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Review: Hardbound – short, informative visual stories say a surprising amount

A great story app enabling curious minds to engage in speedy learning

Price: Free
Version: 0.2.1
Size: 11.6 MB
Platform: iPhone / iPad
Developer: Hardbound

Download Hardbound on the App Store

Despite the popularity of reading on devices like the iPhone, iPad, Kindles and other e-readers, not to mention the opportunities given to independent writers and publishers that the digital medium has offered, the paperback hasn’t ground to a halt in the same way electronic music sales killed off the humble CD.

The stories are laid out in a card-like formation and it's easy to get a handle on what each one's about

The stories are laid out in a card-like formation and it’s easy to get a handle on what each one’s about

Part of this is down to the overall experience. The ease of picking up a book, and easing into a piece of work, perhaps getting lost for hours isn’t as easily replicated on a device: the battery might run out, while a busy device might distract a reader with frequent notifications. However, where electronic devices do reign, is in short, sharp experiences. Furthermore, the graphical capabilities and ease and price of reproductions means that the visual storytelling medium is really beginning to take hold on iOS. We’re looking at one of these apps today – it’s called Hardbound, and it skirts the lines between light entertainment, storytelling, story curation and education.

Here’s what’s involved: Every week the team at Hardbound release a new story. They’re usually 3-5 minute reads, and you get free access to the last eight (more on premium later). This bitesize approach is prevalent throughout the app.

Illustrations are simple and easy to understand

Illustrations are simple and easy to understand

Despite having a kind of ‘blog’ section called ‘Stuff we Love’ which highlights articles and other interesting info, Hardbound isn’t overly concerned with having you spend a bunch of time in the app. In fact, you don’t have to keep checking for new stories. Hardbound will notify you (including via SMS) that there is a new story, and what it is.

It’s a great, simplistic approach, and the design reflects this too. The stories are laid out in a kind of card formation and you simply tap on them to open. From here, the stories are presented as a series of slides which you tap through. What you see is a combination of text, explaining a subject matter, with supporting graphics and illustrations, but also real photos and visuals as well. It’s great melting pot that keeps things interesting and stylish.

The app uses a combination of words, illustrations, but also real photos

The story on the creation of the moon contains genuine photos of the moon’s service, shot before the Apollo missions

So, what kind of subject matter does it deal with? A few interesting stories we enjoyed include ‘America’s Forgotten Mars Mission,’ which details early space exploration and the idea that the US wanted to go to Mars before the moon, ‘The Secret History of Salt,’ which explores the condiment’s high value throughout history, and the simple ‘What is Fire?’

One of the most enjoyable elements of Hardbound is its editorial style. The stories absolutely feel like they’ve been written by real people with real connections and views on the topic. The tone is frequently playful and not overly serious.

Hardbound takes simple subjects and goes deep

Hardbound takes simple subjects and goes deep

Now, back to the number of stories you get. There’s actually scores of stories throughout the app, but the free version only gives you access to a handful. To access the rest you must become a ‘patron’ of the app. This is essentially a monthly subscription for the full library of stories and other extras including a patrons-only newsletter, and ‘mystery boxes’ in the Stuff We Love section. The cost of these vary, depending on how much the individual wants to spend. The small patron sub is $1.99 per month, $4.99 for medium and $19.99 for large – but they’re all optional.

In many respects Hardbound feels like an experiment in subscription models and considering its only on version 0.2.1 we imagine it will go through a number of changes in the coming months. However, the content is already very well-made and the human touch will appeal to many and encourage a significant number of its audience to become a patron. We had a lot of fun with this app and considering you can try it for free, and continue to access new stories without payment, it’s well worth trying out.