Gavin from NextRead.co.uk reviews Stephen Fry's new iPhone app, myFry: Stephen Fry's obsession with all things gadgety is well known, as is his special fondness of Apple. So it's no real surprise that to coincide with the release of The Fry Chronicles, the second volume of his autobiography, Penguin has not only released an iPhone app to accompany the expected hardback, they've released Apple iBook and Amazon Kindle ebook editions too. Though only the iBook edition is enhanced with video. Oh and if you want Mr Fry to read it to you an audio book is available too.
Basically, you can consume Mr Fry instantly or wait for the traditional physical book. But being release day and being nowhere near a shop my choices are limited to instant gratification, my only problem is which one to choose?
Dan Franklin has already talked a little about publishers 'seeking to push the boundaries [then] the onus has to be to experiment with the very way we read.' The myFry app does just that.
Here is what you do to read, you don't flick from page to page, instead you choose your section based on a coloured wheel of fortune or you can choose to read bits based on tags: writing, fryism, teaching, pipes, pleasure, fulfilment, acting, ambition... I could go on.
In this case Penguin are pushing at the idea that a book needs to be read in sequence. Instead they invite you to dip in and either 'Mark as read' bits or star them for future enjoyment. Which sounds fine for a piece of non-fiction, as this is, but it doesn't gel this time around.
It could be a question of taste. I like a book to look like a book. I like the text to be formatted paragraphs that are indented unless you need to show a scene-break. If they are formatted like a webpage as Penguin have chosen to do here it changes the flow, at least for me. I also like to see each page turn.
Instead each section is presented as a webpage not only in formatting but in scrolling. And it does spoil the flow. Readers tend to scan webpages but absorb books (or things that look like books). How do I know the difference? I downloaded the sample Kindle and iBook versions. I didn't feel any connection with app but when I started reading the Kindle version my finger ended up hovering over 'buy' option.
I haven't been so drawn in to a biography as I was when reading the Kindle version. But I'm torn between that and the iBook version as the enhanced video of Stephen is so endearing.
I don't think that ebooks are about 'apps' they are about easier and more relevant consumption of books. The Amazon edition would be my first choice. I could read it on a dedicated Kindle, or via apps on my iPhone, iPad, Android phone, PC, or Mac. I buy the content and I get to choose the device. Or the iBooks edition lets me choose between two devices that I'm never far away from. The myFry app limits me to the iPhone on top of the uncomfortable formatting.
The power of an ebook is if you want to enhance my experience give me extras like short stories, photos, video clips, or if you're going to fiddle with innovation try and fit the format to the content.
Stephen Fry's narrative voice is so wonderful that you need to let it flow into you not chop and change it like you're flicking from webpage to webpage on a raining Tuesday afternoon.
My advice: grab your iPad, iPhone, Kindle and get the 'real' book and leave the apps to things that are a better fit.
Gavin C Pugh runs NextRead.co.uk. He loves books and technology and he is usually attached to an either a book or a gadget.
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