Columns > Published on February 20th, 2017

Tech and Product Round-up: February Edition

artwork by Mark Weaver via Serial Box Publishing

Welcome to the February edition of LitReactor's Tech and Product Round-Up, where I highlight news and announcements from the technology world and talk about how said news and announcements impact writers. This month, there isn't much going on with the big tech companies that pertains to the world of writing in any significant way, so I thought it'd be a good time to shed light on three new (relatively speaking) apps on the market that provide readers with original content (as opposed to iBooks, Kindle, and the rest, which offer more or less the same content). These apps are Hardbound, Serial Box, and Hooked, all of which are free to download and use, though all three require payment in some form for extended use. Let's dive right in and get down to the nitty gritty, shall we?

Hardbound

Hardbound's primary aim is to offer complex ideas in the simplest of terms. It does this by presenting information a sentence at a time, with accompanying graphics, covering topics as diverse as how fire works to why humans enjoy music. In short, Hardbound promotes science via bite-sized nuggets that, when combined, form a hearty and factual meal. The interface largely resembles a slideshow presentation, whereby you tap on the screen to move to the next slide—which is of course familiar and easy to use—and this combined with the easy digestibility of the sentences means a wide range of age groups could benefit from the app. And given that a whole lotta people need science in their lives right now, Hardbound gets nothing but applause from me. 

As far as mobile devices go, Hardbound is only downloadable for iOS at the moment, but you can also read all their content online at the website, and thus if you're an Android user, still have access to this handy learning tool (and their mobile site looks pretty nice too). Some articles are accessible to patrons only, and to become one you'll have to pay at least $1.99 a month—or, if you're able and enthusiastically generous, $4.99 or $19.99. All prices get you the same access, so if you can only afford two bucks, you'll get all the same content as someone who gave Hardbound twenty. Even if you don't pay, however, there is still a ton of free content to consume, and the publishers are still adding more.

Serial Box

From this platform's website, here's a simple breakdown of what Serial Box is all about:

Serial Box brings everything that's awesome about TV (easily digestible episodes, team written, new content every week) to what was already cool about books (well-crafted stories, talented authors, enjoyable anywhere).

Like TV, we release a new episode of our serials every week and serials typically run for seasons of 10-16 weeks. Easy to pick up, episodes are enjoyable on their own but build over the course of the season to tell a bigger story. Each episode is available in eBook and audio and takes about 40 minutes to enjoy.

This is a pretty cool concept, and part of a larger movement to get more people reading by mirroring our modern day television viewing habits. As such, the visuals presented on Serial Box are quite lovely, as is its interface. The "season passes" are a bit pricy—not as much as a hardback book, but more than a paperback—though you also get the option to listen to the stories, so in this way you're buying an eBook as well as its audio counterpart for a discount. Furthermore, the stories you purchase sync to both Serial Box's iOS app and their mobile site, so your reading options are expansive. Also, at least the first episode of the series is free, so if you're not hooked after reading the narrative's beginning, you don't have to continue (or spend any money). Last but not least, the roster of writers, while small at the moment, is rather impressive: Michael Swanwick, E.C. Meyers, Mary Robinette Kowal, Max Gladstone, Ellen Kushner, Lindsay Smith, Amal El-Mohtar and Matthew Cody have all either created or contributed to content for the service.

Hooked

This is a clever idea, and though it's not completely up my alley, I have to give it credit. In a nutshell, Hooked offers readers stories comprised of text conversations between two people. You launch the app and immediately a story appears. The writing isn't great, but I found myself nonetheless hooked, as the name implies, tapping the next button to find out what happens to this ostensibly teenaged girl named Tiffany and the terrors closing in on her. However, at a certain point I ran out of "hoots" (minutes, I guess), and I was told I could either wait 30 minutes and continue reading the story, or pay to "speed up time" and finish it right away. There's a 7 day trial mode, with a price point of $2.99 a week after that. Or, I could go ahead and become a monthly subscriber for $7.99, or pay out the whole year for $39.99. An interesting approach to the cliffhanger model of storytelling, but at the time of my hoot depletion I wasn't hooked enough to go ahead and do the 7 day trial and set myself a reminder to cancel it after the free period, should I not want to continue with the service. I know, I'm lazy, but I am who I am. Besides, once your "hoots" recharge, the app sends you push notifications with new installments of the story, so if you want to keep up with Tiffany's exploits for free, you can totally do so.

Hooked is available on both Apple and Android devices, and it's free to download.


What do you think about these three content publishers? Are there any other apps and services out there offering original content that deserve a shout out? Give us your opinions and/or praise in the comments section below.

About the author

Christopher Shultz writes plays and fiction. His works have appeared at The Inkwell Theatre's Playwrights' Night, and in Pseudopod, Unnerving Magazine, Apex Magazine, freeze frame flash fiction and Grievous Angel, among other places. He has also contributed columns on books and film at LitReactor, The Cinematropolis, and Tor.com. Christopher currently lives in Oklahoma City. More info at christophershultz.com

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