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A.R. Witham on Black Jack - The ‘World’s First Moving Novel’ and How it Came to Be

Posted by Jennifer Allen on October 2nd, 2014
iPad App - Designed for iPad

iBooks and the Kindle app do a great job of ensuring that there’s always something new to read while you’re on the move. They work well in complementing the traditional physical book. There’s still room for more interactive and animated fare though, such as in the case of Black Jack - an app that declares itself the "World’s First Moving Novel." Released in episodic chunks of new chapters every Monday and Friday, it’s an interesting new direction to take for the medium. We took the time to chat to its Emmy-winning author, A.R. Witham, to learn more.

148Apps: Why not release the book at once rather than chapter by chapter?
A.R. Witham (ARW): It’s an old-school method of building suspense; Charles Dickens released A Christmas Carol in installments, and I thought that was an interesting way to tell a story that isn’t done much in the 21st century. Black Jack has a very vintage feel to the texture of the pages and animations... a vintage release schedule felt perfect for the story.

148Apps: What’s the reaction to the episodic content been like? Has it been as warmly received as hoped?
ARW: The response has been amazing. People love Jack, but for me, their enthusiastic reaction to the side-characters has been the most unexpected surprise. People love Django and Fuji and Valerian and the villains far more than I expected. I’ve gotten drawings of characters from fans, and that kind of reaction is something I really never anticipated.  

148Apps: What challenges have there been in converting the novel to a more interactive format? Has it affected how the novel has been written at all?
ARW: There were 3 Big Rules to building the Black Jack app: 1) The story had to be good enough to pack a whollop without the animations and effects. 2) None of the animations could interfere with the text; if they didn’t help the readers immerse themselves in the storytelling, they were cut. 3) The book had to feel completely unlike any reading experience anyone has ever had. Once I established those guidelines, it became a great puzzle to solve.

148Apps: Do you think this is the future for novels? Or is there still a place for the traditional format?
ARW: I pray traditional novels never die. We all have loved them too much to let them go away. If paper-and-binding is on the decline in favor of screen-reading, I’m okay with that, but a pure tale constructed only with words is the foundation of storytelling; it will always exist, even if it’s just an old man sitting at a campfire telling ghost stories. Digital formats such as the iPad offer a playground for artists to explore the edges of the map and that’s what we are doing with Black Jack. Once you read the first two chapters, you begin to realize there are incredible moments waiting for you. Nobody’s done a book like this before – that’s the fun part.

148Apps: Do you think it’s a method that would work for all genres or does it particularly lend itself to fantasy/sci-fi?
ARW: Oh, I could see Divergent, Hunger Games, Neil Gaiman, or Harry Potter working very well with the Moving Novel format, but I think also think Raymond Chandler’s detective thrillers, Cormac McCarthy’s Southern Gothic style or Stephen King’s horror stories could all be a fun ride with a little emotional push at the right moments.

148apps: What’s next after Black Jack?
ARW: By day, I’m a Creative Director, and currently working on launching the brand-new CBS affiliate in Indianapolis in 2015, so that may take a bit of time. For Black Jack, I’m working with the next story in the series, tentatively titled "Red Rover." And at night, I’m just reading new stories. It’s always fun to find something new.

Thanks to A.R. Witham for taking the time to answer our questions.

Black Jack: A Moving Novel is available now on the App Store for the iPad. It’s currently priced at $5.99 for the full novel, with the first two chapters available for free.

Why BitLit Could Revolutionize The E-Book Market

Posted by Jennifer Allen on August 13th, 2014
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Avid book readers will appreciate the dilemma. You want to buy a new book but do you want a physical copy or an e-book that you can more easily take with you while you're out and about? Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, making it a tough call.

There's a newly launched service that aims to solve this problem, though. It's called BitLit, and it hopes to revolutionize things when it comes to your ability to read whenever, however. Currently, over 120 publishers have signed up to the service with nearly 20,000 books available through it. A pilot deal has just been signed with HarperCollins, while other publishers such as O'Reilly and Angry Robot are also on board.

The way it works is that you simply take a photo of your book cover, write your name on the book's copyright page, take a snapshot of that, then send it through for your ownership to be validated. Then an eBook comes through in return; one that can be used on all of your devices - such as an iPad, Kindle, Kobo, or Nook.

We took the time to ask the firm a few questions to learn more about the service.

148Apps: How does the funding model for BitLit work? How do publishers gain from this approach?
BitLit: When a publisher offers the eBook for free, then it's free (as in beer) for everybody, we take no commission and the user gets a free eBook (who doesn't like free stuff). About 30% of the eBooks in BitLit are free. If the eBook isn't free, then BitLit takes a small commission from the sale -- that's how we keep the lights on and servers running.

The upside for publishers and authors is twofold: Firstly, print books that include a free/discounted eBook sell almost twice as well in bookstores than books that don't include a bundled eBook. Secondly, for books that people already own, there is the opportunity for an incremental upsale -- less than 1% of readers purchase titles at full price in both print and digital formats, 48% of readers say they're willing to pay slightly more to get both formats. Currently you can only buy print or digital; BitLit lets the author capture value on the reader who wants both.

