”. While not a book, per se, both the print issue and the iOS version have much more to say than many of the “books” on this list.
The app traces the history of space travel from Yuri Gagarin’s first spaceflight in 1961 to the International Space Station and into the future. This BBC (Bristol, the publishers, are the BBC’s magazine division) pack this book-app with cool videos and interactive features. It contains everything in the print addition; this app is not an abridged text as are many others here.
The GUI is wonderful. The menu system is intuitive, the images are crisp and the text is well-integrated with the digital features. The 3D images are a standout. Man In Space, unlike others on this list like Woodstock or The History of Jazz, contain all the videos embedded within the app.
This is great for off-line reading, as the other books require an internet connection to stream from Youtube, but it does mean the book will use a lot of memory on your iPad. If you like outer space it’s well worth the iPad space.
Kings and Queens by David Starkey
by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd $6.99
If you are love British history, and you don’t know David Starkey it’s time to get yourself acquainted with the masterful author and BBC documentarian. His scholarship on the topic of England’s monarchies is irreproachable. He also has knack for bringing potentially dry and academic, but actually bulging-with-intrigue, stories of the great northern European island kingdom and it’s most salacious characters, to life in vivid colour.
This book-app brings you some of Starkey’s best writing, with a host of interactive features including of course, videos from the TV persona himself, but also timelines, detailed family trees, and the abridged version of the text book.
It’s too late to see it now, but a neat feature was the live in-app coverage by Sky-news, of the Royal Wedding last month. But if you are a fan of Wills and Kate, the archive is well stocked with great information and the videos too. A must-have for any history buff, Phillipa Gregory reader, or fan of TV show The Tudors.
On the Way to Woodstock
by 955 Dreams $9.99
On the Way to Woodstock, is another “interactive timeline” book, by the same publisher as History of Jazz which was updated literally the moment this list was being written, to address some broken video links, and technical glitches. But, it already had over 120 almost-perfect ratings from users, so you know the content is great: app-buyers, especially at this pricing point, are not usually so forgiving of technical mishaps. But, I get it. I also would have given even the flawed version a 4.5 star rating too, it’s really cool.
The book-app follows the tried-and-true format and essentially uses the same GUI as Jazz, but turns it attention instead to the American experience in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It was that idealized, baby-boominh American era when everything seemed possible, but a time in which any given day seemed like the most important and potentially the last on Earth. (Sound familiar? Those who don’t study history…)
Videos and text take you from the idealized 1950’s through the social, cultural and political upheaval of the 1960’s and only then delves into the Woodstock music festival, which in many ways was the culmination of the epoch.
Whether you wore tie-die and watched Jimmy Hendrix shred the Star Spangled banner live, you went to a revival festival, or you are just intrigued by this most American of times, this digital book and its grooves, can’t be beat.
Shakespeare In Bits: Macbeth iPad Edition
by Mindconnex Learning Ltd. $14.99
There is also a Romeo and Julietversion of this unusual and wholly unique offering from Mindconnex. It’s a clever new approach to studying the Bard’s works, and it’s so much fun I hope to see Hamlet, King Lear, A Midsummer’s Nights Dream and the rest of the complete works severed up in the same GUI soon.
Shakespeare In Bits offers a fully-animated and voiced study edition of the play, dynamic text features, easy-to-access modern language translations, and a complete study guide in an easy on the eyes and the brain package. The voice-actors are wonderful, speaking in a cadence to promote understudying, but with inflection and appropriate accents.
Because it’s animated doesn’t mean they dumb it down; this isn’t a Cliff Notes-style app. The full text is presented and spoken, just made more engaging, especially for young people. Whether you a Shakespeare-lover, a willing college student, or a high-schooler being force-fed Macbeth in a dry, formulaic and uninspired way, you have to check out this app and this series. iPhone version sold separately.
by PQ Blackwell Limited $9.99
This app is a rockers dream and has been teasing me for a long time by making frequent appearances on Staff Favourites, so I had to check it out for this list. It’s a full-course feast for music lovers, and while it’s not the newest app in digital publishing it holds up well.
It will appeal to a braod cross-section of rock lovers as there seems to be no genre barrier for Zuckerman, who has published a paper book with the same title. This book-app features over 50 musicians, from across popular genres, who “provide their perspectives on one of the most universal and yet unexplainable art forms.”
Expect portraits and videos of each included musician with extra goodies like interviews and more short films. Sorting is simple, sharing irresistible and the app links to iTunes if you want to purchase the music you hear. A no-brainer for an old groovesters and young ‘uns into the latest alike.
by Hatchet Book Group Inc, $13.00
If art and photography are more up your alley, iconic American landscape photographer Ansel Adams has a coffee-table book of some of his works out on iPad that is a treat for fans of his work.
This book-app contains 40 high-resolution photos highlighting some of his best works taking full advantage of the iPad beautiful display. This is a paring down author Andrea Stillman’s 400-piece collection in print, and focuses largely on his shots of the Sierra Nevada mountains, one of several place he called home.
You can pinch-to-zoom into the breathtaking shots or listen to the captions read aloud. The app includes a section on “Letters and Images,” “Ansel’s postcards” and a collection of three short videos featuring the genius himself. Its sumptuous eye candy for photography lovers, and those who want to see how art can shine on iPad and iPad 2.
Here On Earth
by Arcade Sunshine Media, LLC., $11.99
I first picked this title as an ideal choice for my Earth Day App List, and it still stands as a great choice for the science-minded looking for more serious fare. Or anyone interested in evolution, and all the sociological and scientific issues that attend.
Tim Flannery’s book about Darwin, Dawkins, evolution, and how to reshape our thinking on those matters, is amazing and meaty. The multimedia version of the bestselling work, “traces the history of the planet, the history of humanity, and the impact that we have had on our planet.” Before you balk at the price, the text iBook is only a dollar less; in print, it’s more. Here the text is accompanied by 25 Interviews with the author, videos from award-winning filmmakers, social network integration, even Air Play support.
It’s not for the intellectually timid, but the special features make the app much more accessible than the text-only book. Another benchmark for digital publishing.
War in the Pacific
by Gameloft, 4.99
What an unexpected surprise to find game powerhouse Gameloft teaming up with Carlson to bring great interactive books to iPad. The result of pairing a gamehouse with a publishing house of their respective statures is what you would expect: fantastic.
And if you like this offering look for War Planes slated for release next week. Like Here on Earth, this is a serious non-fction book, by author and WWII history scholar, Richard Overy, and the app faithfully renders the text.
Features added by Gameoft to the digital version include a foreword by Dale Dye, Senior Military Advisor to HBO’s The Pacific and Band of Brothers, which engages the reader from word one, by clearly delineating the experiences specific to soldiers in the Pacific theatre, along with archival documentaries from 1945, animated maps and some really interesting facsimile documents.
Even if you didn’t catch the mini-series, and you’re not a war votary, there’s a lot in Overy’s fluid prose for any reader to connect with. This one should not be missed by anyone looking to enhance their understanding of the Second World War.
Of course there are many other great choices, I can’t cover them all, but if I missed your fave please leave a note in the comments.
I’ll be back later with some really big news, and of course have fresh reviews, contests and other fun stuff for you later this week. For now, please enjoy some of my most recent and most popular reviews and guides from the list below.
Happy App Hunting