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Lack of Software Makes iPhone Ebook Reading Primitive

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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 Hardware

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.

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The screen size is substantially larger than the one my Motorola Q.

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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.

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I had to turn the phone to the landscape (or horizontal) mode to make it readable.

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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.

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The horizontal version is larger.

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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.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

24 Comments

  1. Teddy Pig
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 05:49:10

    Me and my iPhone, where ever we go, it’s me and my iPhone…

    Come on Adobe set us up da bomb!

    All it would take is for Apple to put Adobe Reader on the dang thing hopefully with the landscape screen flip ability.

    Apple could then allow us to store and transfer PDF’s in iTunes.

    Then the killer eReader of all time would be here.

    Till then it sucks to have the ability but not be able to actually do it.

    Oh, on all other things iPhone ROCKS!

    I love mine and no you can not touch it.

  2. Teddy Pig
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 06:42:25

    I have not been this excited with the potentional of a product since I bought an Apple IIe

  3. Ember
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 07:05:37

    Disappointing. Guess I’m not ready to get rid of my Sidekick yet.
    Come on Apple, don’t let us down – add an app to handle ebooks!

  4. Shiloh Walker
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 07:23:56

    I want one of these but I don’t use my cell enough to justify the expense. Not being able to read ebooks well doesn’t help the case.

  5. Keishon
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 07:54:33

    Like I said, if it had a killer ereader app, I’d buy it. I’m sure as time goes on, eventually, they will have it. I’m looking at the Bookeen as my first ereading device. Sale is rumored to be at the end of summer quarter.

    Jane, seems like your starting a little collection there of devices. You use your IPAQ more then your Sony Reader? Which one is going to Dallas?

  6. Leah
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 09:28:22

    With all these awesome devices out there now – iPhone, Sony eReader – it’s almost impossible not to want one. But I was a little hesitant about the eReader because of the price tag and Jane’s initial review that it seems to take a lot of converting to be able to read something you actually want. So then I was looking at eBookwise until I saw that Adobe and other encrypted files wouldn’t work on it. Does that mean any DRM book couldn’t be read?

    My ideal device would be able to read ebooks easily and stylishly as well as load Word documents I’d be able to take notes on. Is there anything like that out there?

    I feel like such a newbie. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

    ~Leah

  7. Jorrie Spencer
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 09:35:32

    I was wondering how well ebooks would be read on the iPhone. Thanks for the review!

    I’d love one, but they’re not yet available in Canada anyway…

  8. Ann Bruce
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 09:41:51

    Ebook friendly or not, I…am…so…very…jealous.

    They’re not available in Canada yet and I’m tempted to pick one up on my next trip south of the border.

    Sadly, Apple (and most other tech companies) usually release a 2nd edition within months of the initial product launch to get rid of bugs and make user-demanded updates, so I’ll be waiting until 2008 to get mine.

  9. Robin
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 10:07:39

    I WILL be getting an iPhone, but not for a few months yet (my Treo is less than a year old, and I want to wait until I have an authorized upgrade from Cingular/ATT). And I’m one of those customers who has ATT AND secondary software on my device, so hopefully Jobs il change his mind on that one. But I’m still an Apple loyalist and will take Jobs’s arrogance over Gates’s any day.

    Jane, did you get the 4 GB phone? Is 8 GB just showing off?

  10. Roslyn
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 10:24:25

    I’m waiting for the next generation or two. Everything I have is Apple, ease of use is just that important to me. Thanks for the review Jane. I think I’ll pop over to the Apple store and check it out. I think I’m getting a laptop for my bday anyway.

  11. Melanie
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 10:29:35

    I’m a huge Apple fan and a gadget geek, to boot, but I plan to wait until the fall/winter to get an iPhone – it’s my understanding there will be a second generation released late in the year. I don’t know if that one will allow 3rd party apps, either, though, and that may end up being a deciding factor for me. For now, I’m just trying to stay away from the AT&T store because I know if I see one, I’ll just have to have it.

  12. DS
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 10:47:18

    I didn’t particularly care about the iphone until I saw it and then I started salivating like a Saint Bernard. I’m going to wait for my contract to be up next year (in spite of the fact that I don’t use all of the capabilities of my current Razr which is the one I had to had last year.) I am such a techno slut.

