The Best Enhanced ebook?

The best enhanced ebook might just be Al Gore’s book, Our Choice, from Push Pop Press.

By the way, what do we mean by an enhanced ebook, anyway? I can’t help but notice an increasingly blurred line between apps and ebooks — are they apps based on book content? Are they books that have app-like features? Hmm. (This is a topic I’m very likely going to have to revisit again soon). Generally speaking, an enhanced ebook is a combining of text with images, audio, and video in an interactive way. And who knows, what we now consider an ‘enhanced’ ebook may well become de rigueur for all ebooks in the not-so-distant future.

But, we digress. Back to the Our Choice ebook (for a side by side comparison, you can visit the official Our Choice website, which features both the app and the print book). It is an awfully nice-looking, well-designed ebook, “that talks, spins, moves, and folds, featuring video, interactive infographics, maps, and more, all seamlessly interwoven with the text in a way that helps bring the concepts to life” (Huffington Post: “Al Gore’s ‘Our Choice’ App Reinvents Books, Reading”). With over 400 photos, charts, illustrations, it’s the visual elements that really seem to create an unique digital reading experience. A nice feature included in the ebook/app is an Al Gore-narrated guided tour of how to use the book — which I’ve included a link to right below.

On the reading experience itself, GigaOM (“Our Choice: The First in a Wave of Truly Enhanced E-Books?”) had some helpful observations: “because the book in many ways resembles a textbook rather than a linear story, the ability to jump around back and forth between sections and elements makes perfect sense here.” Part of the fun of the reading, if I had to hazard a guess, is that the sort of nonlinear reading that works so well for this ebook is akin to how one might browse the internet for content — some reading of text, some watching of videos, and other multimedia content. It approximates the web-browsing habits we’re all accustomed to, and brings that sort of learned behavior into ebook reading. Makes a lot of sense to me.

I noticed a couple of reviewers remarked upon the ebook’s museum-like quality, thanks to the interactive elements. As a means of educating an audience — which is of course the main point of Al Gore’s book project — the part book, part documentary approach seems extraordinarily effective.

David Pogue from the New York Times (“Al Gore Invents a Showpiece E-Book”) had a very positive review, among other things noting:”The interactivity, the zooming into graphic elements and the videos aren’t a gimmick. They actually add up to a different experience. The book feels more Web-like.”

Interesting way to put it, that. Making books more web-like. Could this be the start of a new trend? One of the features I found particularly cool: geo-tagging, which allows you to see where in the world any photo within the book was taken, is a nifty addition, which is also thanks to the Push Pop guys and their background working with the iPhone Maps app from their days at Apple.

The ‘breath-powered ebook’ made some news a couple of months ago (blowing into the iPad’s mic means that on screen, “the blades of a wind turbine turned, with electricity moving to a house and then into a storage battery. Stop blowing, the blades slow down, and the flow of power reverses”). It’s a little gimmicky. But hey, it’s a cool gimmick.

Push Pop Press, would seem to have developed a digital publishing platform, meaning we could be seeing more neat enhanced ebooks like this from more publishing. What could this mean for the future of ebook publishing? We’ll see. For now, the ideas that could come from re-imagining what a book is and what a book could do are rather exciting. From the Huffington Post (“Al Gore’s ‘Our Choice’ App Reinvents Books, Reading”):

“It was about re-imagining the book,” said Matas. “Without any limitations of paper, how would we completely redesign the book and make it something that feels completely natural?”

You can find the Our Choice app/ebook on the App Store here.


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

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