Reading books on smartphones isn’t anything new, with e-books available through apps like Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, and Google Play Books. But with its news Editions at Play effort, Google is trying out a new way to read books on your phone.
Editions at Play are books that offer features that can’t be offered by a traditional book. “We sell books that cannot be printed,” the Editions at Play store says. For example, Entrances & Exits has the reader traveling around in Google Street View and discovering pages to the story as they go along. The story is estimated to last around 1 hour. Entrances & Exits normally costs $4.25, but it’s currently on sale for $3.25. Google also lets you try the story before you buy.
The second book is called The Truth About Cats & Dogs and it’s estimated to run approximately 30 minutes. In this story, the reader can switch between the diary entries of a novelist and a poet at will and watch as they try to collaborate. The big feature of this story is that the reader can switch between the two diaries at will and decide which of the two characters has the last word. Like Entrances & Exits, The Truth About Cats & Dogs normally sells for $4.25 but is currently $3.25. It also offers a demo.
The two stories are web-based, but Google wants you to read them on iOS or Android. It lists compatibility info for both, saying that they work best with Chrome or Safari as well as naming which models the stories are compatible with. For example, Entrances & Exits is compatible with iOS 8 and up on iPhone 4s and up as well as “most” Android phones running version 4.4 KitKat and up, though that excludes some devices like the Galaxy S III and Android One hardware.
T.L. Uglow, a Google creative director, tells BuzzFeed News that the goal of the Editions at Play is to investigate different ways that stories can be told. “We wanted to explore what it meant when a book doesn’t have to start at page 1, and end at 273.” This format lets authors play with the way that the reader experiences their story. For example, not having page numbers makes it more difficult for the reader to anticipate the end of a story and surprise them, and using the web lets them tell stories in ways that books simply can’t do, like offer an interactive Google Street View element.
Right now there are only two Editions at Play books being sold, but there are two more expected to arrive this spring and several other “Ideas for Books” that include notes for a new Edition at Play story. The whole Editions at Play program looks like a smart way to harness the power of these tiny computers in our pockets to tell stories in new ways. They’re still technically books in that they’re stories that you’re reading, but they use smartphone tech to move away from the traditional words on numbered pages template of a book. As more books are added to Editions at Play, it’ll be interesting to see what other ways authors can come up with to tell their tales.