Tools for creating interactive books for Apple’s iBooks (Update)

Apple will hold a press event in New York City this Thursday, and speculation continues over just what will be introduced. In the meantime, Erica Ogg has posted an interesting idea at Gigaom: What if Apple were to release software to let people create interactive books for use on the iPad?

“What if what the company reveals on Thursday is more consumer-oriented with an educational edge to it? It could be a publishing platform for building and making interactive kids books, with an emphasis on simple creation tools; something easy to use and geared toward helping people build their own digital storytelling projects. It could be like a publishing version of iMovie, iPhoto or GarageBand, a set of tools that enables anyone to put together and self-publish interactive books? That’s something that parents, teachers or independent content creators could use, and could certainly be considered ‘education.'”

An interesting idea, but boy I hope it’s wrong. I really dislike kids books on the iPad.

I worked as a teacher from 1994-2000. Back then, “interactive books” were popular. Some featured a strip of sound effects buttons that were to be pressed as the story was read. I despised those books because the students treated them as toys that just happened to have books attached. Some even pulled the buttons off, disregarded the book and walked about making random sound effects.

Living Books by Brøderbund were also popular back then. They shipped on CD and featured read-along animations based on popular titles like Arthur and Dr. Seuss. I still have that damn Just Grandma and Me memorized, right down to Little Critter’s inflection. The problem with Living Books was that nearly every object did something; click a crab to make it snap its claws or click a bus to hear its engine rumble. They were toys masquerading as books.

The “book as toy” phenomenon migrated to the iPad with digital children’s books. I’ve purchased a few for my own children (ages 8 and 6) and found the experience disappointing. Instead of listening to the story, my kids only want to “see what it does,” randomly tapping, swiping and flicking every image. When they find an interactive element, they go nuts — swiping, tapping or flicking it repeatedly. At that point, we aren’t reading. We’re playing a video game.

And those books were created by professionals. Consider the rash of souped-up but still horrible home movies you had to endure when iMovie was introduced. People with good intentions but no idea how to create a watchable video were strutting around like Kubrick. Now imagine the interactive books the same lot would produce.

I know there are several decent interactive books for adults available, and that’s fine. I also understand that Ogg’s post was speculative musing, but when I read “…But we have heard Apple’s announcement is geared toward the younger end of the K-12 set, and this could fit with that idea. It also wouldn’t be a huge surprise if people took a new set of tools for building visual stories with rich content and ran with it and it eventually became much more popular outside of content aimed at younger kids and students,” I think, “I sure hope not.”

Update: Ars suggests Ogg’s idea isn’t too far off.