I managed to hold out for almost three months. While I had done some testing on an iPhone, I didn’t buy one for myself — that is, not until my 5G iPod met an untimely death against unyielding hardwood and “necessity” provided the required excuse.
In a fit of geekiness, I performed the required hacks on the newly-purchased machine to install third-party applications such as file transfer utilities and the Apache web server. This allowed me to directly move several PDF ebooks onto the phone and to read them from the Safari browser by pointing at its own web server (i.e., no Internet connection required). The one major limitation with this is file size: Mobile Safari refuses to load PDF files much larger than 8 megs or so.
Easy on the Eyes
I’ve now had several multi-hour reading sessions on the iPhone, and I’m finding that it affirms my that its display and touch interface are quite well suited to the purpose of reading long, text-oriented PDFs. The ultra-sharp screen and flexible zooming — combined with easy rotation to landscape orientation — allow fixed-page (non-reflowable) PDFs to display at a comfortable reading size. While I’ve generally hated reading on small devices like PDAs in the past, the iPhone’s makes it not just viable but actually quite enjoyable. I read in a variety of lighting conditions, including bright outdoor sunlight, artificial light and total darkness, and in all cases, the display performed brilliantly.
Touching the slippery-smooth glass to scroll through the book made the experience pleasantly tactile, somehow better echoing the positive visceral experience of turning pages of a paper book than the mechanical, button-pushing motion used on most other reading devices. Since the touch interface permits for simultaneous scrolling in both horizontal and vertical directions, I expected to have some trouble with unintentionally moving diagonally instead of straight down, but the system seems to have built-in smarts to ignore such spurious motion off the main axis of movement.
Obstacles and Building Blocks
Lack of a bookmarking function for the book-length PDFs was a major problem. Each time I loaded the book into Safari, I had to manually scroll to the desired page — obviously not an ideal solution.
All in all, my longer-term experience with reading ebooks on the iPhone confirms my initial testing — its hardware and user interface show tremendous potential, but the lack of a readily-accessible file system and full-featured reader software will continue to hamper mainstream users. The building blocks are all in place. It’s now up to Apple — or the growing army of highly creative — to put together all the pieces.