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

iPhone and iPod: Dense Pixels, Happy Eyes

iPod TouchYesterday’s announcement of the third-generation iPod Nano and iPod Touch was another step in Apple’s accelerating march toward sharper displays and resolution independence. The third-generation Nano now has the highest pixel density in the Apple lineup, at 204 pixels per inch (ppi). By comparison, the iPhone comes in at 160 ppi with the new iPods Touch and Classic at a nearly-identical 163 ppi. Meanwhile, Apple’s high-end 30″ Cinema Display is at 102 ppi.

Subjectively, the iPhone’s display is clearly superior to any computer display I’ve ever seen. While this is a function of many factors, the high pixel density plays a huge part in creating the extraordinarily tack-sharp perception. While the Nano’s screen is too small to be useful for reading, it seems completely within Apple’s philosophy and technical capability to extend the high-pixel-density feature to other devices, including the Mac and the hypothetical iTablet. After all, multimedia and typography are in Apple’s DNA, while resolution independence is an announced feature in the next version of Mac OS X and perhaps a current feature in today’s iPhone/Touch OS X.

I wanted to visualize more objectively just how these increased densities are affecting the reading experience. The images below are enlargements of PDF text (from my latest WOWIO ebook project) rendered in Photoshop to simulate different pixel densities. Be sure to click on the image to see the enlargement so you can see the full effect.

Screen Pixel Density Simulation (small)

While rendering on the actual devices will be different, these images can still give an idea of the relative quality of the text displays. The smooth and crisp type renderings at the higher pixel densities correlate directly into perceived text clarity and reading comfort. Today’s common complaints about fuzzy, headache-inducing screen text — one of the most persistent obstacles to reading long-form text in digital format — are literally being smoothed away.

Related Posts
iPhone and eBooks: The Video
iPhone and eBooks: An Early Flirtation
Books v. eBooks: the Reader’s Experience

iSlate: a Mac-iPhone Hybrid Apple on Tuesday?

iPhone / Mac Hybrid Slate ConceptAs Apple prepares to make a Mac-related hardware announcement on Tuesday, my thoughts inevitably turn to my dream machine — a potent hybrid of the iPhone multitouch interface and full Mac OS X functionality melded into a sleek and totable tablet.

While the scale of the hype around the event likely portends a less-revolutionary change (i.e., a major revamp of the iMac), I can still hope that the new machine(s) — whatever they might turn out to be — will give some hint of future fusion of the now-branched lines in Apple’s evolutionary tree. Apple’s patent filings are already strongly hinting at such a machine, one that will finally bring life (with no small irony) to Bill Gates’ unrealized vision for tablet computing.

My initial experiences with the Lenovo X61T Tablet PC show that the concept is solid — the machine is powerful enough for day-to-day computing while providing a uniquely-useful form factor for tasks like ebook reading, drawing or light web browsing. Where it stumbles is in its interface. The Vista touch implementation still feels like a superficial and inadequate layer on top of a fundamentally mouse-centered paradigm. I find myself constantly having to switch between fingertip, stylus and keyboard to get things done.

A more deeply-designed touch interface — like the iPhone’s — minimizes such discontinuities. Tasks flow fluidly and naturally, and the user is shielded from the underlying machinery whenever possible (good-bye, Vista confirmation screens!). That’s the real magic that makes the iPhone special, and I’m looking forward to using it on a future multitouch Mac.

Maybe tomorrow?

Update: Apple has announced major upgrades to the iMac, Mac Mini, iLife, iWork and .Mac. No iSlate or iTablet… yet.

iPhone and eBooks: an Early Flirtation

Hands On

I played with the iPhone for an extended period yesterday, and it delivered the revolutionary, eye-popping experience that everyone has described. It’s clear that this is the future — not just for mobile phones, but for handheld devices of all types, tablet PCs and perhaps other categories of devices we haven’t yet envisioned.

I took a look at the same ebooks that I posted previously to see how they behaved in real life. The one thing the photographs can’t convey is the extraordinary sharpness, brilliant color and overall quality of the display. Even when the PDFs were reduced to fit the full page on the screen, the text was actually still readable, though at such a tiny size that it was necessary to magnify the page to be comfortable. The pages rendered more beautifully than they do on my MacBook Pro with its high-quality screen.

As I noted in the earlier post, the iPhone has some serious (but very correctable) shortcomings in its PDF and file handling. But even given those limitations, the iPhone is still surprisingly usable for certain kinds of content.

The comic book Lullaby was very readable through the phone’s mail app, given its highly graphical nature and short length. Moving with light finger motions from panel to panel felt comfortable and natural.

The Avant-Guide Las Vegas also worked reasonably well as a reference guide where I might look up short bits of content, though navigating to specific material within the book would be a problem given the limited navigation tools.

The promise here is very real. My previous speculation (based solely on word-of-mouth and a few still photos) is confirmed — a few software updates could make the iPhone (and its offspring, especially the ones that evolve a larger display) the killer devices in the ebook world.

I’ll continue to experiment with the iPhone and I’ll post more thoughts and perhaps a video or two here. Stayed tuned!

Related Posts

iPhones and eBooks: The Video
iPhone Reader: The Long Sessions

Digg

eBooks on iPhones: Seeing Is Believing

travel and graphic novel ebooks on the iPhonePaula Wellings (my colleague at WOWIO) has posted a series of photos of the iPhone displaying PDF ebooks, with content ranging from straight text to travel guides and graphic novels.

Nice.

She notes the shortcomings of the iPhone as a reader at this stage, including the lack of proper PDF software with an automated zoom function (like iPhone Safari) and kludgy file management (no direct way to get files into the iPhone).

The good news is, the problems are all just software! The display hardware and the user interface paradigm are already well-adapted to the purpose of reading large document pages (e.g., web pages) in a small form factor. A future (perhaps inevitable) update that beefs up file management and PDF support will change the game in the ebook arena, just as the iPhone is already doing in so many other sectors.

[and, perhaps more importantly, it's yet another fine excuse to get one for myself someday!]

Read Paula’s full post and see the complete photo set with more shots at different zoom settings and display orientations here.

Update: The page being displayed in the top image is from a pdf version of Avant-Guide Las Vegas: Insiders Guide for Urban Adventurers by Daniel Levine. The graphic novel shown in the lower image is Lullaby Vol 1: Wisdom Seeker 01 by Hector Sevilla, Mike S. Miller, and Ben Avery.

Update 2: See the video demo!

Digg