148apps: Are there any plans for it to be possible to validate your purchase without writing in the book?
BitLit: We ask our users to validate the book by writing in it is so that the book can't be returned to a bookstore. But we know that readers sometimes don't want to have their messy writing in their book. For these folks, there's the option of using an Ex Libris book stamp to mark that the book is theirs.

148apps: How long does the process take before you can download a copy?
BitLit: If you have neat handwriting the process takes about 30 seconds. If the automated algorithms can't recognize your hand writing, then it might take up to 15 minutes for a human reviewer to validate your print edition. We deliver eBooks via email download link, so even if you use BitLit on your smartphone to validate the book, you can be reading on your iPad in less than a minute.

148apps: What plans are there for expansion to cover more titles?
BitLit: We have a dedicated content acquisition team whose job is to get in touch with publishers. We already have some great publishers like HarperCollins, O'Reilly, and Angry Robot on board... and we're in talks with a lot of other great publishers that we hope will be joining soon. Stay tuned.

Thanks to the folks at BitLit for answering our questions. The app is available now and is a free download. To check what books are eligible, you can consult the BitLit website.

Train Your Own Dragon in DreamWorks' First Story App - Dreamworks Press: Dragons

Posted by Jessica Fisher on August 1st, 2014
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Fans of 'How to Train Your Dragon' will be excited to hear DreamWorks Animation has released their first interactive story app, DreamWorks Press: Dragons, based off the movie. The app will include the film's main characters, Toothless and Hiccup, and allows users to train their own dragons! The story begins with Hiccup and Toothless finding the main character lost at sea with no memory of their past. The reader must take on the role of the main character as they teach their dragon to defend Berk, explore new lands, and guide their character through an epic journey of self discovery.

This story is part one of a series, with later chapters coming out this fall. The app is designed for readers ages 5 and under, 6 to 8, and 9 to 11 years old with scaling reading levels. DreamWorks Press’ Head of Publishing, Emma Whittard, said "I am tremendously proud of our debut story app. It truly is an interactive experience and puts the reader in the center of the story.”

DreamWorks Press: Dragons is available on the App Store for $4.99, and later chapters will be $0.99.

Heroes Rise: HeroFall Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Lee Hamlet on July 24th, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: A FITTING END
The last instalment in the Heroes Rise trilogy put players back into the cape and brightly coloured boots and lets them choose how their story will end.
Read The Full Review »

Mecha Ace Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Lee Hamlet on June 25th, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: ACES HIGH
Mecha Ace will grip players with its intense story, forcing them to make tough choices that have lasting consequences.
Read The Full Review »

Outread Speed Reading App Gets Huge Update with New Reading Mode, Audio Cues

Posted by Stephen Hall on April 14th, 2014
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: TIME SAVING READING :: Read Review »

Outread, an app from developer Arkadiusz Holko that claims to improve your reading effectiveness through various training methods, has received a huge update that includes a wide variety of new features.

The latest update features eBook support, a built-in directory of classic public domain books, built-in statistics (to see overall and daily reading stats), a new reading mode that aligns the app's word highlighter to the center, audio cues, and more. Also in version 1.2 of Outread are countless improvements to already existing app features, including a better "chunking algorithm," a refreshed app icon, and more.

You can get Outread on the App Store for $4.99.

A Dark Room Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Lee Hamlet on March 31st, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarblankstarblankstar :: NOT MUCH TO LOOK AT
A Dark Room may have plenty of longevity and may be genuinely intriguing, but its interface feels undeveloped in its iOS iteration.
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bookkeep Review

iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
By Jennifer Allen on March 11th, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: STRAIGHT TO THE POINT
Its simplicity is both its strength and its weakness, but Bookkeep will be a handy companion for avid readers not fussed about wanting to share what they're reading with others.
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picomag Review

iPad App - Designed for iPad
By Jennifer Allen on February 17th, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: COLUMN-BASED READING
Consolidate one's reading with this twist on a tabbed browsing interface, offering a magazine style layout effect.
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Outread Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jennifer Allen on January 15th, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: TIME SAVING READING
Speeding up reading and proving a great way to consolidate articles, Outread is useful for those who regularly read on their iPhone.
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Marvin Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jennifer Allen on September 16th, 2013
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: DELIGHTFUL READING
Marvin offers a fantastic reading experience for those who regularly view DRM-free eBooks.
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Syllable Review

iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
By Jennifer Allen on September 10th, 2013
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: PRACTICAL SPEED READING
Encouraging its users to read fast, Syllable is a handy tool for those with limited time.
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The Guardian of Imagination Review

iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
By Lee Hamlet on July 24th, 2013
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: COLORFUL TALES
A collection of interactive short stories, The Guardian of Imagination is charming and morally-educational in equal measure.
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Kung Fu Robot Review

iPad App - Designed for iPad
By Jordan Minor on June 18th, 2013
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: READING RAINBOW
Further proof that reading can be just as fun as playing.
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Read Quick Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jennifer Allen on January 15th, 2013
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: SPEEDY READING
Encouraging users to read faster, Read Quick's methods won't work for everyone but it's certainly an interesting way of doing it.
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