While I am pleased that eBooks are a growing and popular download item from the iTunes site, I am disappointed with the iPhone platform. I have been a long-time champion of eBooks and have developed some strict requirements for a decent eBook reader. I am afraid that there simply is not a decent eBook reader for iPhone yet. Sadly, iPhone users do not even seem to know the difference. It appears that as long as you can turn the page with your nose-mining finger, that’s all that’s required. The Earth’s flat, and that’s that.
By all measures, Stanza is by far the best, preferred, and most downloaded eBook reader for iPhone and iPod. It receives good marks for being able to handle a wide variety of eBook platforms and even convert them for iPhone consumption. But, it apparently loses formatting in some cases. It has a nice interface for finger-friendly page turning, but it lacks an autoscroll feature for faster and lazier readers. It also earns points for its ability to change fonts, font sizes, font colors and page background colors. This all contributes positively to the eBook reading experience.
However, the eBook reading experience can be so much more powerful. What turned me on to eBooks and won me over instantly way back before the turn of the century was being able to tap on a word in any language and having the definition pop up on the screen. That was way cool and converted me to eBook reading and abandoning treebooks forever. Can’t do that on Stanza on an iPhone. What a pity. But then, maybe iPhone readers have such extensive vocabularies and are such polyglots that this feature is simply not necessary and is beneath their dignity.
Other features lacking in even the best iPhone reader as exemplified in Stanza include the ability to annotate text, index the annotations, and search them. Speaking of searching, apparently Stanza will only allow searching within chapters, not globally.
What about the ability to make drawings, sketches, and handwritten notes in your choice of colors on pages without destroying the book as you would with a treebook. Nope, not on an iBook.
What about highlighting text in your choice of color coding? No can do on an iPhone.
What if you want to copy and paste text from an eBook into another application for research purposes? Sorry, iPhone is anti-academic on this issue. Wouldn’t it be nice too if it automatically referenced the source? Actually, as I understand it, you can’t copy and paste anything on an iPhone, so it’s not surprising that this feature is lacking in eBooks as well.
Another problem is that there is a lack of up-to-date material on the iTunes site. You cannot download any New York Times best sellers for example. None of the popular authors are represented. Clearly, it must be a matter of digital rights issues that Apple has not yet resolved. Of course the same thing applies to audiobooks and the lack thereof for this platform.
It is sad that iPhone and iPod users cannot take advantage of the marvelous free eBook and audiobook download programs available at almost all public libraries these days because of DRM issues and incompatible formats.
eBook reading remains a far superior experience on Windows Mobile devices. However, I am pleased that iPhone people are discovering eBooks. Perhaps when they learn the difference they will demand that developers bring readers up to speed. EBook reading and readers will benefit greatly, and that is what matters. Maybe, if the demand justifies it, there will even be some decent material available to read on iPhones that still has a copyright.