When I first saw the Sunday Times’ best ‘book apps’ feature last month I immediately thought that I could do better. I even wrote a post about it decrying the paper’s inability to look beyond the most obvious of apps.
My original intention was to do an alternative top ten but while researching nominations I soon realised that to do the sector justice I’d have to increase it to 20. I also found myself changing the parameters of what I could include and even what being a ‘book app’ meant.
In order not to bankrupt myself (I downloaded and tested over 50 apps) I limited my scope to non-children iOS apps. I’ve also dropped the ‘book app’ tag preferring instead to use ‘digital publishing app’ so as to not avoid including apps which showcase graphic novels, short stories, long-form journalism and other literary forms.
What I can say is that this 20, of which the first five appear below, are all successful examples of what reading a book/story on an iOS device can and should be like. Simple, original, intuitive and, in some cases, educational.
Part 1 (20-16)
Ultimate Running Races (link)
Publisher: Harper Collins
Ultimate Running Races is a great example of a simple, stripped down digital app. It is a near exact copy of the print version which means that for just £1.99 you’re getting the same content, in digitised form, as something that retails at £20 in any bricks-and-mortar bookshop. Bargain.
It’s not just the saving though that has earned this app a spot on my list, or the fact that I’m a keen runner. The app’s search and filter function combined with the intuitive user interface on iOS devices makes it a breeze to browse through the 500 global races – a must-have for any runner.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Interactive eBook (link)
Publisher: Quirk Books
Agency: Padworx Digital Media Inc.
Coming from an editorial background with experience in translation I’ve always been interested by the idea of having two texts, original and new, sit side-by-side – Penguin Parallels style. I’ve experimented in the past on early versions of the Kindle without success. This app though shows that there is a way to make it work, especially on the iPhone/iPad.
Quirk Books have made a name for themselves with the publication, via their Quirk Classics imprint, of their mashed-up classics – versions of classics put through the blender with other popular literary genres (zombies, robots, monsters etc.) And the digitised version of their bestselling ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ is similarly as wacky as the print version.
This enhanced version comes complete with hundreds of illustrations, a music score and several gory animations which all add to the surreal atmosphere. For £5.99 you get the Quirk Classic as well as the original Jane Austen novel and by reading in portrait mode on either the iPhone or iPad you can read the two stories side-by-side. It’s a fascinating way of comparing the two and seeing how the author of the mashed up version, Seth Grahame-Smith, made his changes and diverted from Austen’s original.
Five Stop Story (link)
Publisher: Five Stop Stories
Price: Free/£1.99 for annual subscription
Five Stop Stories describe themselves as ‘an innovative electronic publisher’ and I certainly wouldn’t begrudge them that title. Their website/app is dedicated to providing readers with stories or no more than 3,000 words long that can be read in an average of five London Underground stops – hence the snappy title.
It’s a brilliant concept and one which is made even better by the way they source and rate their material; through a monthly short story competition. Hopeful writers pay to enter their efforts and the best of which make it to the app. Readers can then vote for their favourites with the most popular story each month earning its reader £50 and a chance of finishing top of the Five Stop Story author league.
The app is free and comes with three short stories. An annual subscription can be bought for just £1.99.
Publisher: D C Thomson & Co
Price: Free/£4.99 for monthly subscription (eight comics)
There are much more immersive comic book/graphic novel apps out there (which will feature later on in this list) but this gets my vote for, like Ultimate Running Races, doing what it does simply and well.
Commando has been in print for over 50 years and made the transition to digital last year. The app version is very well-built and offers the classics for download along with new versions each month. You can download four free comics of your choice and then pay £4.99 for an eight-comic monthly subscription.
A Visit From The Goon Squad (link)
Publisher: Constable and Robinson
Jennifer Egan’s ‘A Visit From The Goon Squad’ has won much won praise and two significant literary prizes; the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
This £5.99 app lives up to the print version with a number of interesting devices used to amplify the text; an unusual and unorthodox narrative composed of linked short stories. The app stays true to Egan’s vision by inviting the reader to make their way though the story in its natural form before allowing them to turn author and switch the chapters around and read them in whatever order they please.
Also included is an award-winning audiobook version and liner notes from Egan herself. There is also a free version which includes two chapters in audiobook form.