The field of interactive children's books for iOS has become pretty staid as publishers have gotten used to using engines created for their first book and just plugging in new content. But Scott's Submarine (US$2.99), the first entry from Square Igloo, adds some great interactive touches that I haven't seen, and it adds new levels of interactivity to the genre.
The story is a simple one. Scott and his friend Aiko explore the ocean in a small submarine and discover the wonders of undersea life. But the story isn't what makes this book special; it's the host of options and new features that make this universal app really stand out.
Among the many options are the ability to turn the voice and word display on or off, adjusting the ambient sound volume, and language choices (English, Spanish, French or Japanese) that appear textually on all screens and can be heard as narration. You can also set the story's complexity level, ranging from a simple abbreviated narrative to a more complex story that offers much more color and detail.
Each page has a camera which, when active, can be used to snap a picture that is then added to a photo library that can be accessed from Intro screen. If you snap a picture of one of the detailed undersea creatures, the picture will contain an eye in its border announcing that there is more information. Tapping the eye displays a real photo of the undersea creature and a paragraph describing it. Tapping on the picture expands it to full-screen. This adds an educational aspect to Scott's Submarine by using age-appropriate and very clearly written text.
On a few pages, a magnifying glass appears on the right side of the screen. Tapping it shows a silhouette bar of a number of items that need to be tapped upon to fill its silhouette and animate the object. This solves the problem of small children not knowing what to tap upon and getting frustrated. There aren't many interactive objects outside of these few pages, however. I liked the consistency of the interactions, but on most of the pages, the only thing that reacts is the cat.
A Help option shows how every feature in Scott's Submarine works. This is very useful and should be included in every children's book. It's touches like this and the magnifying glass that will give younger readers a sense of confidence and lower the possibility of getting confused. The first time the app is launched, the help screens are shown before the story starts, which I consider a great design choice. After the first run, you can see the help screens anytime using the Help option.
Matt Roussel's 3D art is very well done, colorful and clearly presented. When you view some undersea pages, a nice ripping effect simulates being underwater. When the submarine is grabbed and shaken in the story, the picture shakes along with the action. These were nice surprises and fit in well with the story. Ambient sounds change between pages, are perfectly aligned with the story, and make the experience more immersive.
The app is not without its minor problems. Tapping a left or right arrow at the bottom sides of a page navigates between pages, but swiping left or right doesn't work. Sometimes the graphics are very close to the color of the navigation arrows, making them nearly invisible. Finally, when you choose a language, everything in the app is displayed in that language, including the Options screen. If you don't remember where the English (or other language) button is, finding it is hit or miss.
Outside of those issues, I liked everything in this 37-page book. The photo album, help screens, and interactivity are all appropriate to the audience and add to the autonomy of young readers. Multiple language options give the app a much wider audience than any of the competition. I got a sense that everything included came after making hard decisions on what was right for the children, rather than throwing in features just because the developer could.
I highly recommend Scott's Submarine. The price is reasonable, the quality excellent, and the feature set expansive. It proves that the bag of tricks for interactive children's books is far from empty and finding some new ones is more than possible.