Hardback, paperback, new, used, it doesn’t matter to me—I’ve always loved books. I’m the kind of guy who reads a book while waiting in a long line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and then gets annoyed at the interruption when they finally call my name. I love reading, but have recently encountered a couple obstacles to my passion.
The first relates to my long commute to and from work, which provides me with an excellent chunk of time to read. Unfortunately, hardcover books are heavy and cumbersome, and lugging one around every day was beginning to annoy me. The second relates to my family, which continues to grow. As it does, I’m losing bookshelf space, and more and more of my books are ending up in boxes in the basement.
To help remedy the situation, I started looking into eBooks. Of course, they immediately eliminate the bookshelf problem; you can store them on your computer or a mobile eBook reader like Amazon’s Kindle 2 (see sidebar, page 38). I’m a fan of the Kindle, but have discovered that it’s not always the right device for me because of its size. While that nice screen is great for reading (not to mention the even larger screen on the recently announced Kindle DX), it is not always the most portable device around. Sometimes I just want something I can stick in my pocket and go. Fortunately, I’ve discovered a number of eBook solutions available for the iPhone and iPod touch, all of which are available on the iTunes App Store. I’ve divided these apps into two categories:
- Expandable readers allow you control which books you purchase and what you put in the reader’s library.
- Closed readers are sold as single, unalterable units with either a single book or a collection of books pre-installed.
Most expandable readers are associated with a specific online store or eBook source. Unfortunately, because of Digital Rights Management, this means that the eBooks you buy from these sources are tied to that specific app—you can’t view them with another reader. Hopefully, we’ll see some changes in this paradigm before too long.
This is the most readily available of the expandable eBook readers, offering versions of the app for virtually every mobile platform out there. Since your library is maintained online, you can move books between platforms. For example, you can read an eReader book on an iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile smartphone, and more. However, you cannot synchronize your progress between platforms as you can with Kindle’s Whispersync.
The eReader app for iPhone and iPod touch offers a tremendous number of features that reflect years of experience making eBook readers. For example, the table of contents displays a pie chart next to each title, showing you how much you have left to read in that book. The app also includes an auto-scroll feature that eliminates the need to tap the screen to move to the next page.
The developers of eReader understand that reading a book is an intensely personal experience and have provided a variety of settings and customization options that let you control small details. For example, you can control the font (including size and color), theme (including night theme), orientation, and plenty of other settings.
The most important part of any eBook reader app is the book itself. No matter how many features it has, if you can’t find the book you want, the app will gather dust. Fortunately for eReader, it is associated with Fictionwise.com, an online bookstore stocked with a large number of current and older books in a wide variety of categories. Unfortunately, Fictionwise tends to charge more for their eBooks than other online sources. New releases generally cost up to $15. I should note that Barnes & Noble bought Fictionwise and eReader in March. It will be interesting to see if they do anything to expand the availability of eBooks and lower their price.
- Reader free, price of eBooks varies;
- William Younts
- Fictionwise, Inc.
Releasing the iPhone Kindle app is probably the smartest move Amazon has made since introducing the Kindle. While the Kindle app is pretty bare bones, it does offer a few significant features that make it worth a closer look First of all, it’s tied to Amazon.com, and all of the 200,000+ books available for the Kindle can be read with the iPhone Kindle app. In addition, the prices of Kindle eBooks are very competitive, with most best-sellers costing $9.99 or less.
The Kindle app does not have all the features that the Kindle 2 reader does. For example, the iPhone app can only view content purchased from the Amazon eBook store. The Kindle 2 can display those books and content in some other formats. Also, the iPhone app uses the Kindle 2’s Whispersync feature to sync the content between your Kindle 2 and the iPhone Kindle app. This means you can read a couple chapters of a book on the Kindle 2, switch to your iPhone, and continue reading the book from where you left off. In addition to all this, the app displays full color thumbnails and cover art. It’s worth a closer look, especially if you also have a Kindle 2.
Kindle (for iPhone)
- Reader free, price of eBooks varies
- Reinke LLC
The last entry in this section is Stanza, which is the most feature-rich expandable eBook reader available for the iPhone, and while it may not sync with the Kindle 2, it does just about everything else. To start, the main library gives you full-color thumbnails of each of your books. This helps replicate the feeling of actually browsing through a bookstore. To make it even better, when you turn your iPhone sideways, you get your library in coverflow view, just like in iTunes.
