While the iPad has ramped up my of internet reading considerably, I still prefer to tackle books in their physical form, largely because there's no real advantage to reading them on the tablet. Our Choice, the latest volley in Al Gore's noble crusade for climate change, is evidence that when crafted with care, the electronic book can surpass its paper predecessor in style and substance.
What is it?
Our Choice, $5.99, iPad and iPhone. At its heart, Our Choice is a nonfiction book about climate change and the various solutions proposed for how we might be able to curb it. A long one - 18 chapters - and a good one, smartly researched and clearly written. But as the first interactive book built on Push Pop Press's digital publishing platform, it's also one of the most compelling arguments for "the book of the future" we've seen yet, supplementing text with photos, videos, and, most impressively, interactive infographics in a substantial way. Put simply, it does things that no paper book ever could.
Who's it good for?
People who are concerned about the future of our planet; people who are interested in the future of reading.
Why's it better than alternatives?
To be sure, there are plenty of compelling ways to read on the iPad. Instapaper is essential for stripping web junk from text. Digital editions of Wired, PopSci and countless other magazines are regularly crafted for the tablet. Special interactive versions have brought new life to children's titles like Alice in Wonderland. But Our Choice is the first proof I've seen of how a book can not only benefit from multimedia but rely on it. With hundreds of photographs - all of which can be viewed in full screen and located on a map - a generous helping of documentary video, and thoughtfully constructed, interactive infographics, Our Choice wouldn't make sense as a regular old book. Or, for that matter, as an iBook. The last of these offerings - the infographics - are especially impressive, illustrating sets of facts for the reader but letting him or her discover them on their own. When you come across these, in particular, it's hard not to imagine how a digital textbook presented in this fashion wouldn't be exponentially more engaging to a student than the ones we used when we were in school.
Navigation has also been a concern, mostly for some of the tablet magazines - every one has their own unique scheme and most are needlessly complicated. Our Choice - presumably like the other Push Pop Press titles that will follow - is mercifully simple to move through. You can swipe fluidly through a visual table of contents to get to the desired chapter, and swipe within that chapter to find a desired page. Expanding with two fingers opens that page - as well as the photos, videos and infographics throughout. As you read, there aren't so much pages as panels, with the text from the next panel peeking in on the right margin, inviting your swipe. And that's it: swiping to move through the book, expanding and pinching to open and close elements as you like. It's easy. Your parents would get the hang of it in no time.
Our Choice is a universal app and can be used on the iPhone, too.
How could it be even better?
There's a good deal of audiovisual content, and the second half of the book's chapters were endlessly "downloading" and thus inaccessible until a restart pushed them through. But all in all it's remarkably polished for a first release.
Our Choice for iPad |[iTunes]
Video music: Kevin MacLeod