Ambient Lit project aims to immerse smartphone users with stories influenced by GPS data

It might seem like e-reading and digital publishing have been around for ages, but the current digital revolution isn’t very old. While tech fans have been reading digital files off of small screens since Project Gutenberg began digitizing important texts in the early ’70s (you could argue the case for pre-WWII memex files, but those weren’t for mass consumption), the current read-anywhere state of ebooks dates back less than a decade.

In that short amount of time, though, digital publishing and eBook consumption have undergone wild shifts in its evolution. From dedicated e-ink readers with fully downloadable content to tablets and back to e-readers, the changes have been steady. But one aspect of e-reading that was launched from almost the very beginning has consistently failed to take off, which hasn’t stopped another company from giving it a try.

Ambient Lit aims to make reading on smartphones a much more immersive experience.

A new approach

The idea of incorporating gently moving graphics and images, sound effects, and even sound tracks has come, gone, and come back again, yet fails to impress book lovers. Ambient Lit is trying a new approach, though: actually incorporating parts of the reader’s life into the text of the book.

Using the reader’s own GPS-enabled smartphone to detect things like location, weather, and temperature, the stories themselves will insert that data into the text to bring the reader into the experience. While waiting in a cold bus shelter in New York, your book can reflect the environment around you and weave those aspects into the story with the goal being to immerse you even further.

A lasting change?

According to an article on this technology by Katharine Schwab for FastCo.Design, one of the keys to this and other phone-based immersive media may be in the adoption of the phone itself. The concepts that kept “bells and whistles” e-reading from really taking off may have been the stand-alone nature of dedicated e-readers and ebook apps; readers weren’t feeling immersed in the story because they were still treating their handheld device like a book.

Unfortunately, many of those startups threw in the towel after a relatively short time, or a brief catalog of titles. Schwab accurately points out that technology that seeks to change reading won’t become mainstream until there are enough adapted titles out there that readers don’t find it out of the ordinary.