Posts Tagged ‘Books’

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iPhone Reader: The Long Sessions

September 25, 2007

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.

reading on the iPhone

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

iPhone text enlarged

Actual iPhone text, enlarged.

I’ve now had several multi-hour reading sessions on the iPhone, and I’m finding that it affirms my earlier impressions 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 excellent display 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.

Tactile Pleasures

scrolling a long ebook on the iPhone

Scrolling is pleasantly tactile.

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 iPhone hackers — to put together all the pieces.

Related Posts

iPhone + Ebooks: Partial Solutions, July Dreams
iPhone and eBooks: an Early Flirtation
iPhone and eBooks: the Video
iPhone and iPod: Dense Pixels, Happy Eyes
eBook Reader Technology Scorecard

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iPhone and eBooks: the Video

August 1, 2007

Still photos can give some sense of the iPhone/ebook experience, but nothing can capture it quite so well as video.

As you watch the demo, note that the text on the iPhone is much sharper and clearer than it appears here because quality is lost in the translation to web video.

The most impressive thing for me (once I got past the iPhone’s glorious user interface) is the way it can display the book in its complete, uncompromised form. Cover art, interior illustrations, typography and layout are all preserved, creating a very different experience than ebooks displayed on other devices of this size. More typically on small handhelds, book content is stripped down to text with minimal formatting and no graphics. The aesthetics — and the readability-enhancing cues embedded in them — are lost. On the iPhone, surprisingly little is lost and no conversion of the PDF file is required.

One workaround required to get past the iPhone’s current file-handling limitations was to process the PDF file in Filemark Maker, a free app that allows you to store the PDF file as a Safari-viewable bookmarked file on the iPhone. This utility worked very well for the smaller PDFs that I tried (i.e., file sizes less than one meg). A larger 5 meg file caused Safari to crash.

These shortcomings — an inability to transfer and handle files, and the lack of a proper PDF reader with robust navigation and bookmarking capabilities — indicate that the iPhone isn’t quite ready for ebooks today. Yet the important pieces are all there. We’re only a software update or two away from having a uniquely competent new breed of ebook reader, one which will change the face of the book-reading world.

Related Posts

iPhone + Ebooks: Partial Solutions, July Dreams
iPhone Reader: The Long Sessions
iPhone and eBooks: an Early Flirtation
iPhone and iPod: Dense Pixels, Happy Eyes
eBook Reader Technology Scorecard
iPhone + Comics: (Not) Seeing the Big Picture

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