Reflections on Being Named Creators of the Best iPad App of 2013

Touchpress app Disney Animated was named by Apple as the single best iPad app of 2013, out of a field of a hundred thousand contenders. Half a dozen other Touchpress titles were named as among the best in their respective categories, following on the heels of our Barefoot World Atlas having been named one of the ten best apps of all time earlier this year. We reflect here on what all this external validation means to us.

(This post was originally published on the Touchpress blog: http://www.touchpress.com/blog/2013/12/reflections-on-being-named-creators-of-the-best-ipad-app-of-2013/)

Touchpress was founded in 2010 on a simple idea: That the time was right, finally, for story telling to take the next step. I use the word “story” here in the broadest sense. Our first app, The Elements, isn’t about adventures or first love, but it does tell a story, about the lives and habits of the chemical elements.

From the time of the first camp fire, story telling, the communication of knowledge from generation to generation and from tribe to tribe, has been central to what it means to be human. Our biology makes story telling possible, but story telling makes our great edifices of civilization possible. The accumulation, advancement, elaboration, and refinement of knowledge, science, beauty, and art, is possible only because of story telling.

And since that first camp fire, story telling has been evolving. It started with oral traditions that stretch back, by definition, to a time before written history. Writing, invented for accounting purposes, was taken up by the keepers of tradition and led to the first and most dramatic shift in story telling, from the ephemeral to the permanent.

Moving photographic images, invented to settle a bet, were similarly latched onto by those wishing to communicate. The result was the film and television industry and the expansion of mass story telling to include even those who could not read.

Digital computers, developed to calculate differential equations and again for code breaking, started to be used for story telling almost as soon as this was conceivable. But just as the first writing systems must have been clumsy at best, and the first motion pictures very limited in scope, it took time for computers to come into their own as a way of telling the full diversity of human stories.

After some false starts, the early spring of 2010 was a watershed. It was the moment that the future of story telling became tangible in the form of the iPad. Not that the iPad is the only device on which that future will live: It’s just the first, the one that showed the way.

This future is not “ebooks” as that word is understood today. The first television shows were done by simply pointing a camera at a stage play, just as the first electronic books simply point a computer at a typeset manuscript. But television evolved, and so too will books, into something far more native to their respective media.

We at Touchpress like to think that the twenty-odd apps we’ve created over the last three and a half years are part of that evolution. We have kept our eyes firmly on the target: How ought one to tell stories when given the freedom to engage with the reader, draw them in, and let them become part of the experience, rather than just a spectator.

Over its brief existence, Touchpress has brought together a remarkable team, and created some remarkable products. While doing good work is its own reward, it is always nice to get some validation from the world, and this week it has come in spades.

Our app, Disney Animated, developed in partnership with Disney Interactive and Walt Disney Animation Studios, was named by Apple as the single best iPad app of 2013. That’s no small feat given the competition from a hundred thousand other apps, some of them very good indeed. And half a dozen of our other titles were named as among the best in their respective categories. Not only that, earlier this year our title Barefoot World Atlas, developed in partnership with Barefoot Books, was named as one of the ten best apps of all time at the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the Apple App Store.

All this is a sign that our concentration on the long term has visible results. We don’t treat apps as ephemera of the day, as throwaways or 99-cent one-day wonders. We give them the respect we believe this medium deserves. We craft them with love and care, just like any author or film director gives their work the passion and commitment it deserves. And, apparently, it shows.

If you want to see what we mean by that, we invite you to try our apps. Sorry, but there really isn’t any other way. It’s in the very nature of the medium that it can’t be communicated by words or images alone, it must be experienced and interacted with. To avoid accusations of mercenary intent in making such an obviously mercenary statement, we have decided to remove such obstacles as we can to allow as many people as possible to see, learn from, and enjoy the fruit of our work.

So for one day and one day only, we are making our first love, our flagship app, The Elements: A Visual Exploration, available all over the world free on Friday December 20th only. It’s a universal app for iPad and iPhone, has the full text of the book in 18 languages, and you’re going to love it.