Reviewing the new Stanza for iPad App

Much like Spad at the Kindle forum this is primarily a note of thanks for releasing Stanza. It’s not going to replace the Kindle and probably not even Kindle for iPad – However, it’s a beautiful app with so many options and so much customizability that you have to try it out.

Initially the probability of a Stanza for iPad app seemed dim – big companies usually just kill their acquisitions (Dodgeball, Lala, and so many others come to mind). To make things worse one of the Stanza guys left Amazon – a strong sign that Amazon might be ditching Stanza.

Suddenly, out of the blue, we have a new release of Stanza with iPad Support. Kudos to Amazon for keeping a great product alive. Let’s dive in.

Stanza for iPad – First Impressions

The first few moments with Stanza on the iPad are a bit overwhelming –

  1. There are far more options than you could imagine.
  2. 47 fonts to choose from including 2 that are barely readable and one that is made entirely of symbols.
  3. There are 22 font sizes. This is one of the few cases where an abundance of options makes sense.  
  4. Some of the options like being able to choose a background image are almost too much.
  5. The option to change screen brightness with a vertical swipe is really good.
  6. At the end of the entire exercise of choosing from a million options – ended up with something that was entirely unsuitable for reading.
  7. Don’t like the way the Search works. The results list is tiny and clicking one makes the others disappear.
  8. There’s Facebook, Twitter, and Email sharing included.
  9. The list of places to get books from doesn’t include Kindle Store. In fact, while the design for searching and buying books is pretty good you have no option of buying books from the Kindle Store, the B&N store, or Sony’s Reader Store.
  10. Most of the paid book stores listed have ridiculously high prices. No way to justify having them and not the top 2 (Kindle, B&N).
  11. In the Free Books Stores list – No idea why they give Random House’s 5 book free library, Harlequin, and Feedbooks priority over Project Gutenberg and Munsey’s.

This might seem harsh – However, at some level Stanza is almost more of a customization app than a reading app. If you’re very particular about what color the text ought to be and what font it should be using and how wide the margins are then Stanza is a godsent for you.

Stanza for iPad – In-depth analysis

After deciding to give up on all the customization options and go with a basic theme the reading was quite good. Stanza’s strengths and weaknesses began to make themselves clear –

  1. If you’re inclined to tinker with settings and options Stanza is a dream. 
  2. In addition to the 47 fonts and 22 font sizes mentioned above there are 19 themes, and the option to change background color, text color, and link color. 
  3. You can change the background image and its opacity. 
  4. You can choose between 4 alignment options. There is hyphenation in pretty much any European language. 
  5. You can specify what page turn effect you want, the page turn duration, change font sizes by pinching and spreading your fingers, and also choose what the left screen tap and right sreen tap do.

In many ways Stanza is the anti-Apple App – Apple cuts down the number of options and makes everything simple and restricts users to what Apple thinks is the best design. Stanza provides so many options that you couldn’t possibly accuse it of limiting users’ freedoms – at the same time it doesn’t really provide an ‘it just works’ app.

Kindle for iPhone and iBooks are very good from the perspective of making decisions for users. B&N adds custom themes and make things a bit confusing and Stanza provides so many options you might never be able to figure it out.

The two critical problems with Stanza are an overabundance of choice and a lack of access to the top ebook stores.

Stanza for iPad – How does it measure up?

We had looked at B&N’s eReader app for the iPad and also compared it with Kindle for iPad. At that time Kindle for iPad was clearly the best reading app on the iPad.

  1. Stanza comes across as a very powerful and flexible reading app that is also overwhelming and scary – even for some tech savvy users.
  2. Barnes & Noble seems comparatively simple – However, the theme customization still makes things complex and the default themes are not very good (except for 1 exception).
  3. iBooks seems to have the perfect balance – a good default theme with a decent number of settings. It is however a little too focused on looking good as opposed to being a good reading app.
  4. Kindle for iPad is the best option if you just want a reading app that’s great out of the box and works. It’s very simple – people who want to fiddle with options and settings will be disappointed and people who just want to jump into reading will love it.

We could think of it as 4 groups of users – with each reading app particularly suited to one of them.

  1. If you love Apple’s design aesthetic and don’t care much about pricing or range of books iBooks is the choice for you. It’s also pretty straightforward. Pretty much every Apple fan should get this app – it’s built specifically for you.
  2. If you want a reading app that has a great out of the box theme and font and is exceedingly simple to use Kindle for iPad is the app for you. If you like a lot of settings give it a miss. This is the best app for 80% of users – especially if you want simplicity or want the best range of new books at the best prices. Obviously this is also the app of choice for Kindle owners.
  3. Barnes & Noble is great if you own a Nook or want a mix of settings and good defaults. It provides enough flexibility that you can tinker without getting overwhelmed. It also has a pretty decent range of books.
  4. Stanza is the transformers reading app – it transforms into a million different forms. If you love options and settings and almost love them more than reading this is perfect for you. It’s also great for people who’d rather get ebooks from free book sites and the smaller ebook stores than Amazon, B&N, and Sony.

