It was only a matter of time. Since the advent of the iPad and its plethora of apps, possibilities have opened for creating truly interactive books that combine text with animation and make use of the device’s touchscreen and motion sensors. And publishers have taken up the challenge, creating beautiful experiences well beyond what had been previously imagined in the ye-olde days of CD ROM. Though most of the innovation in this area comes from science and children’s publishing, apps like The Wasteland and On The Road have set the bar on how even poetry and literature can be a unique joy on screen.
While the possibilities of the medium have excited and inspired writers everywhere, one problem continues to plague the aspiring app author: How do you actually go about making one of these things? Even major publishers frequently partner with technology vendors to create their apps. Other apps are created by development teams in an environment more akin to film production than publishing. Many titles don’t carry an author credit.
So for independent authors and publishers, interactive books have been largely out of reach. But two recently released apps have sought to address this, bringing app development tools within reach of those without a team of designers and engineers on hand.
Book Creator for iPad allows you to create ebooks designed specifically for Apple’s iBooks reader with an emphasis on text and image layout for children’s books, cookbooks, art books, and so on. The result is like a desktop publisher for digital books that is surprisingly easy to use and familiar to anyone who has knocked together standard documents on the iPad’s various word processor apps.
Though Book Creator gives you great for control over design and layout and exports in the near universal epub format, it’s terrible if you want your book to be read on any device other than the iPad. One of the great advantages of digital text is the ability to resize and reflow text for different size screens, something outside the scope of this tool. It’s also a non-starter if you want your book to be read on a Kindle, by the way. But for a simple and fun way to get started in designing books for screen, Book Creator is a great solution.
Demibooks’ Composer takes the next logical step: creating your own app. Composer gives you access to the iPad’s touch functionality offering tools and options for building interactive content, without the need for a programmer. It uses the same base of features as Book Creator around images and text, but also allows you to add your own audio, create animations, and customised touch navigation.
If the only thing missing from your book is an all-singing, all dancing chorus, Composer can help you achieve it. But the level of sophistication comes at the cost of simplicity. Composer is not designed with beginners in mind and its interface is actually pretty daunting at first glance. Even advanced users should expect a few frustrations, especially with image sizes. The committed and the tech savvy will certainly create truly interactive books, but. If phrases like “screen resolution”, “frame-based animation”, and “triggers” make your head spin, Composer is not for you.
Though the books they create are basic, both Book Creator and Composer represent only the first wave of such creative tools. If you think you can create the next Wasteland, you’ll still need that team of engineers behind you. At least for now.