Reading has become part of nearly every person’s life. Even if it’s just a quick glimpse at a sign when you’re walking through town or traveling about, you read things at least once a day. You were probably taught the alphabet and how to read a book when you were just a child, as most people were. Now, you’ve advanced to long novels like The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, among others. The only thing that’s changed about reading lately is the medium.
Before the release of e-readers and the iPad, people read tactile material, not PDFs or ePubs of their favorite books. Electronic books have become very popular lately, however. On an iOS device, there are a lot of ways to read books, but the two most popular are Amazon’s Kindle app and Apple’s iBooks. They both offer a good selection of the classics and New York Times bestsellers, but in all of iBooks’ existence, we at iPhone.AppStorm haven’t taken a deep look at the app. With its latest update, now is as good a time as ever.
More Than Just Reading
You’re probably thinking by now that this review is a waste since everyone already uses iBooks daily and they don’t need to hear about how good or bad it is. And you’d be right in saying that, if this review were focusing only on the main functionality of the app, but it’s not. Instead, I’m going to take a look at how the app can benefit from features like playing the audiobook while you’re reading and more. Of course, I will cover the main functionality—for those of you who need such information when comparing the iPad to other tablets and their e-reader apps — but only briefly.
Selecting: Highlight and Share, Take Notes and Search
When you select a bit of text in iBooks, you’re not presented with the traditional define, copy, cut and paste menu of iOS. Instead, there are some exclusive options available that provide different functions than any other iOS app.
Since highlighting is a big part of reading, it’s only fitting that Apple gives you the ability to do it in your digital books. You can select a word, sentence or even a whole paragraph and highlight it with yellow, green, blue, pink or purple. There’s also an underliner that puts a red line under the selection for less distraction. After you’ve done a highlight once, it remembers the color so you can tap, hold and drag to do it quickly. Just tap the word again and tap the circle with the red line through it to remove the highlighting or underline. Lastly, you can use the sharing icon in Highlight to quote something you’ve highlighted and publish it to a social network.
Students take a lot of notes when reading books for class — at least that’s what they should be doing. If you’re one of those note-takers, stop hopping from app to app and pull up Highlight. There’s a little notes icon: tap it. All you have to do now is write your thoughts on the sentence, or whatever it was that you selected. This can be especially useful if you’re supposed to remember a key fact and there’s a little something else that goes with it.
You’ve found an interesting word in one chapter, but need to locate it in another? Easy: select it, tap the right arrow and tap Search. The results page will show every page of the book that word is in. This feature can be used like Kindle X-Ray for finding a character in certain parts of the book, so experiment with it.
A lot of people claim they won’t purchase an iPad or use iBooks for reading because the selection isn’t as good as Amazon’s Kindle. I’m not going to start out by denying that, because it’s technically true. However, there are some dependencies that people don’t consider: mainly, what they will be reading. The availability of a book is contingent on how long it’s been out (many classics, for instance, are available free on the iBookstore), what genre it’s in, who the publisher is, and whether or not the author wants his book available digitally.
Considering those variables, it’s likely that a few books — Harry Potter, for example, which is available in an app instead of iBooks — won’t make it to your digital bookshelf. Is that bad? Well yes, if you happen to read the few books that aren’t available, but you can always go buy the Kindle version and use Amazon’s app to read it. I don’t recommend doing this though because the experience is far from polished, whether you’re turning a page or simply opening a book.
Textbooks for iPhone
iBooks 2.0 introduced well-designed textbooks for iPad users. This was a great thing and it gave many students the opportunity to use a small device for reading all their books on, versus the current solution of heavy paper books that take up an entire backpack. Unfortunately, it wasn’t — and still isn’t — available on the iPhone.
Obviously, you’re not going to sit in class, nor at home or anywhere else for that matter, reading your textbook on an iPhone. But what if you forget your precious iPad? It happens. You could fail that test or lose points for not reading in class. Everyone knows that no one forgets their phone when leaving the house, so why not use that to read your textbook? It’s already going to be with you, after all.
The Little-Known Feature: PDF Reading
The App Store offers a lot of ways to read Adobe PDF documents on an iOS device. There’s even one from Adobe itself. What most people don’t know, however, is that iBooks has the ability to read PDFs, just like Preview on a Mac. So if you have a large tutorial or school project that you need to finish reading, send it on over to your iOS device for a more relaxed environment. If it’s the wrong format, just open up a text editor on your computer, paste the text and export it as a PDF. Simple.
A Mac App is Needed
Apple is known for its universal compatibility; it’s recently brought apps like iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand to iOS along with bringing iOS design to OS X. In order to deliver an across-the-board experience, it’d only make sense for them to bring iBooks to the Mac. Sure, not everyone reads on their computers, but a lot of people do. And with MacBooks getting smaller by the year, more people will be using them for different daily tasks.
Right now, iBooks Author is the only OS X app that has any connection to Apple’s digital bookstore and reading app. It enables textbook publishers to make beautiful, rich digital content for students to read on iPads. That’s great for publishers, but it leaves all the consumers out in the cold. Even if reading on a Mac seems impractical to some people, many already do it, whether it’s in the form of browsing Facebook or using Amazon’s Kindle app to catch up on the latest novel. Apple is behind in this area, and Amazon has somehow been triumphant on the Cupertino-based company’s home territory.
Apple’s Experience Trumps Amazon’s — On An iPhone
Amazon has had a considerable amount of experience in the e-book business. It’s pretty much the pioneer of the industry. From its start as an online bookstore in 1993, the company has grown to offer every product imaginable on the Internet. It released the original Kindle in November 2007 in hopes of revolutionizing the way you read. The largest benefit of the device was that it held so many books and was still portable. This was the beginning of e-books for Amazon.
Apple came into the game in early 2010 with the introduction of a tablet, the iPad. It wasn’t an e-book reader, but rather a multipurpose device that was aimed at the PC generation. People now use it to read books, watch films, browse the Net and play games. Apple was three years late to the e-book revolution, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of the game entirely. The iBookstore has grown immensely since its release in April 2010 and it will surely keep growing.
If you think the main factor for your decision to get an iPad is iBooks, then you need to reconsider the purchase. There’s more to the tablet than just that and I really hope you don’t use it primarily for reading books. If that’s the case, then a Kindle will suit your needs much better. If, however, you enjoy the iPad or iPhone and can’t decide whether you want to give your book-purchasing money to Amazon or Apple, it’s best to choose the latter since the app is far better and probably always will be.