It’s hard to rationalize waiting so eagerly for Stanza and then be disappointed – After all Stanza for iPad has all the goodness that made Stanza for iPhone my choice for best reading app on the iPhone.

Why did Stanza for iPad go from #1 to middle of the pack?

Think there are a few main reasons Stanza is no longer my reading app of choice –

  1. Stanza is the best reading app for the iPhone on the iPad. It’s a very different sized device and Stanza’s team haven’t really taken that into account.  
  2. Stanza hasn’t figured out the 150 options out of their 300 options that should be removed. In fact, they could remove 75% of their options and they’d end up much better off.  
  3. Kindle for iPad and iBooks do things that take advantage of the iPad – With iBooks it’s the two pages at a time view and with Kindle for iPad it’s the way the whole app uses the extra space and focuses on a design that brings the book to the forefront. Stanza doesn’t.
  4. Kindle for iPad put all its effort into choosing one great font (Caecilia) and making three great themes and laying out things very well. iBooks put all its effort into making the app look great and animating page turns and making fancy bookshelves. Stanza, on the other hand, put all its effort into providing the user with a ton of choice – However, it missed out on providing users the option to do next to nothing and still get a very solid, very readable app.
  5. There’s not enough evolution. It’s still a great app with lots of options – However, it’s debatable whether it’s better than its previous version. In fact, it might even be a little bit worse.

Stanza is by no means a bad app – it’s just that it has lost its grasp on #1. Kindle for iPad is 1st. Stanza and B&N are a joint 2nd. iBooks is 4th unless your DNA has a strand of Apple running through it – in which case iBooks is #1 for you.

Reviewing the new Barnes & Noble iPad app

B&N finally launched its B&N eReader App for iPad. It’s arrived much later than promised (7 weeks and 5 days late to be precise). Let’s take a look.

B&N eReader App – First Impressions

Start off and here are the things that hit you first.

For magazines and newspapers –  

  1. There are 5 font sizes and 4 options for line spacing.  
  2. There are 4 options for margin spacing – Which is pretty useful.

Just the fact that it has magazines and newspapers is a plus – a big advantage over Kindle for iPad.

For books –

  1. There are 5 font sizes, 4 line spacing options, and the ability to turn full justification on or off.
  2. There’s an intriguing option – Use Publisher settings. It seems B&N will begin to push the concept of a Publisher defined ‘optimum ebook layout’.
  3. There are 5 themes – The Printed Page, Night Light (inverted colors for night reading), Earl Grey, Butter Pecan, and Mocha. The last two are pretty hideous. Nothing as pretty as Sepia Theme on Kindle for iPad although The Printed Page theme is pretty good.
  4. You have the option to edit themes though it seems like it’ll take a little time to figure out.
  5. There are lots of Fonts available – Amasis, Century Schoolbook, Georgia, Joanna, Times New Roman, Ascender Sans, Gill Sans, and Trebuchet MS. My favorite is Amasis.
  6. You can set the color for text, the color for the page/background, the color for highlights, and also the color for links. The color selection is actually pretty cool.
  7. After making all these selections (font, font size, line spacing, justification, colors) you can save your settings as a custom theme.

It’s a lot of selections and you’ll probably fall into one of three categories – don’t care, love the flexibility, overwhelmed by the options.

Digging in deeper

Here are some things that become apparent on further inspection –

  1. Newspapers and Magazines work very well.  
  2. The bookmarking is really strange – it’s at the bottom right corner and hard to notice.
  3. There are page numbers. Which stay steady even as you change font size.
  4. The Home Page shows both downloaded books and books that have not been downloaded in one list which is strange. There’s a category for Archived items and if you take a downloaded book you can move it into the Archive. Shouldn’t non downloaded books be in that by default?
  5. It’s hard to get rid of samples.
  6. There are two main views – a book at a time view (with an optional list overlay that lists all books), and a general ‘book covers’ view.
  7. Books that can be Lent are clearly indicated.
  8. To buy books you have to go to the iPad’s Safari browser. Understandable as in-app purchases would mean Apple gets 30%.
  9. Changing Orientation is a little strange.

