Holy Scrollers!

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  February 22, 2010

These righteous developers claim to have a lot more tricks up their sleeves. Their secular programming counterparts, on the other hand, are considerably behind, and in some cases are checking e-Bibles with their jaws dropped.

READING IS THUMB-DAMENTAL: From left, the Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Fujitsu FLEPia, and Sony Reader.

Borrowing from the classics
Of course, some secular e-books have found success in dynamic models. Most notably, underground-rock deity Nick Cave set the bar high with an iPhone-only app for his latest novel, The Death of Bunny Munro. Designed by the London-based Enhanced Editions, that lauded milestone features a built-in soundtrack and author recitations for an "immersive 3-D listening experience." At the click of a button, Cave himself will even read via video.

Beside that beyond-the-box effort, though, most experimental e-book apps, like e-Bibles, have been built around public-domain texts.

The popular iPhone app Classics — developed by Phillip Ryu, 22, and his 19-year-old partner Andrew Kaz in the former's Brighton apartment — offers reinvented and enhanced visual versions of nearly two dozen timeless gems, including The Iliad and Dracula. Users can quickly access their favorite titles on a virtual bookshelf, and can view illustrations where available. It's no surprise that, in previews of iBook, Apple's soon-to-debut online bookstore shamelessly cops its aesthetic from Classics. It regularly ranks in the top 50 most popular apps in the entire Apple Store, ahead of eBay, MySpace, Shazam, and several leading flatulence simulators.

"We're glad that Apple is bringing some of the stuff we pioneered into the mainstream," says Ryu, who, like e-Bible programmers, had room to invent as a result of working with long-established public-domain content. "All of these books were already available in some digital form, but they're not necessarily exciting like that. . . . Since we were just two kids, we obviously couldn't match Amazon in content. But what we could do was use the iPhone and its color screen to step up the digital-user experience and make [a few specific works] more compelling."

The Classics crew is unsure about its next project. But according to Ryu, the request that most arrives in their in-box is for him and Kaz to add a Bible. It's something they've considered; at the end of the day, though, they simply lack the faith of their spirited contemporaries at Tecarta and Olive Tree.

"It's a matter of serious searching and organizing," says Ryu, "so we'd have to add a lot more features. [e-Bibles] are definitely great examples of how people can modernize books, but I'm not personally all that religious, so it wasn't something that I felt was important for us to do."

The book of (Steve) Jobs
As they've done every other time they crashed the garden party, Apple is sure to change the e-book game when it releases the iPad in March. Especially if you consider that product's similarity to iPhone, which is the premier medium through which aggressive reading tech is already flourishing. Looking forward, Wired contributor and e-book expert Eliot Van Buskirk is confident that soon the majority of new and classic texts will start getting the same kind of multimedia treatments that the music industry took years to embrace.

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