Tech, Autos, & Gear in Layman's Terms Since 2006


December 23, 2009 • eBooks, Editorials

Basic eBook Standards

Hello and welcome to this week’s State of the eBook! We’ve got news and reviews, so let’s get started!

(image courtesy

First, eBooks in the news this week:

Teleread apparently took advantage of the Foxit eSlick offer from eReader, and feels the software needs a little a lot of polish. No wonder it came with $100 in eBooks…

Barnes and Noble supposedly ordered (and sold out of) 60,000 nooks. Year of the eReader indeed. (via TechCrunch)

Mobileread reported on a study that determined owners of dedicated eBook readers are more tech savvy, better educated, and have higher overall incomes than their non-book reading counterparts. We’re also better at quiz night at the local bar, and we smell nice too.

Dan and I fired the opening shots in an “eBook Readers vs Tablets” debate.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation wants you to know that Google, Amazon and Barnes and Noble may be keeping careful track of what you read. Yes, they know all about your love for Harlequin Romance Novels. Even the fact that you’ve re-read “The Italian Businessman’s Pregnant Wife Who Moonlights As a Police Detective With a Vampire Partner” 15 times.

(image courtesy Academia)

The “eBook Scale”:

We’re heading into 2010 with a great deal of eBook momentum. Whether I am proved victorious in my staunch defense of eBook readers, or Dan is correct in his belief that multi-purpose devices are the wave of the future, there are certain expectations of how eBooks should behave. There are, in my view, three basic areas that any software designed around eBooks needs to hit in order to be successful, what I call the “eBook Scale”.

Content: This means not only do books in a compatible format need to be readily accessible, they have to be easy to load into the app. Ideally there shouldn’t be any fiddling; your “bookshelf” should just be a button press away. In addition, formatting should be clean and uniform, with no typos or poorly scanned pages. Since not all eBookstores have the resources or the inclination to carry the depth of inventory of an Amazon or Barnes and Noble, this is less about numbers and more about managing what books you do have in the app/reader.

Customization: Here is a huge peeve of mine. Obviously, this is a bit different if we are talking about a dedicated eBook reader vs an app in a phone, but the basic concept is that everything should be tweakable to the consumer’s needs. For a dedicated reader, this means fonts, print sizes, how books are listed (author vs title), etc. With a jack-of-all-trades device, this means the app lets you not only change fonts and sizes but also background colors, font colors, where the books are stored (internal vs external memory), and screen brightness.

Navigation: Reading a book should not take work. The UI should be simple and easy to understand, key actions like bookmarking should be simple to find, and most importantly, exiting a book should save the last page read, even if it is not bookmarked. There should be little to no lag between page turns.

(image courtesy Kobo Books)

Review of the Worst eBook App In the History of Forever

These are basic usability benchmarks, and I plan to use them as my yardstick for future eBook readers I use and review here. Like many things, I couldn’t easily articulate these when I was using decent eBook readers, but I recently tested an eBook app for my new Android phone that was so dreadful I was able to define it best by what it couldn’t do well.

The app in question was Shortcovers, which is soon to be renamed Kobo Books. I sincerely hope as part of that rename comes a major overhaul of their Android application, because it had some major issues that made it nearly unusable. If I use my “eBook Scale” as a guide, it eeked out a 1/3, and I am almost grudgingly granting it the one point, its abject failure on the other two was so bad.

Content-wise, Shortcovers does a nice job. They have a mix of new bestsellers and public domain books, and adding books to your personal shelf is straightforward and easy. Sadly, that’s where the positive experience ends.

There is little to no customization available. You have a blindingly white background and a black, simple font, and that’s it. The settings only offer the option to switch from horizontal to vertical scrolling. Not terribly helpful, and if you want to read in the dark and enable an inverse night-view, or you want to turn down the blinding background, you’re out of luck.

Where it really, really, fall down is in navigation. It’s so terrible I’m honestly shocked that Shortcovers released the app as it is. The number one, cardinal rule of an eBook reader should be that it remembers where you were last reading. Shortcovers simply could not save where I had last read to; if I exited the app and re-entered, it dropped me back to my bookmarks, and that’s where I really saw red. The time-honored concept of a bookmark is that it marks where you were reading. Apparently, for Shortcovers, a bookmark marks what chapter you were on. So if you are, say, 15 pages into a 20 page chapter, and you realize you need to send an email, you need to finish the chapter or you’ll lose your place. Even worse, trying to quickly flip between pages is slooooooow, so even if you decide to just push through and finish your book (like I did), you are stuck doing this: flick, flick, wait, curse, flick, flick, wait, curse…

I plan on writing up a few mini reviews on the other Android options, like eReader and Aldiko, but for now, if you own an Android device, stay far, far away from Shortcovers and their sad excuse for an eBook application.

(Note: The only way to take a screenshot in Android appears to be by rooting the device; if I root my Droid or a screenshot utility is released I will update this review with pictures of the app.)

Did you get an eBook reader this holiday season? Are you loading up your shiny new smartphone with your favorite eBooks? Would you add anything to the “eBook Scale”? Share below!

5 Responses to " Basic eBook Standards "

  1. Allistair Lee says:

    GD: State of the eBook: Basic Standards

  2. Queena says:

    State of the eBook: Basic Standards | Gear Diary: Mobileread reported on a study that determined owners of dedi..

  3. Laura says:

    State of the eBook: Basic Standards | Gear Diary: With a jack-of-all-trades device, this means the app lets you..

  4. katie says:

    Free Reading !!! State of the eBook: Basic Standards | Gear Diary: They ha..

  5. […] application available at iPad launch. Now, Kobo is the company that rose from Shortcovers, and I slammed their Android app…but I’m willing to give them another chance. Mostly on the strength […]