Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

May 1, 2011

Digital Publishing – Quo Vadis?

Filed under: Frank Remarks — Frank Fiore @ 9:04 AM

There’s a revolution coming. One spawned from mobile computing and the next generation of digital publishing.  A combination of digital tablets and what one might call ‘push-pop’ digital publishing using nothing but gestures for interaction as the user interface.

Following the immense success of the iPad, this year will see a slew of tablet computers of all shapes and sizes coming to market all using gestures for interaction. With the age of tablets, physical keyboards and mice will go the way of floppy disks and CD ROM drives.

The push-pop interface made popular by the iPad will bring with it a new age of digital publishing.

Here’s an example of the next generation digital book – ‘Our Choice’.

John Gruber describes it as “a multimedia-rich book running on an iPhone 4 and iPad. There is no UI (user interface) chrome. No status bar at the top or tab bar at the bottom. It’s just like you see in the still image on their teaser site. The entire screen is filled by content, not user interface elements. The screen is the book, the book is the screen. You use it almost entirely by swiping and pinching.”

Is the future of digital books this type of user interface? Are the push-pop ‘books’ more like webpages or will the webpage look more like the push-pop book? Will electronic books continue to look like Apple’s ibooks or more like the push-pop technology.

John Gruber has an interesting analysis of this comparison.

Apple went in the direction of skeuomorphically aping the paper book — a spine, the outline of paper pages rendered on screen, animation that mimics paper page turning.

I find iBooks’s design to be distracting. It demos well, but grows tiresome quickly. In a paper book, there is one layer of “chrome” surrounding the content of the book — the physical boundaries and binding of the paper itself. In iBooks, there are two layers of chrome: the physical black bezel and metal frame of the device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), and the virtual paper book rendered on screen. And the fake paper book in iBooks doesn’t even offer useful visual context — the stack of “remaining” pages visible under the current page never changes in thickness, offering no clue, as in a paper book, how far along in the book you are.

Amazon has taken a more content-focused approach with the Kindle. No fake paper boundaries rendered on screen, and the paging animation looks like screens moving, not sheets of paper turning. The content in a Kindle book, as rendered on any device — iPhone, iPad, or Kindle hardware — is surrounded almost only by the device hardware itself. But there’s no joy in the Kindle experience. No one looks at the Kindle app and says, “Wow”. But that’s exactly what you’re going to say when you first see a Push Pop Press book.

Would aspects of a push-pop digital book like Our Choice find its way into novels?

That’s yet to be seen.

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