Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts

GearDiary Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts

Image taken from the Wayback Machine

In the beginning, there was Peanut Press . . .

Seriously, though; as you’ve probably noticed from Carly’s great postings, the eBook industry is . . . well, the polite way to put it is, “In flux.”  The less-polite way to put it is, “A big friggin’ mess.”  The same book cannot be read on different eReaders; paperbacks are cheaper than eBooks; eBooks are being delayed to give hardcover books a chance to sell more; books can be summarily deleted from your library without notice; and on and on.  It’s enough to drive you nuts.

My personal peeve is both the plethora of eBook readers available, and the fact that none of them (in my opinion) does the job quite right.  Let me tell you what I mean.

Let’s take an app that I thought did the job really well:  Barnes and Noble’s previous eBook reader, based on eReader version, the B&N eReader.

GearDiary Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts

This is a sweet app.  The reading page contains a very subtle bar at the bottom that both shows where you are, and shows the chapter markers.  The Home page is well-designed, giving you alphabetic access based on author, title, and “recent”.  You can shuffle stuff around based on genre.  There are any number of settings you can adjust, including (oh thank you, BookLord!) justification.  The handshaking between the app is clunky, yes, but as Carly has warned us, that’s going to be the case with a lot of eReader apps now that Apple is trying to put the hammer down.  Plus there’s the added benefit that it accepted PDB format files, which meant you could side-load any PDB books you already had, including those from eReader, which B&N had acquired.

GearDiary Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts

Look; in-app Wikipedia access!  (With sharper text than the app itself; don’t ask me why.)

Honestly, I loved it.  I thought it was a great choice, it kept their existing eReader customers from yelping too loudly, and the minor B&N tweaking they did was a good thing.  I can see in the Home screen how far into my book I am?  Cool!  I can see the chapter markers in the reading window?  Nice!  Etc.  I kept thinking that if they just built on that, B&N was going to be kicking ass, at least as far as eReader apps were concerned.  I was a little concerned when the iPhone 4 came out and the app wasn’t updated to take advantage of the new Retina display:

GearDiary Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts

You can see that the letters are, well, kinda thick and fat?  But that was a fairly minor quibble, honestly, one that I was figuring they’d fix shortly.  (See the cool status bar at the bottom?  Schweet!)

You know what the down side to this application is?  They abandoned it to use their new nook app, which (let’s not be too delicate here) kinda stinks.  Why does it kinda stink?  Let’s just say it has less functionality than their earlier app.  “Why?”, I hear you cry.  I don’t know, but my guess is “DRM”.  And this stinks in any number of ways besides the clunky interface, the slow opening speed, the irritating home page design.  No in-app Wikipedia access.  A much more confusing Home screen arrangement.  An even clunkier handshake with the online store.  (I still haven’t figure out what I need to do to get my books to download immediately like they do with the Kindle app–sometimes it takes hours!)  You can’t side-load your existing books because they’re in a different format.  Fewer viewing options.  No reading window progress bar with chapter markers.  Hell, in the previous rev (they just updated it last week) you couldn’t even tell what friggin’ time it was unless you quit the app entirely!

GearDiary Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts

(What’s up with wasting screen real estate on that “i” business?  I don’t info on a book I already bought!  And on an iPhone, where screen space is at a premium, it’s just wasteful.)

Good move, B&N; you jettisoned a really good app and forced us all onto a clunky one with less functionality!  Who makes the decisions at your company, anyway?  Satan?  And who designed your mobile web site?  You know what Amazon does after you’ve purchased a book?  They bring up a button on the “transaction completed” screen that says “Go to Kindle for iPhone”.  What does B&N give you to help you get back to your book?  Nothing!  Tough luck there, chum!

I hate to say this because there are many things about the iBook app I like, but based on the most recent updates, I am preferring the Kindle iPhone app to iBooks and nook. While I love iBooks’ in-app dictionary, it’s method to get to wikipedia–exiting the app entirely, with no way to get back!–is lame, while in Kindle it opens in-app (I wish I could link it to Wikipanion, but that’s life). I also vastly prefer the Kindle app’s home screen–it strikes me as nuts that Apple didn’t provide an alphabetic tab on the right side–they have it for Music, and for Contacts, why not for iBooks?  Once your library gets past a few books in iBooks, finding particular titles or authors is a real pain.  (And while that whole “bookshelf” view is nice eye-candy, it’s really not that usable, especially on an iPhone.)

GearDiary Why the eBook World Makes Me Nuts

(See what I mean?  You try finding your book on that “bookshelf.  If you’ve got more than a dozen books or so, good luck!  Oy.)

There’s more eye-candy in iBooks to be sure–turning a page, turning down the corner of a page, etc.–but that’s not enough to overcome a lack of functionality. And that’s too bad, because side-loading books into iBooks is dead easy if you have things in ePub format.  But Kindle has in-app Wikipedia access and a pop-up dictionary, and is just a better app.  Sorry, Steve; the iPad isn’t going to be a great reading experience if you neglect the app like this.

What’s the solution?  Frankly, I want one app that lets me read all my books, no matter what the app.  I am sick to death of trying to guess which app is going to be the best one to stick with, and even sicker of trying to remember which app I have a particular book in.  I mean, I have 15 readers loaded onto my iPhone right now.  15.  That’s ridiculous.  I’ve tried to keep the number I actually use down to 3 or 4, but it’s hard.  And how do you count them?  Does Instapaper count?  How about the New York Times iPhone app?  The Elements app?  Various comic book readers?  Zinio?  The various “Vooks”?  It’s a nightmare.

This is simply absurd.

So I have two cri’es d’ coeur here.  One is for app designers:  Design me an app to save me from this mess!  The other is for eBook publishers everywhere:  your DRM nonsense and inability to agree on a standard makes the eBook world a nightmare; knock it off!

[huff puff puff puff]  Okay, I’m done now.  But tell me what you think about this all below.  What are your favorite eBook readers, and why?  And then call publishers and yell at them, because they sure aren’t listening to me.


About the Author

Douglas Moran
Doug is a nerd from way back, falling for a Commodore PET at the age of 15, and never looking back. Riding the nerd wave, he got a Computer Science degree and entered the tech industry at a young age, deciding after a year and a half of front-line phone technical support that he should try something, *anything* else. He settled on technical writing, and has been cranking out documentation for companies like Unisys, SGI, Cisco, Juniper, and many others ever since. He is nothing short of ecstatic to be working for H-P from his home base in Austin.