The Archive works in a very strange way. It’s basically just a different folder. Whereas on the Kindle the Archive means that your book is archived in the Amazon Cloud and will have to be re-downloaded, on B&N’s eReader App the Archive is the equivalent of a ‘Books I’ve Read’ folder.

B&N eReader for iPad vs Kindle for iPad

There are a few advantages B&N eReader App has over Kindle for iPad –

  1. You can read newspapers and magazines. Perhaps the biggest advantage.
  2. Page Numbers. Lots of people want this as a feature on the Kindle. A very important advantage if you need to refer to page numbers for assignments or for any another reason.
  3. Lots of choice in fonts. That being said there isn’t any font as pretty as Kindle for iPad’s Caecilia.
  4. Lots of choice in general – line spacing, margins, full justification on or off, ability to change colors.
  5. The ability to save your own themes. Definitely a fun feature.
  6. The in-app Dictionary is a pretty cool feature too. Tapping a word gives you three options Kindle for iPad doesn’t – dictionary, search Google, search Wikipedia.

That’s basically two killer features that Kindle for iPad is missing – periodicals and page numbers. You could throw in the near-infinite customization and LendMe to get to 4 killer features.

Kindle for iPad has its own advantages –

  1. Much simpler to use.
  2. WhisperSync is a very cool feature – Syncing of Last Page Read and Listing of Popular Highlights are both very useful. Syncing ofnotes and highlights is really useful too. This works across most Kindle Apps and across Kindles. B&N has syncing across only the iPad and PC Apps at the moment.
  3. The ability to change screen brightness from within the app.
  4. The best single font i.e. Caecilia. 
  5. The best theme – Sepia. The Kindle’s night theme is better looking too.  
  6. Much prettier in terms of the Home Page and layout and how options are shown. The boy reading under the tree picture is gorgeous as is the fact that it shows stars when the book covers load up.
  7. If you’re into that sort of thing there’s the option to use animated page turns. They aren’t as fancy as iBooks’ page turns though as you can’t see a faint glimmer of words on the reverse page when you turn pages.

The killer features are – the ability to change screen brightness from within the app, the simplicity, better range of books, lower prices for non Agency Model Publisher books, and WhisperSync working across nearly all devices. So 5 killer features. It also looks better.

Kindle for iPad has a better font and better themes. Of course, you might be able to mix and match and create a theme that you like better with the B&N app. The B&N app also has a lot more choice in fonts and settings.  

Kindle for iPad is the better Reading App for the iPad

It has some killer features that B&N’s eReader App doesn’t match –

  1. It’s just really simple to use.
  2. It has the best range of new ebooks and better prices for ebooks (other than for Agency Model Publishers).
  3. WhisperSync provides a lot of really cool features – syncing last page read, syncing notes and highlights, and seeing most popular highlights. These work across nearly all platforms – PC, Mac, Kindle, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and soon Android.
  4. The font and themes are the best. Although if you like the ability to change things then definitely go with B&N’s eReader App.
  5. You can change screen brightness from within the app itself. No idea why B&N didn’t add such an obvious and useful feature. 

If you don’t find the Popular Highlights feature interesting it can be switched off. Not sure if this stops sharing your highlights though you’d think that’s what switching it off means.  

It’s possible the B&N eReader App is a better fit for you

While Kindle for iPad is the better reading app there are some cases in which B&N’s eReader App will be a better fit –

  1. You own a Nook.
  2. You want to read newspapers and magazines. Kindle for iPad doesn’t support these yet.
  3. You need page numbers in your books. B&N supports this while Kindle uses locations.
  4. You like to be able to customize themes and change fonts – There are a ton of options and you might be able to create a combination you like better than the Kindle for iPad’s excellent default font and 3 Themes
  5. The LendMe feature appeals to you. It’s lending out a book only once – however, once is better than no lending.

The dictionary is a useful feature too.

It’ll be interesting to see what additions Amazon make to Kindle for iPad. The absence of magazines and newspapers and lack of Page Numbers are two very real shortcomings.

Checking up on how Kindle is doing on iPad and iPhone

Things are actually looking pretty good for Amazon –

  1. Kindle for iPhone is the #1 Book App.
  2. Kindle for iPad has climbed up all the way to #10 Free App (it was around #23 at launch).

All Amazon had to do was create two good, simple Kindle apps (actually one App that works on both iPhone and iPad) and they get all these customers for free.

Kindle for iPad gets skewered on reviews

You’d think an App doing so well (it’s the #10 iPad App (in the Free section) and the #1 iPhone Book App) would be very well liked. Well, opinions are divided. For the latest release there are 4,024 5 star ratings and 3,620 1 star ratings. And around 1,500 each of 2, 3, and 4 star ratings.

