What’s the difference between an e-book and a cookbook app? I would say it comes down to useful tools and immersive design features. In the beginning, it was OK to slap recipes and pretty food photos together and call it an app. Those are the dinosaurs — the one-dimensional cookbook apps falling by the wayside as other developers create three-dimensional cooking experiences by engaging users and providing helpful tools. It’s the difference between perusing a cookbook and actually taking it into the kitchen and using it to cook something. Gone are the days when anyone can create a cookbook app out of a collection of recipes. Today, users expect cookbook apps to deliver more, especially if they paid for it.
Are you abreast on the latest evolution of cookbook apps? Do you know what features to look for? Who’s ahead of the pack, providing better functionality to make cooking a more pleasurable, efficient and delicious experience? Keep reading to find out.
The best cookbook apps engage users in four ways: providing an immersive browsing experience, using multimedia features to enhance storytelling, encouraging users to interact with the app and regularly adding new content. In the old days, linear apps heavy on text and table of contents-style navigation were acceptable, but today it’s all about creating an immersive experience, transporting the user to another world to discover and bringing the recipes to life.
Green Kitchen creates an immersive browsing experience with their abstract recipe wall, encouraging exploration and surprising users as random recipes literally jump out of the pack.
The apps Green Kitchen and Green Kitchen Desserts deviate from a linear platform by displaying their recipes as a visually stunning collection of photo tiles. As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and the tiles draw you into the content, encouraging exploration. Browsing the app is an immersive experience; there are no dead ends and you can seamlessly swipe from one recipe to another.
What’s old is new again with Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which shares the stories and recipes of Julia Child through a multimedia mix of audio, vintage photos, timeless recipes and modern food photography.
Random House Digital successfully created a cookbook app that brings new life to old material with Mastering the Art of French Cooking. They share the story of Julia’s life through a multi-media experience including audio anecdotes, rare photographs of Julia Child, original typed and handwritten letters plus vintage instructional videos by the cook herself. The app pairs carefully selected timeless recipes and fresh, modern food photos.
Nigellissima engages users with eight behind-the-scenes interviews with Nigella Lawson, whose warmth and ease in front of the camera makes it feel as though she’s in the room with you.
Another app that does a great job of using personal stories to engage users is Nigellissima. It features eight behind-the-scenes interviews with Nigella Lawson describing the inspiration for her latest Italian cookbook. Nigella sits al fresco at a wooden dining table with a glass of white wine chatting away to the camera with such ease and warmth it feels as though she’s in the room with you.
Sara Jenkins’ New Italian Pantry encourages users to interact with a virtual pantry full of Sara’s favorite Italian staples.
Storytelling brings an app to life, and interactive features make the app sticky. Sara Jenkins’ New Italian Pantry encourages users to interact with a virtual pantry full of Sara’s favorite Italian staples. Not only can users tap an ingredient to view a video clip of Sara Jenkins describing how to use it in the kitchen, but also they can select multiple Pantry ingredient pictures to see recipes that make use of what you’ve got on hand. Another app, Smoothies from Whole Living, features a playful wheel of ingredients that encourages discovery based on smoothie ingredients (nuts, berries, leafy greens, etc.) and smoothie type (dairy, alternative milk, fruit or tofu).
The final piece of the puzzle for engaging users is adding new content regularly. Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything is blazing a new trail on this front by adding special classes that are only available for a certain time period. Users can see what’s available now and what classes are coming up soon, which creates a sense of anticipation. It’s a smart move that takes the experience from a reference tool to an active learning environment.
Tools that Help Home Cooks in the Kitchen
When it comes to useful tools that help cooks in the kitchen, Mark Bittman and the team at Culinate are way ahead of the pack with the How to Cook Everything apps. A timer seems like such a simple thing, but so many apps neglect this functionality. Cooking basics allows users to set multiple timers, which is helpful if you’re, say, baking bread in the oven and cooking a stew on the stovetop. The toolbar lets you know how many timers are going and shows time remaining for the “next timer” set to go off.
Cooking Basics provides several useful tools to make cooking more efficient and organized, like sophisticated timers and step bookmarking.
Wherever a time is mentioned you can tap it to set the timer, which is already entered for you — why don’t more apps do this? Timers continue to do their thing if you leave the app to check your email or turn off the screen — you’d be surprised how many apps don’t do this. You can also use the Bookmarks tool to remember what step is next when the timer goes off.
The same attention to detail and functionality can be found in the Shopping Lists of all of Bittman’s apps. Culinate gives users the ability to create, name and organize sophisticated shopping lists– great for separating weekly grocery shopping from party planning and bigger weekend cooking projects. It’s obvious that Mark Bittman and Culinate had in mind more than a collection of recipes and lessons; they’ve created a useful tool that helps home cooks be better organized and efficient in the kitchen.
Tap an ingredient in a Green Smoothies recipe to find a beautiful photo and information on its health benefits.
The latest innovation in ingredient lists comes from Green Smoothies by Ascension Kitchen. The app is dedicated to helping newbies get their feet wet in the raw smoothie world, and provides a little extra support by offering extra info in the ingredients lists. Each ingredient in a recipe can be tapped to display a beautiful photo of the ingredient and a short description of its health benefits. Many other apps do this, but the information given reads like it was pulled from a database and isn’t very helpful or interesting. The ingredient descriptions in Green Smoothies are interesting, helpful and personally written by the app’s author, Lauren Glucina.
Mind Watering gives users the ability to navigate through each step of a recipe by saying “next” and “back,” which is so helpful while actually cooking in the kitchen. Mastering the Art of French Cooking
The most exciting and innovative tool to help users comes from the team at Kinetic Arts, who have provided voice-activated navigation. This is a fantastic feature that solves an important problem users struggle with: using flour-covered hands or fishy fingers to tap the iPad screen. Simply say “next” or “back” to navigate through a recipe, and the commands work perfectly. All cookbook apps need to be offering this feature.
What Does the Future Hold?
Today, several of the apps I’ve mentioned here are strong in one area but not all around. Burned by wasting their money on mediocre apps, users are becoming more demanding of cooking apps. They crave meaningful experiences and they expect tools to work without a hitch. The best apps will continue to evolve and become more well rounded, offering the whole package of enhanced functionality and engaging storytelling. The future does look bright for cookbook apps and I can’t wait to see how developers utilize mobile technology to make cooking easier, more efficient and even more fun.