iPhone + Ebooks: Partial Solutions, July Dreams

March 31, 2008

With the recent beta release of the iPhone SDK and the corresponding system software update due in July, reading ebooks on the iPhone (and iTouch) will finally become a straightforward, typically Apple experience. A PDF reader should appear particularly quickly given that the format is native on the iPhone’s flavor of OS X, just as it is with its cousin, the Mac. The other piece of the puzzle — local file handling and storage — will undoubtedly be high on developers’ lists.

When July and its expected tidal wave of iPhone apps arrive, our book reading problems should be solved.

Readdle logoIn the meantime, though, the options for reading available today have evolved quite a bit since I last surveyed the scene. For example, the web app Readdle has been around since last summer, providing free hosting space for files up to 5MB — 50 MB total — for non-DRM PDF (like ebooks from WOWIO) and other files including doc, fb2, gif, html, jpeg, rtf, txt, xls and pdb. Uploading an ebook or other document to this private, password-protected space allows you to read it anywhere with Internet access.

Readdle screen shots

Navigating Readdle.

Other nice features include a Mac app to simplify uploads (though the web interface and email interfaces are fine too), user-definable categories for organizing files and an option for creating a Safari bookmark for offline reading. Unfortunately, the latter is limited to very small files less than 100kb, limiting its usefulness.

As you can see from the screenshots, the web app works well and as advertised. The iPhone-friendly interface is clean and nicely implemented. My books, like Lydia Millet’s Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, are easily accessed, along with a small collection of public domain titles provided by Readdle.

The only major limitations — and they’re significant ones — are the file size limit and lack of bookmarking for PDFs. 5MB per file is a bit skimpy for larger PDFs, particularly graphics-laden titles like comics or visually-oriented nonfiction, along with text titles built from scanned pages. This is an understandable limit, however, given Safari’s tendency to crash when opening files above 8MB. I suspect Readdle is being conservative to maintain a stable user experience. Bookmarking is another longstanding issue, and one that’s common to all available PDF reading solutions on the iPhone. Readdle does provide bookmarking for books in html, txt, rtf and pdb formats, but the nature of PDF makes this impossible to do from a web browser.

To resolve these limitations shared by Readdle and every other Mobile Safari-based reading solution, we’re once again left waiting for the solutions that are likely to arrive in July. Soon, soon…

iPhone book page

A page from Oh Pure and Radiant Heart on the iPhone via Safari and Readdle.

Related Posts

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
iPhones and eBooks: The Video


  1. It’s true you have to jailbreak your iPhone to install it but I find Books.app to be by far the best solution since it not only lets you keep books to read on your iPhone itself but lets you adjust the font size to taste. Mostly I’ve converted Project Gutenberg books to HTML to read; I use MegaPhone to download the files; but I’ve also gotten books from BAEN in HTML.
    It does have its problems, notably the lack of bookmark support and not all Apple supplied formats are available though that might be an Apple issue. The thing I’d most like to see added is a feature to make notes.
    Anyway, since I got Books installed, most of my iPhone use is as a book reader.

  2. I agree with bob weston – Books.app is very well done. The local storage, font-size adjustment, and the ability to invert the screen have made it the “must have” application for jailbroken iPhones.

    The last step for Books.app is actually transferring the ebook to the iPhone, a process that requires scp, or sftp, or iPHUC right now; slightly too technical for a lot of folks. Manybooks.net (which has Project Gutenberg’s texts and others in Books.app format) has user bookshelves that can be added to Installer.app as repository sources… so that ebooks go directly from manybooks to your iPhone. Still a few too many steps.

    I’m hoping WWDC brings eBooks to iTunes…

  3. reader by dBelement (http://reader.dbelement.com) has all the features of Books.app and so much more.

    Not only is it faster, looks better and easier to use. It’s actually much simpler to put books on your phone and read them on the go. By far the best app on the iphone.

    Not mentioning the fact that your phone doesn’t have to be jailbroken to use it.

  4. John, you seem to have forgotten to mention that you need a paid subscription to use reader. I’m sure that was just an oversight.

  5. Jonnie, only if you store more than two books. And even after that it’s $9 for 6 months. Realistically its almost nothing for such a wonderful reader.

  6. That was good articles today on Apple iPhones

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