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REVIEW: The Apple iPhone as an Ebook Reader

Even before the iPhone was released, we were told that by Jobs it would be a closed system. A closed system prevented third party applications from being developed and installed on the device. This changed slightly as Jobs invited developers to create Safari based widgets. While it was not impossible to read an ebook on the iPhone, it was highly inconvenient because you a) had to have internet access to be able to view your books and b) because if you were not on at a WI Fi hotspot, it would take F O R E V E R for your book to load.

Then the hackers began. I can’t tell you how much I adore hackers. Initially, the hack was so complicated I felt I would need a Computer Science degree to even begin to understand it. I think the first hacks also required some hardware (and maybe even soldering). Suffice to say I was intimdated.

This section is no longer useful with the newer firmwares. Please read this post for the One Click Hack for firmware 1.1.1.

Then I found out about iBrickr for Windows users and Breezy for Mac users. This was an easy software hack. And I do mean easy. iBrickr requires the user to know how to use a mouse and to hold down two buttons on the iPhone. Seriously. That is it.

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The developer has a video on Gear Live Blog that explains this process.

Once iBrickr “frees” the iPhone, you install a program called Installer App on the iPhone. From the iBrickr program, click Applications.

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At the next screen, click the button that says “Browse Applications.”

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Scroll down to the program that says “Installer”. Click it and iBrickr will handle the installation and re-start the iPhone.

ibrickr

This is the end of the deprecated (no longer useful) section.

Installation of the eBook Application.

Once Installer is, well, installed, all your program installation takes place on the iPhone.

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The programs are listed for you and everytime you refresh, if there is an update to an installed program, you are given an alert. The installation of a program involves touching the name of the program you want to install. It downloads, unpacks, and even restarts the iPhone without your involvement. My 3 year old tot can do this. I kid you not.

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The Books.App was the first one I installed. The program is free (as are all the iPhone hacks) and is in its 8th udpated iteration. The program is updated by its developer, Chris Born, almost every other day. Currently the book application reads htmls and txt files which means that if you use software programs to convert your lit files or pdf files into htmls, you can read any book on the market.

The Book App is a streamlined program that I think is missing only two key features to make it perfect. First, the ability to make your own bookmark and second, a “jump to” feature. These are features that Born has indicated he is working on. I put in the request for a notes feature.

So what can the application do?

File Structure
It uses basic file structure of the iPhone. You can make folders and subfolders to your hearts content. I’ve made four folders right now:

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The blue dots signal books not read.

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Books.app features global persistence which means that the program remembers the location you are in every file and returns you to the last known location when you access the file. Essentially that means it remembers where you stopped reading.

Formats
Currently, the Books.App only reads txt and html files. With the html files, hyperlinks do not work so if you have chapter marks via hyperlinks, they won’t be useable. According to the WIKI, Born has started on developing support for palm docs.

Customization
You can choose between a white background and black text or black background and white text. The book is Grimspace by Ann Aguirre. It comes out in February and you’ll want to start reading early in the evening else you’ll be like me, up to 3 am because you can’t put the thing down and you’ll be all bleary eyed and non functional the next day.

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It takes about 10 seconds to make the change. There are three different fonts: Georgia, Helvetica, and Times New Roman. The font size can be anything you care to input. I like 14.

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Navigation

There is a bottom toolbar with arrows that you can use to navigate your book. You can drag your finger down the screen or you can tap at the bottom to move one screen down or tap at the top to move one screen up.

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Adding/Deleting Books
Deleting is easy. Simply drag your finger across the book that you wish to delete and you will be given the option to delete it.

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Adding books requires you to use iBrickr or another program. iBrickr is fairly easy to use but it is not a drag and drop. Below are the screen shots. From the home page of iBrickr, click the “Files” button. Move over to the picture of the iPhone and start navigating. Scroll to the bottom and click on “var“.

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Look for “root” and click on it.

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From “root”, choose “Media“.

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Click on “EBooks“.

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From here, you can create folders. I have four right now.

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Click on the folder where you want your ebook located and then click file upload.

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This may seem complicated at first, but it really becomes second nature.

Greg Joswiak was recently asked about the iPhone hacks and said that Apple was aware of them and that it is maintaining a neutral stance. It isn’t going to stop people from doing the hacks, but neither is Apple going to support it. That’s good enough for me. With the iTouch coming out later this month, I think Apple has a great ebook reader on its hands.

It would be great if they would provide a supported eBook reader but I am more than happy with the free one developed by Chris Born.

