While most publishers are failing big time when it comes to providing a great immersive reading experience for digital publications, small startups and independent studios are shaping the future of reading with their new ideas. When it comes to books, authors have one design decision – black & white or color, but digital publications are unlimited in their form. eBooks are shaped not only by the author, but also by a team of writers, designers and developers. They can use the full range of media forms as well as all of the new technology that is enabled with smartphones and tablets.
I’ve put together a list for you of the storytelling apps that I found most entertaining and innovative.
Crave launched late in 2015 and has no smaller goal than to save the novel for today’s social media addicted consumer. “Part book, part movie, part instant messenger, Crave is a new reading experience that takes you on a rollercoaster of daily installments as its characters come to life…“, is how Crave describes itself in its app store blurb.
As readers scroll through an eBook on Crave, the app periodically breaks into the narrative and sends readers text message conversations between two characters, videos, or instant notifications related to the story.
But after around 1,000 words, you’re cut off. Each book released on Crave is serialized into bite-sized mini chapters that are sent to the reader on a daily basis. Readers receive a notification each day when the next chapter is available, and a new encounter with the leading man awaits. The first week is free. After that users can subscribe for $3.99 monthly to continue the experience.
“Lifeline” is a playable story of survival against all odds that branches out in different directions. Acclaimed writer Dave Justus weaves a gripping interactive story about the aftermath of a crash landing on an alien moon. The main character Taylor is stranded, the rest of the crew are dead or missing, and Taylor’s communicator can only reach you. Users can use their iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch to help Taylor to make life or death decisions, and face the consequences together. I found this app to be the most fun when I used it on the Apple Watch. It almost didn’t feel like an app. Every few hours Taylor asked me to help him with a new decision and I was curious to see which problems he would encounter next. The app costs $0,99 and is ad-free.
“The Wagner Files” explores exciting ways of digital storytelling. It’s a fusion of animations, videos, historical letters, music scores and photographs. The story of Wagner’s life is told from the point of view of Hans von Bülow, the conductor who played a decisive role in Wagner’s path to fame. The story starts with the premiere of “Rienzi” in 1848 and ends with Wagner’s death in Venice in 1883. The app is part of the cross-medial production “The Culture Files“, consisting of the graphic novel “Wagner“ (print) and the documentary “The Wagner files”. There are different ways to consume the app, either by manually navigating through it or using an auto play mode. I used the auto play mode but stopped now and then to have a look at the additional historical documents or interviews. I really loved the graphics – they are full of lovely details. The app is available for iPads (2nd generation) and costs $4,99.
This is a great example of how discovering history can be fun when the material is presented in an appealing way. One other great example is “The Mozart project”, which gives new insight into the life of the musical genius, providing the ultimate experience both in terms of contributors and the carefully selected playlist of music and images that have been chosen to feature throughout the book.
From bestselling author Iain Pears comes “Arcadia”: a groundbreaking new novel written for iPhone and iPad. The reader can decide between ten characters in three interlocking worlds in an original tale of time travel, intrigue and adventure.
Iain Pears’ idea was to create a new mobile experience in which readers can approach the story in the most comfortable way, rather than having a structure decided for them by the author. The readers can begin with any tale, read all or part of it before switching to another, and can leave out sections which do not appeal them. It’s even possible for readers to record the path they have taken through the story. The app costs $3.99 and is available for iPhones and iPads.
Even though this app is already older than a year it couldn’t be missed in this list. Featuring stunning art by Jaume Illustration, a half-million word script by Meg Jayanth, and original music by Laurence Chapman, “80 Days” is an interactive adventure created by the reader’s choices. There are 150 cities to explore, with the goal being to choose a path from city to city to complete a trip around the world. Users have to balance the time as well as the finances and health of the character “Passepartout” as they make their travel choices.
“80 Days” is both a book and a game. Every city and journey is narrated via an interactive story where the user controls every action. I’ve never encountered an app with more enthusiastic app store reviews and I can only join in the praise. The app is available for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets and costs $4,99.
As you can see, there’s no limit when it comes to interaction and creativity in digital publications. And thanks to the wide reach of apps and easy localization, it is possible for developers to offer complex apps like these for less than $5. I hope we will see more great storytelling apps in the future!