Thursday, April 28, 2011

Turning books into native iPad apps

Be Confident in Who You Are (Middle School Confidential Series) (Bk. 1)
Author Annie Fox wrote the Middle School Confidential series to help kids build their sense of self and make choices that reflect who they really are. Now, Book One of the series is making full use of iPad technology and has been transformed into a 49-page digital graphic novel. Digital technology is revolutionizing the publishing industry and as tablets continue to take the market by storm, there's no doubt we'll see more children's and young adult books customized for the iPad.

With richly layered audio made up of movie-like sound effects and music, the Be Confident in Who You Are  app is a native iPad app, designed specifically for the iPad screen. The app is designed for 8- to 14-year-olds, including those who aren’t enthusiastic readers. Be Confident in Who You Are is the first in a series of kids’ story apps to be produced by Electric Eggplant, the multimedia production company founded in 1992 by Annie and her husband, David Fox, both award-winning game designers. The Be Confident in Who You Are app is available for download on the iTunes App Store and you can also find more info at the Middle School Confidential official website

I had the fortunate opportunity to catch up with Annie and David and learn more about how they're connecting kids with technology...

Tell us why you decided to turn book 1 of the Middle School Confidential series into a graphic novel app?
It’s not easy being “tween.” Every day elementary and middle school kids deal with friendship issues, worrying whether they measure up in looks, etc., and let’s not forget bullying. 160,000 American kids stay home from school every day because they’re afraid of being bullied. These kids need help!

Annie’s Middle School Confidential™ book series (Free Spirit Publishing) helps them think about these challenges in new ways while providing great stories and characters they can really relate to. Kids who read the books learn how to deal with all this stuff when it comes up, and it comes up a lot. By taking only the graphic novel component of Book 1: "Be Confident in Who You Are”, and putting it on the iPad, we expanded the age range of the audience in both directions, and include kids who don’t normally get excited about picking up a book.

It says on the website that this is a native iPad app, designed specifically for the iPad screen. Are specific apps something consumers can expect more of in the future and why?
For quite a while after the iPad first came out, many of the apps for it were originally created for the iPhone, and then adapted for the iPad. This can often leave part of the screen blank (with the letterbox effect you see when the aspect ratio of one device is different from the other, like watching a wide-screen film on an old-style TV). The best conversions are able to fill up the entire screen at full resolution.

Currently, there are about 10 times as many iPhones/iPods out there as there are iPads, so building an app for the iPad is going to be for a much smaller audience. This will be less of an issue as more iPads are sold, and so more developers will take the time to develop “native iPad apps”.

Our own plans include turning Be Confident into a universal app that works on all iOS devices (iPods, iPhones, and iPads), as well as for Android devices.

Can readers expect to see more books of the series turned into graphic novels?
What's Up with My Family? (Middle School Confidential)Absolutely! We have plans to adapt both Book 2: Real Friends vs. the Other Kind (Middle School Confidential) and Book 3: What's Up with My Family? (Middle School Confidential) to graphic novel apps in the near future.

Do you think it's important to connect kids with technology? Why?
Yes, 21st Century kids are growing up in a technological world. That’s not going to change. The more access kids have to technology, the more comfortable they’ll be with it as it evolves throughout their school careers and into their professional lives.

When parents give their kids access to technology of any kind, especially the kind that allows them to connect with other people, it’s essential that clear guidelines are also provided, i.e., parents need to teach kids what is and what is not responsible online behavior. See Annie’s "A Parent’s Pledge to Raise a Responsible Digital Citizen" http://blog.anniefox.com/2010/11/12/a-parents-pledge-to-raise-a-responsible-digital-citizen/

What are some of the features of this iPad app?
We wanted to give our readers two ways to read through the graphic novel: the standard full-page mode, where you see each page of the novel in its entirety, and the zoomed-in mode, where you can zoom into any of the panels.

We’ve designed the app so that even in zoomed-in mode, the images are sharp and vivid, and in fact, you get much more visual detail than you do in the original paper books. But even more important, because we know exactly where you’re looking and which text balloon is being displayed, we were able to add sound effects, ambient sound, and music that match that frame. You can then move through the story in zoomed-in mode and the experience becomes almost movie-like.

If you exit out of the app, we automatically save the page and frame you’re viewing so you can continue when you’re ready to pick it up again. And we allow you to easily jump to any of the 8 chapters in the app at any time.

A totally unique feature of this app... the reader can email any of the six main characters in the story from inside the app, and their email will be personally answered.

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For more information, please visit Annie’s website, http://www.AnnieFox.com, her work with anti-bullying, http://CruelsNotCool.com, and Electric Eggplant.

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