Additional shots:

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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

30 Comments

  1. Angela James
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 07:00:18

    Now I want an iPhone even more. And Grimspace looks good, from the excerpts I just read. Sadly, I’m unlikely to get either soon so reading this post is just plain torture ;)

    But seriously, this does make the iPhone even more attractive to me, especially given the $100 price drop. Would you consider your iPhone a replacement for your ebook reader or only a convenience for you during the day? Would you still take both on trips?

  2. sherry thomas
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 08:01:27

    Thanks for the rundown. I prefer paper books but I like seeing how the iphone can be put to various use. Helps me get over my techphobia.

  3. Jane
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 08:48:38

    I’ve not touched my Sony Reader since I “freed” my Phone and started installing Native Applications like the book reader. I used to read with the IPAQ and I find the reading experience to be about the same. With the hackers going to town and creating new and improved and FREE programs for the iPhone, it is really a marvelous device.

    I can still use iTunes and sync my music, calendars, etc. The hack doesn’t affect that functionality at all.

  4. Jorrie Spencer
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 09:02:52

    Very cool! Not that Canada has iPhones yet…

  5. Nicole
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 09:15:02

    Very cool.

    Oh, it’s soldering, not sautering. :-)

  6. Charlene Teglia
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 09:44:53

    Jane, your documentation is a dream of clarity. The STC wants you!

  7. Ann Aguirre
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 12:36:28

    This will make my husband want one even more. I’m going to point him at this post and see if it makes a difference. Unhacked, an IPhone does us no good in Mexico because it can’t get reception. The providers here are Telcel and Movistar. There might be a few smaller companies, but those are the main two.

    Thanks for the kind words about Grimspace.

  8. Ann Bruce
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 12:47:30

    Angela – It’s actually a $200 price drop!

    Jorrie – The iPhone is not officially in Canada, but you should be able to purchase it in the US at an excellent price (the Canadian dollar is very close to parity right now) and use it on the Fido or Rogers network. There’s a hack available to use it on TELUS or Bell network, but that involves a lot of work and some functionality will be lost.

  9. Ann Bruce
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 13:45:20

    Jorrie – My apologies. Even on a GSM network like Rogers, you’ll still need the hack if you buy a US iPhone.

    Good news is that the iPhone will be launched in Canada in Q4 2007. Bad news is that I don’t think they’re going to use the current exchange rate. They’ll probably use approximately $0.80 instead of the $0.97 it really is.

  10. Jane
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 14:53:22

    Or, you can get the iTouch which is essentially the iPhone without the Phone feature. It is wi fi enabled. The cost is $299 for an 8GB and $399 for a 16 GB.

  11. Caroline
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 15:34:02

    Hackers make the world go ’round!

    But this isn’t really a ‘hack.’ It’s a third party application that just gets around some of the limitations Apple left (ie, it allows you to install and run other software). There have always been tons of these unofficial Apple developers out there. A real hack is that kid in NJ taking his iPhone apart and cutting wires, etc.

    Still, it’s very cool that you can use the iPhone to read ebooks now.

  12. Angela James
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 15:42:24

    Angela – It's actually a $200 price drop!

    You’re so right, Ann!

    But this isn't really a ‘hack.' It's a third party application that just gets around some of the limitations Apple left

    I always thought a hack was anything that “fixed” a perceived problem, whether it was via a program or physical modifications. Something that’s done not by official but more unofficial means. I’ve never heard anyone say that a hack was only considered a true hack if it was a physical one. I’m thinking computer program hackers might disagree?

  13. Kendra
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 15:56:05

    Okay.. now I just have to scape together $400 for the phone and change networks LOL. The iphone is a dream come true. I’ve always wanted one device for EVERYTHING. My audiobooks, ebooks, music and phone.

    sigh… have to work on the husband now.

    Thanks for the blog! iPhone wasn’t even on the radar because I couldn’t read ebooks.

  14. RfP
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 16:43:11

    I've always wanted one device for EVERYTHING. My audiobooks, ebooks, music and phone.

    I used to think the same. I’ve had an all-in-one Sony Ericsson phone for 5 years (camera, music, internet capability, and storage for datafiles–like a USB stick). It turns out I don’t want my phone with me all the time (e.g. at the gym), I drop it all the time (e.g. at the gym), it’s a pain switching from music to answer the phone, and often I want a camera that’s a bit bulkier so I can hold it steady.

    The new auto-stabilizing digital camera technologies could solve the camera issue. But I don’t see a solution for the rest. At this point, I use my all-in-one for phone, file storage, and email; rarely for the camera and never for music. For music, I use a tiny dedicated MP3 player that’s well shaped for an armband or a pocket… and I can drop it without risking much. If I dropped my brain all-in-one phone… ouch.

