Visualizing Comics on the iPad

Steve Jobs didn’t specifically talk about comics and other visually-intensive ebooks on the iPad, but it does fix many of the graphics and usability issues that severely limited the comics-reading utility of the monochrome e-readers and bulky tablet PCs that came before.

With its large color screen, slim form factor and long battery life, it may well be the reading device that comics fans have been waiting for.

While we await the iPad’s arrival, I wanted to visualize just how the iPad might work as a comics-reading machine. I fired up Photoshop and plugged in a couple of screens from the Witchblade books on WOWIO. What do you think?

Sony Readers, Library Software for Mac — Soon

Mac and Sony Reader — Flying BooksIf you’re a Mac user using a Sony Reader, you’ve been compelled to use various workarounds to get content onto your device. While the third-party software allows the addition of ebooks from other sources, Sony’s own ebook store can only be accessed using the official Windows-based eBook Library software.

With surging Mac mind (and market) share — along with competition from cross-platform ebook readers like the Kindle — it looks like Sony is finally going to provide official Mac support by “the end of Summer 2009” (see the announcement reproduced below). The original PRS500 Reader is conspicuously absent from the announcement — perhaps it’s unsupported but still compatible as a discontinued model?

Sony Announcement, July 7, 2009

Attention Mac users!

We’ve received many requests to make the eBook Store work with Apple® Macintosh® computers, and we wanted to share with you our progress on this front.

An updated version of the eBook Library Software compatible with Mac OS X operating systems will be available by the end of Summer 2009 for download to your computer to enable you to purchase, organize and download content to your PRS505 and PRS700.

Send us your email address, and we will notify you when the update is available.

Thank you,

Your Friends at The eBook Store

iPhone + Ebooks: Partial Solutions, July Dreams

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

It’s the Thought that Counts? Gifting in a Virtual World

As social networking has become a fixture in our lives, it’s only natural that the personal exchanges that occur in our offline lives — like gifting — are migrating to the virtual realm, too. I’ve looked on with some curiosity as the concept of virtual gifting has taken hold in Facebook and other venues. Can gifts that exist purely in digital form really take the place of tangible, physical presents?

On Facebook, gifts often take the form of graphical tokens that are sold for a small cost (typically $1) and are displayed on the recipient’s profile. They have no functionality beyond the symbolic — their value comes from being tokens of good will or affection, along with being the virtual approximation of a very visible display of flowers delivered at the office.

facebook gifts

Virtual gifting in Facebook.

So are people really buying these things?

I’ve personally sent some of the freebie versions of the Facebook gifts in the past year. Apparently, I believed that these tokens had some value both to the recipient and to me since I went to the trouble of sending them. On the other hand, I was never convinced enough to actually spend real money. By some estimates, however, Facebook is currently selling them at a rate of about 270,000 gifts per week — equivalent to $15 million in revenue, annually. Clearly, a lot of people are not like me — for them, the nominal monetary cost is outweighed by the convenience and symbolic value.

At WOWIO, we’ve been thinking about this phenomenon and considering it against the more traditional venues for gift giving, such as greeting cards and physical objects like books. WOWIO’s ebooks straddle the line between virtual and physical — as digital files, they’re clearly in the virtual realm, but as a medium for ideas and communication, they’re not so different from their paper counterparts. Further, the ebook’s written content has a powerful inherent symbolism that can go far beyond the purely visual representations of Facebook-style tokens.

Given this natural fit, we developed a new feature at the WOWIO site that allows registered users to gift ebooks in just this way. In sending my own ebook gifts, the process is remarkably familiar — it’s not unlike shopping for a paper-based gift book. I find a title that fits with the purpose of the gift and resonates with my relationship with the recipient, virtually wrap it in a decorated dust jacket appropriate to the occasion, and write a note on the ebook’s inside cover. The big difference is in the immediacy and relatively low cost of the gift. Delivery is as instantaneous as the Internet can make it, while the pricing ($3–5) makes it much more of an impulse gift, like Facebook’s tokens.

personalized ebook

Gifting a WOWIO ebook.

It will be fascinating to see how this fares in the coming months. If any of you are using (or even just thinking about using) this feature, I’d love to hear how you are using it and what you think of the process.

Travel and eBooks: A Jet-Lagged Perspective

Airbus

Having just returned from a trans-Pacific journey involving 20+ hour flight times, I can now say that long, economy-class encapsulation has given me a new perspective on the relative qualities of ebook readers.

In preparation for the travel, I loaded up the iPhone, the Sony Reader and the MacBook Pro with titles. The choices I made among my reading devices are telling — notably missing is the X61T Tablet PC, since I didn’t want to haul a second laptop-sized machine in addition to my primary Mac. If you plan to travel with a laptop and you also want to use a tablet computer as an ebook reader, make sure those two machines are one in the same. iPhone world clockOtherwise, be prepared to consistently leave one of them behind (or risk a sore back). The iPhone came along by default, since I needed a phone and texting device. The laptop was optional, but I wanted to bring it along so I could process photographs on the road. The Sony almost stayed home, but its small footprint and low weight made it an easy last minute addition despite my already-overloaded messenger bag.

Even before getting on the plane, I knew I wouldn’t be using the Mac for reading purposes. With a battery life of just 2-4 hours (and aircraft power ports limited to Business Class), it had little chance of making it through even the short hops, much less the main ocean crossing. I saved it for computer-specific tasks.

The iPhone looked better on paper, given its multi-faceted functionality, long-ish battery life and its status as my current-favorite reader. Unfortunately, the iPhone’s current software shortcomings got in the way of using it for reading. The hack I use to access PDFs requires access to the Apache web server that I installed, but when the iPhone is in airplane mode, Mobile Safari is blocked from accessing the server. While I could still view the PDFs with either the Mobile Mail program or the third-party PDFViewer v0.3, neither method enables landscape viewing (necessary for readable text sizes without horizontal scrolling) and the latter is too immature to use reliably.

In the end, the Sony’s seemingly inexhaustible battery life made it the only useful device for reading on the long-duration flights. I easily fit my wife’s and my own reading choices on an SD card, with multiple titles for each of us (her primary read turned out to be Cat’s Cradle while I finished up Letters from St. Petersburg and started Some Sunny Day). Such an extended selection would have been impractical in print format. Unlike my last trip, however, I made no attempt to use an ebook travel guide, since the limited navigation and slow response on the Sony had previously proven useless for reference tasks. We lugged along an old-fashioned (and bulky) paper version of Lonely Planet Philippines instead.

The next time I need to cross an ocean, I’m looking forward to further advances in the state of the ebook reading art. While the Sony turned out to be a pretty workable solution, I’d ideally still prefer to carry a single device for all of my in-flight entertainment needs. With the iPhone software development kit promised for next February, its ebook software situation should be up to speed soon. Its fast and flexible interface would also enable Lonely Planet-style reference look-ups, which will allow me to leave that last heavy chunk of paper at home.