A few years ago, these apps would have been books
March 19, 2013 | 3:24 pm
By Joanna Cabot
People tend to be a little too excited about the multimedia e-book ‘experience’ these days. In the vast majority of cases, most books would be better off staying as books; the quest for multimedia add-ones leads to cost, bloat and complexity. But sometimes it doesn’t. And that realization has been a surprise to me.
I may be a Luddite when it comes to my fiction reading (plain and simple EPUB, please!), but there are three apps I use regularly—and love—that would have been books back in the day. And the ability to de-bookify them and transform them into a different type of product has improved them tremendously.
1. Calorie Counters
Yes, these used to be books! And if you were the author of a diet plan, you could crank out one of these and make an extra $20 off your readers. My mother, a long-time Weight Watchers customer, paid for an add-on ‘restaurant guide’ when she joined. That book was a doorstop of a tome, full of dense, tiny printing. And then two years later, when the program was updated, she paid again for a new version!
So why is this sort of thing so improved as an app? Three reasons: It’s always available, it’s searchable, and it provides real-time feedback. My preferred app is a freebie called My Fitness Pal. I have it installed on my iPad (for use during the day) and on my phone (for use on the go). So that covers the always-available part—and it’s so easy to use. Not only can I search grocery and restaurant products (while I’m actually in the grocery store or restaurant), but I can group more than one search result into a meal for easy re-entering (e.g., milk and cereal together), or I can enter in recipes and have it calculate the information for me.
I also love the real-time feedback. The app has given me a calorie target for the day, and I can raise it by putting in activity if I want to. Want to spring for the cake pop while you’re having a coffee break? That’s fine, but then you’re walking home from the bus stop. Want to go out for dinner and splurge? Plan it when your day begins, and you can tweak your other meals to fit it in. I have been so much more successful since I started using a tool like this. It’s way, way better as an app than as a book!
2. Workout Builder
That’s not an issue in this era of the app! I have two—a yoga one and a gym one—which, just as these books once did, contain a bank of exercises. They have pictures, instructions and a few pre-made routines. But then, genius of geniuses, you can remix the exercises into new routines! And you can have the app walk you through the whole workout, complete with music, voice-over cues and countdown timers!
That is so much better than a book!
3. Art Instruction Apps
The kids section of the bookstore is full of these sorts of things: how to draw spaceships; how to draw dinosaurs; how to draw cartoons and so on. I found several apps in the iTunes Store that do the same thing. What makes them better as an app is the sheer versatility. My preferred app has both a trace mode, where you can trace the lines directly, and a freestyle mode where you can work off a sidebar of instructional stages and draw on a blank canvas. When you’re done, just erase and start again!
I often review vocabulary with my French as a Second Language students via an impromptu game of Pictionary, and the older ones used to make fun of my poor drawing skills. Now, I can get all the practice I need. And not only can I do it without carrying around a book, but I can do it without carrying around paper and pencils too! So handy.
What other former book genres do you think work better as an app than as a fixed set of pages? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!