When reading, the parent is better able to control the use of the book and pace of the story with a -book. Narration is the norm on apps – “When I use the iPad I don’t read with them, I let them use it on read-to-me mode.” This means the experience of reading a book is usually more shared with parents who spend time talking around the story more, doing all the silly voices, and getting involved in their children’s world.
Further to the general discussion of things that picturebooks apps can do that printed books can’t, here’s one for the vice versa. But it’s something developers can correct, because it’s not down to the inherent nature of the digital medium itself.
One thing picturebooks do wonderfully well is onomatopoeia. Especially in picturebooks designed for very young readers (which is most of them), it’s probably the onomatopoeia as much as anything which helps emergent speakers learn their native languages. Even in older, competent speakers, onomatopoeia in picturebooks fosters a love for word play, which presumably fosters a love for books… I could go on, but if you’re reading this article I’m probably preaching to the choir.
One thing I’m seeing in many picturebook apps for young readers is an unfortunate substitution: Rather than presenting the adult co-reader with an opportunity to revel in onomatopoeic language, produced by the mouth, a lot of real-world mimesis is conveyed via recordings of actual real world sounds. For instance, rather than encouraging readers to work their own mouth muscles with a sound which mimics a motorcycle, a picturebook app might simply provide a recording of a motorbike engine, which either autoplays after a page flip or is activated on touch.
This is not an argument against sound effects in picturebook apps. Instead, I’d like to see developers encourage use of the mouth. The digital medium would be better used, perhaps, to skip the stock SFX in favour of narrator-produced onomatopoeia.