Yesterday at BookExpo America, the International Digital Publishing Forum presented augmented-reality app Spellbound with its 2016 IDPF Innovation Award. Today I stopped by Spellbound’s booth to find out more about it.
Jake Derry, Spellbound’s Strategic Development Director, was happy to explain it to me. Spellbound is a free iOS or Android app that uses a phone or tablet’s camera to add augmented reality features to print children’s books—effectively turning an ordinary children’s book into a read-aloud audiobook and also a sort of virtual pop-up book.
When you point the app at any page of one of the books in question, it overlays three-dimensional objects such as plants and animals. Tapping on the animals has different effects depending on the book—it could offer fun facts, or make the animals make noises. QR codes aren’t required, as some augmented reality apps have done; the app works on image and text recognition alone. No special action is required on the part of the author or publisher creating the book—once it’s ready, Spellbound develops the AR material itself for its own app.
The app doesn’t necessarily require a printed book to work—it will also work if the image is displayed on a tablet or computer screen. If you download the app and point it at the picture at right, of a promotional card they gave me, it should animate on your screen the way it does on mine.
Derry noted that the app is being used in children’s hospitals and classrooms, to engage kids’ attention or distract them during painful procedures. It works with two children’s books right now, with others underway.
Spellbound is an interesting reminder that there are other ways to interact with books electronically than just displaying words on a screen. While the applications for this technology seem limited beyond adding some interactivity to books for young children, I imagine other uses could be found for it sooner or later.