The iPad is an awesome e-book reader. I thought I would miss holding a real book, turning the pages, and closing it shut when I finish the last chapter. So far, I haven’t missed any of these. I must be clear that I have not tried a Kindle or other e-book reader yet, so a lot of the advantages and disadvantages of reading on an iPad may or may not be shared by other readers. Let me know in the comments!
My friend John lent me his iPad for a week-long trip, so I decided to buy ‘Delivering Happiness‘ by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos. Several people at Mobilization Labs have given it high marks, and I’d been thinking about picking up a copy. $10.99 versus $12.99 for a physical copy though? Fair enough, I’ll give it a shot. The book downloaded in less than ten seconds over Wi-Fi, and my previously bare iBooks bookshelf was now occupied by ‘Devliering Happiness’ and ‘Winnie the Pooh’. Not sure how the latter got there, I’m guessing it was a freebie from Apple.
Shortly after boarding the plane for my trip I realized I wasn’t going to be able to read through takeoff and landing, which is something I like about regular old books. There’s no on-off switch or airplane mode on a paperback. Minus one, iPad. Once we got in the air, however, I launched iBooks and tapped on ‘Delivering Happiness’. I was greeted by an image of the book’s cover. Not quite the same experience as holding a newly purchased book in your hands and checking out the blurb on the back cover and the jacket notes about the author. I swiped through the table of contents (all hyper-linked) and started reading the foreword. I wanted the font a bit bigger (I probably shouldn’t be allowed to drive with my eyesight) which was simple to achieve. I played around with the other fonts and quickly discovered that they all suck except Georgia and Baskerville. Also, there’s no way to revert to the default font size and face, which is probably the ideal setup for most people.
After a few pages, I was engrossed in the book, as I would have been had I picked up a physical copy. Having never read a book on an electronic device before, I thought I’d have a hard time focusing, but that’s not the case. I read for two hours straight on the plane and would say the eye strain was less than what I’d experienced reading a physical book, probably because of the backlit display on the iPad, which is adjustable.
I’ve been reading a lot of business books recently (Made to Stick, The Art of the Start, Making It All Work) and will often take notes on my iPhone using Simplenote. I’m not a fan of highlighting or taking notes directly on the pages of a book, and neither is the library. My initial question about reading on the iPad was whether I’d need to take notes on my iPhone or switch apps on the iPad just to jot something down. Neither was necessary, as the iBooks application lets you highlight and take notes. To access the highlighting and notes functionality, you tap and hold as you would when copying and pasting on the iPhone. What I really like about the highlighting and notes features is the automatically generated notes page after the table of contents. Your highlights and notes are listed on this page, with the date you created the note or highlight, and a hyperlink to the location in the book. You can’t email this page to yourself, but perhaps you could take a screenshot of it on the iPad, save it as a PDF, and have Google’s OCR convert it to real text.
I’m a big fan of reading on the iPad, but there is room for improvement. Here are some changes I’d like to see in future iterations.
- Font choices and sizes – I’d like to see more font choices, and the ability to revert to the default iBooks face and size settings.
- Export or email notes – It’d be fantastic to be able to email the notes and highlighted text to myself. Right now they’re stuck in the iBooks app unless I manually copy them out, or do a few copy/pastes into an email or doc.
- Syncing across devices – I have the iBooks application on my iPhone and have downloaded the books I’ve purchased, but there’s no syncing between devices. I’d like to see my current reading position saved, along with my bookmarks, highlights, and notes.
- Desktop app – Why is there no way to read books I’ve purchased on the desktop? I suppose the main concern is piracy, but I wouldn’t mind reading within iTunes, perhaps in some sort of built-in Preview PDF-type reading app.
- Back button for returning from hyperlink taps – When you tap on a hyperlink in a book (from the table of contents or elsewhere) I’d like to be able to hit ‘back’, but there’s currently no way to do this.
- Share quotes – I’d like to be able to share a quote from a book as a tweet or in an email, with the book’s title and author info, along with a link to the book in the iTunes store or elsewhere.
On a side note, ‘Delivering Happiness‘ is a great read, even if you’re not into customer service or developing business culture. The Zappos story is a good one!