  13. Jess
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 11:22:08

    I thought about getting an iPhone, but honestly, the price tag was a huge deterrent. As a regular watcher of Attack of the Show, I saw enough that it was interesting, but you know, I don’t use my phone for much more than calling, so it’d be a waste. I upgraded to a BlackBerry a couple days before iPhone dropped, and that’s enough of a brain twist. Maybe in two years, when my upgrade’ll be available, I might get an iPhone. I figured my 40 dollar BlackBerry was a better deal, especially since there will be a second iPhone generation coming in the near future. It’s a rather expensive item to have to rebuy. I’ll wait for the bugs to be worked out first. 500+ vs 40, easy choice, hands down.

    I should add that I don’t have the 40/month BlackBerry net thing. I can wait. It’s not that important. Just figuring the darn thing up is enough.

  14. Caroline
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 14:00:46

    I don’t think I’ll ever use my iPhone to read ebooks, but this program claims to convert ebook files to an iPhone-friend format. Oddly enough, it only works on a PC.

    Honestly, I am way too excited at being able to stand on a city corner and pull up a street view of that corner via Google maps to be bothered that it can’t do ebooks.

  15. Lynne
    Jul 08, 2007 @ 19:42:05

    I guess I’m gonna have to get myself over to a store and look at one of these things. The lack of an e-book reader is annoying, but for that, I have my Clié UX-50, which is three years old and still working beautifully. Sony doesn’t make them anymore, so it’s going to be a sad, sad day for me when mine dies.

    Teddy Pig, I had that same feeling about my //c. I LOVED that computer!

  16. Sonja Foust
    Jul 09, 2007 @ 11:45:38

    http://code.google.com/p/telekinesis/ I think this may be the answer to my problem. It’s still in alpha (like, not even beta) so I’m a little scared to try it, but it looks WAY cool.

  17. Horton
    Jul 10, 2007 @ 00:41:48

    Great article. I have found the same to be true on my iphone. I experimented with sending a PDF to myself over email. It worked but the attachment did not allow me to flip into landscape or zoom in, making it impossible to read. Better formating may help but i have not experimented further. I also found reading over online sites to be acceptable in landscape. My favorite publishing company Baen (science fiction) allows you to view all of your purchased ebooks via html so if i have internet i can access my library online. Doing it this way means no bookmarks or other reader functions. I plan on keeping my palm as my main reader. However it is nice to know that if i don’t bring my palm along i can still get to something to read. I don’t think the iphone will be many peoples primary reader until there is some kind of dedicated app.

  18. Will Entrekin
    Jul 11, 2007 @ 19:04:14

    Given that the iPhone can display .pdfs, it’s not all that difficult. I have several available via Lulu, and I’ve received a couple of notes in the past few days from people reading my book via their iPhone. One even took pictures to send to me. And yes, she was able to zoom and flip it horizontally.

    Also, it looks really pretty.

  19. Urs
    Jul 16, 2007 @ 08:42:47

    This is one of the reasons I am hesitant to get an iphone. I read ebooks on my symbian phone or PDA regularly. I can hold tons of books at a time with no extra weight. I use ereader.com (the old peanutpress) for the books, so a PDF reader would not help me at all. These are .pdb files. Plus, these books are protected and need an unlock code to read (your name and credit card number that you purchased with). I hope either ereader or Apple comes up with something to fix this, then I am all for an iPhone.

  20. Ken Gilmer
    Aug 20, 2007 @ 10:37:41

    http://scrollbox.org and http://manybooks.net are two sites that have iPhone optimized features for reading books on the go including offline storage mode and customized stylesheets for good readability.

  21. Dogzilla
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 22:34:06

    I’ve just downloaded 6 books from http://manybooks.net and easily loaded them onto my iPhone. I’m impressed. I’d love to buy books in this format and load them up – reading books on the train into and out of work is excellent, especially since I always have my iPhone with me.

  22. Leah
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 08:30:12

    I noticed that just a week or so ago apple added a new, free app called reader . It’s a little bit of a pain because you’re basically cutting and pasting in DRM-free books (I’m not technological enough for anything else) that are then reformatted. But the bookshelf feature is similar to Mobi’s, you can access the books offline, and they seemed easy enough to read. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of more readers to come.

  23. Jane
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 08:33:22

    How interesting, Leah. Thanks for the link. I’m hopeful that with the release of the SDK by Apple, that we’ll get a non web based applet for ereading.

  24. Marc
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 16:02:26

    You may want to check out Stanza; it is very popular for reading on the iPhone.

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