Feature-richness and Functionality: Ebooks and Apps

Introduction

We’ve all come across those websites, applications or blogs packed with illustrations, content, sound & video-clips. Collectively, these features are known by the colloquial catch-all term of “rich-media”, and as average bandwidth rates across the developed world have skyrocketed, the web has become increasingly media-rich.

The rise of YouTube from a small video-sharing site to a media giant, competing with TV is a great example of this change and Tesco, for example, hope to market an e-book device capable of linking entertainment channels to the e-book broadsheet in the not so distant future. Apps, in the sense of tablet and smartphone apps are themselves a product of the media-rich, web 2.0 era, so we’re in a unique situation of not having a historical counterpoint to media-rich apps on mobile devices, in the same way websites do (think old geocities pages with crude gif images). But as a result we (as app developers) and publishers (as content creators) need to be mindful of oversaturating the end-user with rich media content to the detriment of the digital publication as a whole.

In short, there’s a need for balance and in lieu of any hard and fast rules establishing how to achieve this, we’ll outline some questions content creators should ask of themselves before committing to the inclusion of rich-media.

Finding a balance

Let’s step back for a moment to think about design. Of course, various devices offering the latest technology will bring with them fresh dynamics and innovative design. But as pointed out above, does this hinder our experience? What do existing examples tell us about what’s best practice for finding a good balance?

Many e-books such as ‘England’s 100 Best Views’ by Simon Jenkins (a project we’ve been working on with Profile books, to be launched soon), contain sweeping, high resolution, 360 degree panoramas, alongside embedded live maps, no doubt improving the user experience in a way that’s directly relevant and tangible. Apple’s iBooks Author facilitates the addition of rich media content, and our creative team have been able to create some exceptional user experiences for a number of publishers.

The reason examples like England’s 100 Best Views work so well is because the rich-media content within them has a practical reason to exist. It’s not just thematically consistent, but it supports the existing content (high resolution imagery and explanatory text about the beauty of England’s natural and urban landscapes), by building on it as the core foundation, rather than disjointedly being inserted for the sake of being able to market the publication as possessing rich-media functionality. Therefore, the most important question a publisher has to ask is ”does this support or enhance existing content or does its inclusion feel incoherent and disjointed?”

On the software end, rich media content can be implemented into most host files and is fairly easy to work with on mobile devices as a result, especially with increasingly better hardware APIs supporting features like accelerometers and GPS. And on the eBooks side of things, files such as MOBI and EPUB are capable of hosting many software readers like Adobe and Sony Reader, allowing them a comparable experience to rich-media apps with HTML5 support.

Conclusion

According to Digital Book World, e-books are rated and analysed using six crucial fundamentals: innovation, design, usability, content, consistency and excellence. Through appropriate design, content should be clear & concise in effect delivering their message effectively.

Mediating between consistency, concision and the desire to distinguish digital publications from their print counterparts with HD video and more elaborate interactive features is a key part of how to create good digital content as a whole. Always bearing in mind the question of does this add to the existing experience in a coherent way? is the best way to maintain consistency within digital publications.

Categories: YUDU Books

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