Lack of Software Makes iPhone Ebook Reading Primitive
Last Friday, the innovative iPhone went on sale. Since its announcement in January, I’ve been vacillating back and forth debating whether I would purchase one or not. However, on Friday evening, we decided to hop over to the Apple Store to see what they looked like. There was no line and there was plenty of stock left. Having seen it in person, we could not leave the store without one.
The phone works just as advertised. Its got a big, beautiful screen. As you can see by the pictures below, it is only a little smaller in screen size than the IPAQ 4700 which is one of my primary ereaders.
The screen size is substantially larger than the one my Motorola Q.
The hardware, or processor, running the iPhone is fast and strong.* The interface changes from phone to mail to ipod in matter of seconds. On my MotoQ, there was always a drag when switching applications. The biggest difference I noted was when I went to use the camera application. On my MotoQ, the object of my lense would have to be stationary for several seconds whilst MotoQ attempted to process the picture. On the iPhone, the picture was instantaneous. There are many other great features that the iPhone has that my MotoQ doesn’t, including the ability to view web pages appropriately instead of in the mobile format; the large harddrive; the iPod interface; visual voicemail and so forth.
As an ereader, however, it leaves much to be desired due to the lack of appropriate software.
The Software Issue
Steve Jobs initially stated that the iPhone would be a closed device which meant that no one but Apple would provide programs for it. Jobs claimedsecurity concerns were the basis of the decision. Jobs said “Cingular doesn't want to see their West Coast network go down because some application messed up.” The funny thing is that several Cingular/AT&T customers use Smartphones that have secondary market programs and haven’t downed the network yet.
Secondary market programs are the lifeblood of PDAs and Smartphones. There isn’t an application out there that comes standard with a PDA that isn’t bettered by a secondary market product. Whether its calendaring to tasks lists to reading programs, secondary software programs make a handheld device more useable.
Jobs has been roundly criticized for closing the phone. He then announced that web based widgets could be written for it and there are quite a few programmers who have developed games, utilities, and other functional programs. The problem is that these web based widgets store information only for the duration of your internet session. Once you lose internet connectivity, the web based widget no longer maintains your information meaning that each time you re-access the internet, the file would need to be reloaded.
There is no decent web based widget that provides a good e-reading experience. Further, there are times that reading on a web based application would be impossible due to lack of service such as on an airplane or in areas where AT&T has not yet provided service.
The Work Around
Currently I have found two ways to read an ebook on the iPhone and neither are very satisfactory and both require internet access.
First, mail a file to yourself. There are two ways to view a file mailed to yourself. You can either view the attachment from the inbox of the iPhone or from the web mail application such as GMail. Each has its advantages. If you view the ebook from a web mail application, for as long as you have web access (either via your AT&T data plan or via WiFi), you can return to the book at the page where you left it. The problem is that the font was too small to read vertically and I couldn’t resize it sufficiently to read.
I had to turn the phone to the landscape (or horizontal) mode to make it readable.
If you view the attachment from the inbox , the text resizes nicely to fill the screen but anytime that you check a new email, you are forced to redownload the ebook and then search for the place where you left off.
Second, you can use Google docs. The problem with Google docs is that its limit for files is 512KB which is not very large. I had to split my book into two files. I also had a problem having Safari crash upon accessing Google docs and when it did work, it loaded extremely slow. The vertical view is almost too small to be readable.
The horizontal version is larger.
If you have your own space on the internet, such as we do here at dearauthor, you could upload your books via an FTP transfer but then you would be allowing your books to reside unprotected on the internet and I think that exposes you to too many problems such as inadvertent contribution to piracy.
Don’t Discard Your eReader Just Yet
Without better software, ereading on the iPhone will not be widely adopted and that’s too bad because it is such a marvel of a device and well suited to ereading. I would love to see Jobs allow the installation of Mobipocket, eReader or some other ereading software program.
The Amazon Kindle is rumored to have a price tag of $400 and the Sony Reader sells for $300. While they have bigger screens, the iPhone at $500 has much larger capacity (an entire library could be stored on the low end 4 GB harddrive); wi fi capability; and, most importantly, a backlight.
I certainly don’t regret changing from my Motorola Q to my iPhone but I am not giving up the Sony Reader and IPAQ 4700 just yet. I admit, though, only two of those devices are traveling with me to Dallas. One thing I have heard is that Apple will be providing software updates free of charge. Maybe next year, I’ll only be bringing one device to Nationals.
*Note: It is said that the iPhone has a 620MHz ARM CPU. Whatever that means.