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eBooks on the iPad

July 21, 2010

Reading ebooks was one of the main reasons I bought my iPad. I know I’m probably in a minority of iPad owners in that I use it as an ereader for over 50% of the time. I’ve had a series of Sony ereaders in the past and enjoyed them – for the one-trick ponies they were. As soon as I saw the iPad could serve as a multi-function ereader, I was smitten.

So after a couple of months of non-stop ereading, I thought it was time to record my thoughts on what is great – and not so great – about reading books on the iPad.

Firstly, getting ebooks onto the device is pretty straightforward. If you have DRM-free epub files, you can load them onto your iPad via iTunes. A top tip for getting your ebooks in shape for upload to the iPad is to run them through Calibre. This is an excellent ebook manager – think iTunes for books – that allows you to convert the format of files and edit the metadata (e.g. cover image, category etc). This can easily transform a standard text file (.txt) into a well crafted and iPad-friendly epub file. Best of all? Calibre is completely free. I can’t recommend it highly enough and you can download it from here.

Alternatively, you can download ebooks directly onto the device from within the iBooks software itself. Apple has made thousands and thousands of free public domain titles available. You can also buy titles from within this store, though at first blush the selection seems limited – and in some cases, incredibly over-priced. I’m hoping prices will come down once ereading hits the mainstream in a big way and the sales volumes warrant it.

I have to admit I’ve been suckered into buying several books from within the store, when was “just browsing”. Not through any fault of the software or Apple, but because I have no willpower. There are now several more impulse purchases on my iPad than I’d like. So… buying books is easy. Perhaps too easy. On the other hand, you can get free samples from all books in the store, which is a fantastic way of trying before you buy. A bit like lurking in a real world bookshop, leafing through books that look interesting.

I loaded up my entire ebook collection on the iPad in one go. Admittedly, this took some time, but there were over 1500 files to transfer, so I wasn’t surprised. They all appeared as expected and looked wonderful on the iPad’s screen. But this is where I encountered the first issue. The iPad organises books on a virtual shelf in a virtual bookcase. You can scroll up and down this bookcase to find your book, but once you’ve got more than a few dozen books… you need to do a lot of scrolling.

I’ve compared the iPad to the Sony eReader (PRS-300) and it comes out tops on a number of levels. Firstly, the screen is wonderful to read from and so, so clear. I was initially worried that the screen would be a problem in direct sunlight, but I took it to the park the first weekend I had it and was pleasantly surprised. As long as you’re reading black text on a white page, it’s just fine.

The iBooks software kicks Sony’s desktop book manager into the long grass – in fact, most people I know who have Sony ereaders use Calibre, as described above. The screen is also backlit, making it easier to read in darker environments.

It’s also a bigger, heavier device, which in some ways works against it. You can whip the Sony ereader out of your coat pocket and read with one hand when on bus/train/whatever. No matter what anyone else might say, I don’t think you can hold the iPad with one hand for very long. But can the Sony download your email, hold your schedule and let you watch movies? Bulk is the price you pay for a multi-functional device.

Finally, I’ve got a list of what I would call basic improvements that Apple could include with the next update to iBooks:

  • How about reserving the top shelf for the books that you’re reading at the moment? Or just the books where you’ve saved a bookmark?
  • A dropdown list of your book categories would make it much easier to find books, rather than having to scroll and scroll
  • Can’t you liven up the free books? Some nice covers on each would make it easy to distinguish one book from another.

Nothing major there and I anticipate Apple will introduce iterative improvements over the next few upgrades. In summary, the iPad is a near-perfect ereader. And as I’ve been told by more than one person lately, it will have to be pried from my cold dead hands…

33 Comments leave one →
  1. July 21, 2010 21:08

    This is interesting — the only other person I know with one also commented that reading it in broad daylight was easy. Nice point on scrolling through lots of books being an issue they need to address.

  2. Random Guy permalink
    July 22, 2010 03:54

    Just a couple of notes:

    You can change the main display from the bookshelf to a list view using the buttons on the top bar. When a list display is up, you can sort your books by title, author or category using buttons that appear at the bottom.

    You can personalize the artwork on any book, including Apple’s free ones, using iTunes with Get Info and putting a picture in the box on the Artwork tab.

    I really like your idea to keep “currently reading” books at the top!

    • July 22, 2010 07:47

      Thanks for your comment. I’m aware of the list view in iBooks – I just find it a little clunky, especially when you have lots of books. You still have to do lots of scrolling.

      I’ve also updated the cover artwork on lots of books in iTunes – I just think Apple could do a great job of this for readers. I was surprised the books were so boring looking when Apple normally places such emphasis on design.

  3. July 22, 2010 09:12

    look out for some great technical ebooks

  4. Magiure permalink
    July 22, 2010 16:38

    Thank you for this review of the iPad as an e-reader. I have been very curious what people’s opinions were of it as such and how well it would handle, considering it is back-lit which could have been a problem.

    I have been doing a lot of reading on the iPad and the various ways in which people use it in their lives and it has made me want one more than ever. Just gotta finish collecting the dough. I am not thrilled with the bookshelf catalog either, at least from the way it sounds, but I am sure they might have to revise the program soon.

    Here is an interview series on the iPad that I think you might enjoy, discussing this very topic, iPads and E-readers.

    • July 23, 2010 11:34

      Good luck on getting the cash together for your iPad – I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

  5. July 23, 2010 17:05

    Great post! 😀


  6. July 24, 2010 12:43

    Nice post , Will bookmark your site


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