Like eReader, Stanza is highly customizable. It offers numerous settings that help provide the best possible reading experience. Unique to Stanza is a feature which allows you to slide your finger up or down on the screen to adjust the brightness. Better still, if you are reading in the car, you can activate night viewing mode to avoid distracting the driver.
Stanza’s best feature, however, is its bookstore access. While it does not connect with Amazon’s library, it does connect with 15 other eBook stores on the Internet, providing you with access to well over 100,000 eBooks. Stanza connects with Project Gutenberg (with over 25,000 free eBooks), Fictionwise, newspapers and magazines, and quite a few selections from Feedbooks. You can download books over the air or through a PC/Mac application and can transfer virtually any document directly to the iPhone app. Overall, it’s a fantastic app that provides an excellent reading experience.
Stanza’s parent company, Lexcycle (lexcycle.com) was also recently purchased by Amazon.com. Add this to the recent purchase of eReader by Barnes & Noble, and you should find an extremely exciting future for eBooks coming soon.
- Reader free, price of eBooks varries
In addition to the expandable eBook reader systems mentioned above, there are numerous standalone readers available in the App Store. I call these “closed readers” since the book and its reader is downloaded as a complete package. Many of these books are classics that can be downloaded and read for free with Stanza or eReader. However, for as little as $0.99, you get a well-designed package and avoid the hassle of having to download and unlock the eBook separately. Unfortunately, each book is a discrete app, which means you cannot easily build a library this way. There are dozens of closed reader eBook publishers, but a few stand out.
BeamItDown eBooks is probably the most unique closed reading system. Instead of breaking text into pages, BeamItDown uses its “iFlow” technology to display the content as a continuous stream of text scrolling up your screen. You can sit back and watch as the text passes right before your eyes. (eReader offers this functionality as well.)
BeamItDown features numerous stand-alone collections, and many of its titles include dozens of books in them, including their Edgar Allen Poe Collection, Sherlock Holmes Collection, and 400 Fairy Tales. There’s even one called 100+ Books (which now includes well over 130 books).
- Price varies: Free to $1.99 each
- BeamItDown Software
In addition to the well-known document viewer, Readdle Docs, Readdle also publishes a number of eBook collections, including Shakespeare, Fairy Tales, Horror Books, Love Stories, and others. I tested their system out with Shakespeare and was quite impressed.
It included popular plays (Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet), lesser known works (Cymbeline, Sir Thomas More, and Two Noble Kinsmen), poems, sonnets, and more. But while I was impressed with the content, I was less pleased by the presentation. Like BeamItDown, there are no pages to turn. But, unfortunately, there is no automatic scrolling, either. You have to constantly flick and drag your finger to advance the text, and that proved frustrating.
- Price varies: Free to $4.99
Classics does not offer content that you can’t find elsewhere, but it does offer an incredibly unique interface that helps replicate the experience of reading a hardcover book.
Rather than displaying a list of books, the main interface is a digital bookshelf with cover images for each of the books in the library. Tap on an image to open the book and start reading it. Even the page turns are animated. Unfortunately, like a hardcover book, there is not much else you can do. Underneath the slick graphics and animation, this is really a no-frills reading experience.
Most closed reading systems offer classic books that are no longer subject to copyright and other restrictions. The exception to this is the Iceberg Reader system. Scrollmotion (the developers of Iceberg Reader) have partnered with Random House, Hachette, Penguin Putnam, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Simon & Schuster, and are able to offer a uniquely contemporary selection of books.
While many of the books cost as little as $5, some—such as Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell—cost as much as $20. The Iceberg Reader features advanced settings, including adjustable fonts, page flip animation, search, and notate. And its “this book” feature lets you flip to a specific page, displays additional information about the book, and more.
I was impressed by the variety and functionality of the eBook readers available for the iPhone and iPod touch. Each of these is well worth a closer look. Keep watching my blog space here at iPhone Life (iphonelife.com/blogs/doug-goldring) for a more complete look at every application featured in this article.
Iceberg Reader eBooks
- Price varies: $7-$20
- Crollmotion, Inc.