Like most people fascinated with the potential that devices like the iPad have to change how we read and learn, I rushed to the App Store to purchase Push Pop Press’s highly-anticipated first interactive book, “Our Choice.”
Several months ago, I was also one of the first to purchase the Wired app for iPad. Ultimately, I found it disappointing. Its interactive elements felt out-of-place and contrived (I don’t want to tap buttons to simply reveal sequential information, when using a device that can scroll), and actually distracted from the content itself. Furthermore, (perhaps coincidentally) I didn’t find the content as engaging as it was when I read Wired religiously a decade ago.
Mediocre content, fighting for attention among distracting interaction elements, proved to be a deal killer for me and the Wired iPad app.
On the other hand, I have come to absolutely love the Economist and BloombergBusinessweek apps. I’ve subscribed to both, and honestly feel a sense of anticipation each week, waiting for a new issue to come across. Why? Because I find the content interesting, engaging and well-written, while, at the same time, the publishers haven’t added interaction that distracts from the concentrated mode one enters when reading. The interactions that are there are pretty much what I want and expect — efficient navigation, bookmarking, emailing and social sharing.
Our Choice, as a technical example of what can be produced with the Push Pop Press platform, is truly impressive — especially for someone like myself, who is passionately interested in user interfaces and user experience. While the book is fully consumable without interacting with anything, the interactive elements — especially the info-graphics — are implemented in a way that, on the surface, seems to support and amplify the content. This, in my opinion, is an achievement, in and of itself. And as expected from a company run by Mike Matas, everything is exquisitely executed, to the smallest detail.
But, does this represent forward progress in learning, or simply brilliant implementation of what’s technically possible?
My kids — 10 and 8 years old — are both avid readers. The absolutely devour every book they can find. And, they are both intimately familiar with the iPad. My 10 year-old, in fact, reads many of her books in the iPad’s Kindle app, and often likes to write summaries of when finished.
I showed them Our Choice, and just observed. They quickly figured out the navigation, and discovered all the interactive features. But… they didn’t read the content. Fascinated, they skipped through the book, hunting for the next interactive element, to see how it works. They didn’t completely watch a single video.
When they finished, I asked them to tell me about the book. They described how they could blow on the screen and see the windmill turn, how they could run their fingers across the interactive map and see colors changing. How they could pinch to open and close images. But they couldn’t recall much of what the book was about. They couldn’t recall the message intended to be communicated in any of the info-graphics (though they could recall, in detail, how they worked.)
When I, myself, skip and skim through a book or magazine, I rarely return and read through again (although I always plan to). The same thing happened with my kids. They continued with their concentrated reading in the Kindle, but haven’t since returned to Our Choice.
Perhaps it’s the novelty of a new experience, and in a future where every book is published like Our Choice, the interactive elements won’t interfere with content engagement and comprehension. But for now, based on my observations, I remain just a little pessimistic, and have a feeling that we still have a ways to go in terms of understanding the value of, and techniques for, integrating interactivity within the process of reading for comprehension.