Am in the middle of reading books on the iPad and the Kindle DX to write a review/comparison and it struck me that the iBooks app is completely unsuited to reading.
In fact iBooks almost seems to be built to discourage reading. Luckily there’s a happy ending.
Let’s start with the bad part.
Why iBooks is rather unsuitable for people who actually read
Looks Good Versus Actually Useful for Reading
Let’s categorize every eReader quality we can into one of two categories – Actually essential for reading, Looks good.
Here are some of the qualities that are essential for reading –
- Wide range of books.
- Clear, readable type.
- Night Mode (white text on black) for reading in the dark.
- Notetaking and highlights.
- Making the store easy to search and well-organized.
Here are some of the qualities that look very good –
- Fancy Page Turns.
- Fonts optimized to look good rather than read well.
- Putting Books on Virtual Wooden Book Shelves.
The iBooks app is a combination of nearly all the ‘Looks Good’ features and a handful of actually useful features.
Basically, Apple have built a reading app primarily concerned with creating the best-looking reading experience. It’s not really focused on creating the best overall reading experience.
There’s nothing wrong with it – it’s in Apple’s DNA to make design and appearance a competitive advantage and sell their products on that. However, in this case they’ve overdone it and forgotten that the core functionality is far more important than aesthetics.
Kindle for iPad and Kobo for iPad make the iPad usable as a reading device
Luckily for Apple the promise that the iPad will become an important channel means that actual readers get lots of options for reading via iPad reading apps.
While some of the problems with iBooks are unaddressable (eInk is better for reading than LCD, there are far more distractions on the iPad) other iBooks problems are addressed by the various reading apps –
- The 30,000 new books (30,000 out of 60,000 are public domain titles) in iBooks not getting you excited? Well, Kindle for iPad has over 450,000 new books.
- The iBooks app not readable enough for you? With Kindle for iPad and Kobo you get much better formatted, much more readable font settings. You also get a Night Reading mode.
- Finding it hard to find books in iBooks due to the low range and awkward search? Well, go to Amazon.com and let user reviews and the recommendation engine guide you – then read on Kindle for iPad.
- Don’t want to get stuck with one company? There are apps from Amazon and Kobo and soon from Barnes & Noble and more.
- Appalled that iBooks doesn’t let you take notes? Other reading apps do.
- Want a format that can be read by dedicated eReaders (iPad books can’t)? Choose Kindle for iPad or go ‘half open’ and choose Kobo with Adobe DRMed ePub.
- Want to read PDF documents and books? Get a PDF reading app.
Apple created a really good-looking and really terrible to use app in iBooks and it’s the other reading apps that are saving the day.
This begs the instant question –
Did Amazon make a mistake by releasing Kindle for iPad?
Actually – No.
- An ebook sale is an ebook sale.
- iPad could become an important ebook channel and it’s crucial to be a top reading app on it to cash in.
- If Amazon didn’t release a very good reading app (Kindle for iPad) then some other company eventually would.
- Kobo is pretty good and could potentially become great. B&N eReader for iPad might be very good.
- Every Kindle for iPad user is getting locked in to the Kindle eco-system (via book purchases).
- It increases the value proposition for Kindle owners.
- It adds to the amount of customer information Amazon have. They probably know the reading habits of iPad owners better than anyone except Apple.
Apple is in a good position – Amazon is forced to add Kindle for iPad because the channel and the user information and the sales are too important.
Why were so many reviewers praising iBooks so much?
No idea. Notice the newer reviews and reviews from actual readers – They all talk about Kindle for iPad.
If Kindle for iPad wasn’t available they would pick Kobo for iPad. You can’t really survive on iBooks – when you’re actually reading a book you don’t really care that the page turn is a fancy animation or that your library has imaginary wooden shelves.
Were the people who designed iBooks book readers?
It’s a genuine question. Not being snarky – just asking a simple question.
Take the team that designed the iBooks app. Take Steve Jobs. How much do they read?
Is iBooks what the perfect reading app looks like when it’s designed by people who don’t really read?
My guess is that Steve Jobs still feels the way he did – No one really reads any more. So he had an app created that would mollify Publishers and look very good and do a half-decent job of reading. That way Apple can target the eReader space and sell more iPads.
If iBooks doesn’t really meet the needs of actual readers it’s not an issue – other reading apps will fill in the gaps. Look at the quality of Kindle for iPad and Kobo for iPad and it’s hard to argue with Apple’s strategy.