  15. DS
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 17:18:41

    I am just not rational about new technology. I already have three ipods– a nan and two video of different sizes. Now I’m trying to think if there is some rational reason to order a itouch– especially since the firm is going to buy us iphones at Christmas.

    Obvious nothing rational, I’ll just have to do with irrational.

    What is the difference in definition between hacking and modding? I see modding used a lot with phones.

  16. Mary
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 17:34:36

    This is way too complicated for me. I have a cellphone that I seldom use. It doesn’t even unfolds, you can’t download ringtones, I can’t program more than 10 different numbers, and it’s perfectly ok for me. I’m not very at ease with technology. But for those more skilled than I am, I have no doubt this iPhone is the crème de la crème. :-)

  17. Jayne
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 17:49:41

    You and me both, Mary. Jane got me started with reading ebooks on an IPAQ and I think it just about drove her to drink explaining to me where the stylus could be found.

    My 3 year old tot can do this. I kid you not.

    Yeah but probably not your college educated fellow blogger! :)

  18. Janine
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 18:08:42

    LOL, Jayne. You make me feel a little bit better. I know where the stylus on my Axim is but I still haven’t learned how to downolad e-books onto it. My better half does it for me. Shameful, I know.

  19. Kaz Augustin
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 20:08:05

    Apple neutrality has a way of altering. I was only reading this morning about Apple adding a checksum to its iPod database to make sure that third-party apps (such as the ever-rockin’ Linux Amarok) CAN’T read iTune music tracks and thus add it to a non-Apple library. (I got this on feed from Slashdot via KDE Planet.) To quote Ian Monroe, whose item I read:

    To me this sounds pretty familiar. This is the same thing they did to iTunes 4.5 to make it harder for other apps to read off their DAAP shares, they changed it again in iTunes 7; open source apps are still unable to read iTunes 7 DAAP shares.

    Of course there’s already a hack to sidestep the checksum problem, but still…. You have a choice. You can either: (a) hack away, until Apple stops you, or (b) tell Apple to go f*** themselves because you will NOT support their antiquated closed-architecture philosophy. I love Apple stuff, but I refuse to spend money to support their policies. Me? I’m waiting for the Linux phone.

  20. Angela
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 20:34:16

    Neato. I’ve been juggling the iphone debate since it was released this past summer and this hack has edged me closer to taking the plunge.

  21. Jorrie Spencer
    Sep 17, 2007 @ 06:51:56

    Yeah, iPhone is probably still going to be out of my price range. But it’s all interesting stuff.

  22. Ann Bruce
    Sep 17, 2007 @ 08:24:41

    Or, you can get the iTouch which is essentially the iPhone without the Phone feature. It is wi fi enabled. The cost is $299 for an 8GB and $399 for a 16 GB.

    Oh, so very, very tempting. But I giggle every time I hear iTouch because I get a mental picture of Austin Powers dancing for the Fembots.

  23. Anji
    Sep 25, 2007 @ 10:12:20

    There’s an article in today’s NY Times that says that altered iPhones may be at risk of failure – something about the programs installed damaging iPhone software, and so as there are updates, the phone may become inoperable.

  24. Various Odds and Ends | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Sep 30, 2007 @ 04:00:32

    [...] but it will NOT make the phone inoperable. If you have hacked the phone to add the books.app, as I suggested in this post, wait until the programmers have updated the iPhone jailbreak [...]

  25. Anji
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 13:32:29

    Btw – it seems as if Apple is backtracking and will software add-ons.

    Now if they’d offer the iPhone on other service providers, too…

  26. iPhone SDK To Be Released in February 2008 | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 11:25:37

    [...] Anji was the first to bring this to my attention but I did see it in the inbox (thanks guys for feeding my iPhone [...]

  27. Jude
    Nov 19, 2007 @ 14:06:40

    Haha, nice choice of books, “Cold Case Hot Bodies,” and, “Sheik and the Virgin Secretary.” I’m not one to judge, but those names are a little, “Suggestive,” ;) ;). Catch my drift… Somebody should send this to cracked.

    Which i will do now.

    I had so much trouble getting this to work, but, finally, success was granted to me. I finally find the time to finish Anna Karenina, and some other Leo Tolystoy stuff… Plus, i can now finish the, I Am Legend, book before the movie release.

    Great site for free ebook downloads include, http://www.gutenburg.org and http://www.truly-free.org

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  29. Professional Reading Apps Around the iPhone Corner | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Jun 01, 2008 @ 04:00:56

    [...] Last year in June, the first iPhone was released to much excitement. I was an early adopter (and paid for it) but I don’t regret it. Since June, I have used my iPhone everyday, several times a day. I use it to send and receive calls, messages, and emails; to visit my favorite blogs; and, of course, to read ebooks. [...]

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