Our Choice: Is It An App? Is It A Book? It’s Both

In 2009 former U.S. Vice President Al Gore released a follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth titled Our Choice. Gore has partnered with Push Pop Press to turn that book into an iPad app, which is now available in the iTunes App store and costs $4.99.

Putting aside the issue of whether or not you agree with Gore’s stance on climate change, the app is worth looking at because it is being promoted as an example of publishing for the iPad done the right way. The app takes full advantage of multitouch to encourage the reader to interact with the information presented. Our Choice contains plenty of infographics, pictures, video, and audio.

Before the Internet became widely known and used, the “next big thing” was multimedia CD-ROMS. An entire industry formed around the publication of books in multimedia format. One of the standouts in this field was Microsoft’s Encarta, which was a multimedia encyclopedia on CD. I spent hours reading articles and watching videos in Encarta.

Our Choice feels very much like those multimedia CD-ROMs of the mid ’90s. When you first start the app, which only displays in landscape on the iPad, you see a video of Al Gore introducing you to the book. Gore’s introduction does a good job of telling you how to navigate through the app and interact with the contents.

Rather than having a traditional table of contents, which is usually a list of chapter headings and page numbers, each chapter in Our Choice is represented by a large picture, and you move from the Introduction to the acknowledgements, by swiping right to left and vice versa to move forward and back through the book.

You tap the picture to open a chapter, which opens the first page. Each of the pages in the chapter appear along the bottom of the page as thumbnail images, which you again swipe back and forth through to move through the pages. The app appears to load the chapter content from the Internet as you see a progress bar display when you open a chapter for the first time.

I find the navigation Our Choice uses to be cumbersome for jumping between chapters. For example, if you are at the introduction and what to open chapter 5, you have to swipe through each chapter picture until you reach chapter 5. It would be helpful if Our Choice had a menu that listed all chapters as hyperlinks that you could tap to jump between.

As I pointed out previously, Our Choice only displays in landscape, which frankly makes the app feel much less like a book. The text is large and very readable, and there is a lot of white space. The pages are layed out in such a way that the app feels like a coffee table book.

I really like how you can see the location on a global map where the pictures in the book were taken, and Our Choice displays your current location on that map so you see where that picture was taken relative to your current location. Readers interact with the infographics in the book by sliding their fingers on the graph to display the details behind the graph. Video playback uses the full screen and plays smoothly, and the audio is crisp and clear.

I found reading Our Choice to be an enjoyable experience, although I can’t help but wonder whether the “multimedia CD-ROM” feel will come across as being out of date. It is surprising that Our Choice does not incorporate any social networking, nor for that matter, does it have links to additional content on the Internet, both of which I think are required elements for digital publications. Finally, the $4.99 price seems a little steep for an app that does not refresh content.