Read Tech

The Snow Fox Digital Storybook App

An interactive children’s book customized to each individual reader

Beyond the value on instilling a love of reading in children, bedtime stories also act as fondly remembered bonding moments. And while the world of the children’s books continues to be populated by vivid and heartwarming stories, there’s something very special about The Snow Fox—a book in app form. Developed by digital innovation agency AKQA, the story follows the reader. Listening as the reader speaks, the app then animates the pages, moving the tale forward. From a storytelling perspective, it’s simple and sweet but from a technical standpoint it’s a clever, interactive use of the iPhone’s voice recognition. No charm is lost taking a story from page to screen, and the act of reading is only further empowered. With quaint animation and a pretty color palette, the free story app makes for an ideal read.

“The idea came first, then the technology,” AKQA creative director Johnny Budden explains to CH. “We created the app at AKQA last year, but the voice recognition that was available wasn’t quite advanced enough to bring the vision to life. But when the newest iOS update came out earlier this year and they opened up the use of SiriKit to all apps, we knew we could pull it off in the way it deserves.” Budden notes that the core of the idea came from the fact that “children are eager to tell their own stories. Their minds are ready. The interest is there. We just knew we had to find a way to create a story that can capture the attention of little ones during a crucial time in their lives when skills and interests are developed.” Here, he says, it’s the power of voice that brings the story to life; an act that we agree bolsters love for the reading process.

Of course, the story itself has to be compelling or all the digital punctuation is lost. For this, the team looked toward traditional publishing and children’s books for inspiration. “We looked for a visual style that felt friendly and relatable to both parents and children, but also one that married nicely with the technology we were using. Illustrator Jonathan Dahl did a fantastic job of bringing the vision to life through his own charming character and animation style and we couldn’t be happier with how it turned out,” he adds.

“When we realized we could turn voice into a reading gesture, things got very interesting. Sentences and even words could become triggers for anything. To make a character grin, to dim the sky, to hear a noise. We tried to reimagine a book with no pages, just a continuous adventure brought to life with your own voice,” Budden continues, noting the technologies impact on visual storytelling. “In a way, a story powered by voice instills a sense of responsibility for the child reading. They can see that their words are affecting everything that is happening in front of their eyes, so they want to make sure they get those words right.”

This was a passion project for AKQA, wherein they lent their time and talents for something that would be free and hopefully impactful. “For us, with countless young nieces and nephews just beginning to read, and access to some of the brightest technological minds in our industry sitting a few desks over, this project almost felt like a responsibility. And it has all been worth it. We’ve received tremendous feedback so far, including a feature as one of Apple’s “New Apps We Love.” We’ve heard lots of positive feedback from parents, including a few with children with disabilities or reading challenges who have developed a newfound confidence while using the app,” he concludes. It’s a story that has already been integrated into classrooms, and AKQA sees its application extending further in education. In taking a traditional medium to the iPhone age and producing a good story within, a new type of book could have longstanding influence on the minds of young and future readers.

You can download The Snow Fox iOS app for free.

Video courtesy of AKQA, screenshots from The Snow Fox app


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