App Spotlight: The Unwanted Guest

The Unwanted Guest, a $4.99 animated ebook that has been on the iTunes Store’s New and Noteworthy list since its release two weeks ago, is, in many ways, just the sort of paradigm-bending app for which the iPad was designed. Richly illustrated and inventively animated, it is a mashup of idioms, blending the best of storybooks, graphic novels and animated shorts, with a dash of audio book and a soupcon of video game thrown in for good measure.

The first app in the Classic World Tales series, The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross, was released last summer and received positive critical attention. The Unwanted Guest, the story of a poor old man, down on his luck and living in a tumbledown house, who is visited by an unwelcome house guest, is the second app in the folk tale-based series and has been as well received as the first.

Both apps have different DNA than a traditional ebook. The Unwanted Guest is distinctively animated in a style somewhere between illustrator Chris Van Allsburg and animator/director Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) and is optimized for the iPad in ways both big and small.

Among its features is the ability to animate text using the accelerometer in the Apple devices and the ability to record one’s own voice reading the story which can then be played while retaining the sound effects and animation. There are thousands of ways in which the story might unfold. And so, from reading to reading, it is never precisely the same. And the narration as well as the text is available in three languages.

The Unwanted Guest is not without its flaws. It’s self-contained and provides no access to the larger Internet community. There are no links and no way to connect with, for example, a discussion of the origin of the folktale on which the app is based or any additional references that might enrich the experience. These are the features that might make this original work a sort of ebook 2.0.

The Moving Tale, the company that produces the apps, has not done any advertising, according to Matthew Talbot-Kelly, Moving Tale’s producer/director, and relies heavily on the good relationship that the he enjoys with Apple to publicize its apps. Talbot-Kelly said that he is beginning to make some use of social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, as well as a growing mailing list of consumers who have written to the company, both to publicize the company’s apps and to alert friends and fans to upcoming releases. Talbot-Kelly declined to specify how many times The Unwanted Guest had been downloaded but said the release of The Unwanted Guest has spurred sales of The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross.

Talbot-Kelly said that the next story in the Classic World Tales series, This Too Shall Pass, should be available in the “next month or so.” He says that he hopes that it will be a featured app at the iTunes store and he believes that when it is released, it will spur sales of the previous titles.

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