Note that there is one App that works for both iPad and iPhone – the reviews and the ratings are from both iPad owners and iPhone/iPod Touch owners.

The 1 star reviews are enlightening –

No way you beating iPad, Kindle!!!

I hate it. It’s a good app but you have to buy books for it. It doesn’t give you books – u buy them!!!

Why does it need ur credit card number for a free book that’s just stupid.

No search feature. Sold me a black & white photocopy-PDF of a book.

Need the dictionary feature for this to be in the same league as the iBooks app…

Lacks the Apple “touch”. Does not carry the typical Apple look and feel or quality.

This app style is kind of flat. They can make more realistic features like iBook.

Please Kindle make the books nicer visually – sharper text, more fonts, better animation.

The 5 star reviews are of the usual ‘really good app, lots of books’ variety.

iBooks getting a lot of love

iBooks gets 2,068 5 star ratings, 489 4 star ratings and around 300 each of 3, 2, and 1 star ratings.

There are a ton of reviews. Here are the last 10 or so reviews (May 11th and 12th) –

This is an amazing book app. Although the digital paid books are pricey, the free books are sometimes good.

Very disappointed in the selection of books.

Unquestionably better than the Kindle (he’s talking about Kindle for iPad). And people can complain about $14 books but they’re still less than newly-released hardcovers. Would like to see more titles eventually.

The store is organized poorly and does not offer many titles.

I’d really like a night-time mode. Otherwise I’m quite impressed.

Lower the book prices and I will buy them.

High Prices. Few books.

I’m speechless what an amazing app

iBooks needs sci-fi books like spider man, iron man, x-men, star wars, etc.

It is much more enjoyable to use than Kindle for iPad.

Much better than Kindle. Has bookmark and search but less books.

Geniusly invented.

A few quick thoughts –

  1. There are actually a non-trivial number of people who talk about reading more after getting the iPad.
  2. People are very, very forgiving of the lack of range and prices. They mention it and then give the app 4 stars or 5 stars.
  3. Looks and ‘enjoying’ the app come up again and again in 5 star reviews.
  4. There are a significant number of people who are upset about high ebook prices.
  5. A lot of people mention missing features (and still rate it 5 stars) – notetaking, better organized store, cheaper prices, better selection, back button.

There’s definitely some sort of Apple aura where people love it despite its flaws.

Consider this review (courtesy Michael Parker) titled ‘Best Way to Read’

Kindle for iPad is pretty terrible …

… However, I rated it (iBooks) 4 stars, and here’s why –

1. Right now, the selection is pretty limited. I’ve had a hard time tracking down a lot of books that I’d enjoy reading through iBooks, that are already available on Kindle.

2. The price on some of these books is just ridiculous.

Let’s get this straight – iBooks gets 4 stars even though the selection is pretty limited and the price of some of the books is ridiculous. At the same time Kindle for iPad is pretty terrible.

There are a surprisingly large number of reviews like this. You won’t believe the number of people who love the animated page turns – Apple definitely knows its target audience’s preferences.  

Should Amazon start tailoring Kindle for iPad to Apple iPad owners?

It’s hard to figure out how to approach iPad owners.

iBooks is getting 5 stars even from people who think there are very few books available. It’s getting 5 stars from people whose ‘absolute favorite’ feature is the animated page turn. This definitely isn’t the kindle demographic.

It almost seems like Amazon should have two modes for its app –

  1. Reading Mode – For Kindle owners and for serious readers. 
  2. Apple-centric mode – Where the importance of being aesthetically immaculate means actual reading and actual books are mostly ignored.

Seriously though – Amazon should stick to its guns. Amazon isn’t going to beat Apple on animated page turns and for all we know these might be people who would ALWAYS prefer the official Apple app. Today its animated page turns – tomorrow it would be animations in the book.

The real reason a lot of iPad owners would always prefer iBooks is that they’re wedded to Apple. That’s why they’re downplaying things like book availability and book prices. They’d never ever admit that any other company could create something better than an Apple offering.

It’s all good though.

Basically, Amazon is playing with House Money

Amazon is getting a lot of new customers for free. Jumping from #23 to #10 in a month is good.

iPad owners might ooh and aah over the animated page turns but they usually have to come over to Kindle for iPad to actually be able to read the books they want to read.

Amazon’s customer acquisition costs are limited to coding and maintaining the Kindle for iPad App. They get tons of free publicity by being in the Top 10 Free Apps and they get to reach a lot of people they wouldn’t reach otherwise. Kindle for iPad is a success in more ways than one.