Hands On: Apple iBooks

Truthfully, I wasn't that interested in the iPad as an eBook reader. Then I used it, and I must say, it's a mostly wonderful experience that's only crippled by a disappointing store.

What I Like

Define Any Word


Click and hold a word as if you'd like to copy & paste it. From here, you can bookmark, search, or most usefully, define any word. Just click on "Dictionary" and expand that vocabulary with a pop-up. Quick, easy and, OK, it's perfect.

Preview Book Purchases

Download the first 8 or so pages of any book in Apple's store by clicking on "Get Sample." Unfortunately, this won't score you much content (as these pages are taken up by copyright and titles). But you should be able to at least browse the table of contents. If Apple just expands the option to include some pages in the middle of the book, and the preview system will be just right.

Oh, and the General Reading Experience Is Great
When you actually get to the point of reading books, chances are you wont use Apple's gimmicky, realtime page turning option to flip through content. A simple swipe is much easier. Still, I appreciate one-button options to change the font size (toggle between two) and brightness (choose precisely how bright you'd like that backlight). Searching for a word (by either clicking it or using the search button) is quite fast, as it lists all instances of the word through straight forward interface that's actually a bit superior to Apple's OS X PDF preview options.


What I Don't Like

Bookmarking Doesn't Feel Right


Apple's Bookmarking solution is perfect for highlighting a favorite line, but pretty lousy for just keeping your page. And, yeah, for a casual reader, this is a biggie.

If you close iBooks with the home button, you'll reopen the app at the same spot in your book. But if you'd like to bookmark, you need to press and hold and individual word, highlighting it and adding it to an entire list of your bookmarks. Plus, to find this bookmark, you need to dig through a whole submenu that's combined with the table of contents. A real bookmark would be a tad less functional but much more pleasant (and quick) to use. Given that Apple paid attention to other small details, I'd really like my old-school bookmark back. (Maybe just let me swipe down the crevasse between pages?)


The Store Is Kinda Messy


It's true. The mainpage hopes to draw your eye with a few advertised offers. New releases are stuck in between in two boxes—and chances are, it'll take you a minute to figure out that one is for fiction and the other non-fiction. Categories are tucked away in a submenu—I'd like them to prioritize the way I search—well, that and authors.

I don't know what to say other than, I'm not compelled to browse in this current layout. I'd like larger covers, less gray space and fewer ads. Basically, I judge a book by its cover. Let me, Apple.


Where's My Genius?
Truthfully, I don't want a computer algorithm to recommend me music. But where do I really, really want group-think to point me in the way to a tailored preference list? Books. I want to type in my favorite authors and books, then I want to know what I should read. Amazon is great at suggesting purchases based upon my browsing and search histories. Go ahead, take my privacy. I just want a list of some decent cyberpunk.

Downloading Free Books Doesn't Go Far Enough


Sure, you can import any ePub file into iTunes, but the iBook store also has a Free Books button—it's just cleverly hidden at the bottom of their sale page. However, it only has a few more than 100 free, out of copyright books—some of which, like Alice in Wonderland, can be purchased in other sections if you aren't careful. Get rid of the dupes, include more freebies (there are countless free books out there) and then—go ahead and laugh—I want iBooks to search for free ePub checkouts available at my local library.

At All Times, I Want My Current Book Holstered
No matter where I'm at in iBooks, be it the store or my bookshelf, I want to return to the last known spot in my book with one button press. This has to do with my bookmarking complaint, but it's also just about getting the feel of a virtual book right. I want "Now Reading" like iTunes has "Now Playing."


Of course, none of this matters if the public decides that a backlit screen burns out their retinas. I need a leisurely weekend with a good book to make that assessment, but whenever I think that I can't stand reading a book on a computer screen, I remember that I read on a computer screen, literally, all day long.

As for iBooks itself, the reading experience is polished and mostly as intuitive as you'd think Apple would make it. I didn't find myself missing the Kindle's page turning buttons, given that small swipes worked so well. It's a tactile experience (for a glass screen) that only needs a decent bookmark to finish off the nostalgic paper feel. Oh, and that store? Somehow Apple has made shopping less fun than reading a book.


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