The motivation for creating DigiGlyph came from our disappointment in the current generation of eBook readers. Kindle and Nook were just starting to gain momentum and new eBook readers were being released every month. We noticed that almost all eBook readers were trying to recreate the print medium in the digital world. This seemed to make sense. It reduced the barriers to adoption for users who were accustomed to a physical book turning physical pages, thus helping make the transition to eBooks easier for readers.
We were fascinated by this emerging trend in the publishing industry and asked ourselves the question: What will the reading experience become once society has been weaned off print and adopted a fully digital medium?
We hypothesized that the reading experience of the future would be a multisensory, socially collaborative experience that breaks past the confines of a “book” and engages readers on a deeper level, allowing them to contribute to the overall experience. Just as an aging book gives you a sense of its previous owners, digital content of the future will hold the impressions of its readers.
Our first prototype was a multisensory iPhone application. We built an audio-book reader capable of reading a book’s contents to the user in the author’s own voice. The written content within the book smoothly scrolled across the screen in sync with the author’s voice; however, users were free to take control at any time and explore the content at their own pace, bringing them back to a more traditional reading experience.
In an effort to allow authors to easily compose such a reading experience on their own, we developed DigiGlyph Author – a friendly tool which provided a basic word processing experience, plus the additional capability of recording synchronized voice-overs for the text. Once completed, a content title was automatically packaged into an iPhone application at the click of a button.
Next, we tackled the social story. We knew that the experience had to be similar to commenting on blogs. However, we wanted context-based conversation, making it easier to discuss specific pieces of content instead of an entire chapter. We augmented our prototype app by allowing readers to flick off-screen at any time and view a comment stream for that specific section. We believed that having context-based conversation would improve the ability of readers to discuss and interact with the underlying information within that section, ultimately adding value for both the reader and the author.
After demonstrating our prototype to authors and avid readers, we realized that authors wanted to maximize distribution and releasing a book as an iPhone app alone wasn’t enough. We had to step back and ask ourselves how our iPhone app, even with its next generation reading experience, could compete with the Amazon print marketplace, Kindle or Nook eBook marketplaces, or even other iPhone eBook readers. Book enthusiasts also told us they enjoyed the experience but lamented not having the book physically present, saying that having real pages to touch was something they loved and wouldn’t want to give up any time soon.