New York Times, on cookbooks and apps

Some food for thought (that is a terribly, terrible pun) from the New York Times: “Are Apps Making Cookbooks Obsolete?

I happen to like cookbooks very much. But that fondness stems mostly from the information inside of it. When it comes to serving as an aid to the cooking process, the cookbook could use an upgrade from the relative messiness of the food-stained cookbook getting in the way on the kitchen counter —

“If the people developing cooking apps for tablets have their way, that kind of scene will soon be a relic. And so will the whole notion of recipes that exist only as strings of words. Many early cooking apps were unsatisfying: slow, limited, less than intuitive and confined to tiny phone screens. Even avid cooks showed little interest in actually cooking from them

Swiping, tapping and zooming through information presented in multimedia is a good match for the experience of cooking, which involves all the senses and the brain, as well. And when those faculties fail, as often happens in high-stress kitchen scenarios like Thanksgiving, apps can come to the rescue with features like technique videos, embedded glossaries and social media links.”

Unlike other genres of ebooks, cookbooks make a heck of a lot of sense paired with multimedia content. The rules of the reading experience (if that’s the correct term to use for such a book) are qualitatively much different than other books.

The two main species of cookbook apps you’ll encounter are simple enough to differentiate — on the one hand, you have cheaper, simpler apps that serve as handy replacements for the old index cards (such as the How to Cook Everything app), and on the other hand the full-blown multi-media cookbook apps which are halfway between cookbook and cooking show:

“Many developers say that recipe animation, either employing stop-frame photography, line drawings or infographics, is the future of digital cooking instruction. Video, on the other hand, while it can be valuable for bringing a personality into the kitchen, has several drawbacks. It is expensive to produce, and eats up precious memory.”

I don’t personally want to spend $49.99 on a cookbook app, but wow, check out The Professional Chef iPad app.


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

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