One book, nine e-reader apps – Part 3
iBooks – PDF Mode
It may seem like cheating to discuss iBooks’ PDF reader mode as a separate e-reader app. But it behaves and looks in many ways so different from the ePub reader mode that I think I can justify it. This will, however, be a rather shorter review than the previous one.
So how does iBooks in PDF mode differ from its ‘normal’ ePub reader mode?
As I’ve mentioned before, in order to ensure a fair comparison between apps, in this series, I’m using my own collection of science fiction stories, Islands as a sample book.
Compared with iBooks’ normal mode, we immediately sense that the PDF mode is a different beast. It’s colder, more clinical. We no longer have the warm colors, we’ve lost the faux hardcover book trimmings. It just feels like this is no longer a mode in which we will enjoy relaxing and reading on the couch, but instead it’s more a mode we would use to look at a report from the office.
The look of the page, its headings, page numbers, the line spacing, margins, and so on, are all those of the original PDF document, and are not modified in any way by iBooks.
Page turning works, as usual, by tapping the left or right margin. But the transition or page turn effect in PDF mode is much more jarring than the swift peel effect you get in normal mode. The whole page kind of judders to the left or right. I don’t know why it’s not smooth, nor really why the same peel effect couldn’t be applied. As I say, it seems like PDF mode is a whole different app.
Controls and Settings
If you touch the center of the page, the controls come up at top and bottom. But rather than seeming part of the book as in iBooks’ normal mode, these controls float above:
The controls at the top are: Go to Library / Table of Contents / Actions / Brightness / Search / Bookmark this Page.
Note that we now (unlike normal mode) have an Actions drop-down menu, which allows us to email or print the document. I suppose this makes sense if you are thinking that PDFs are always ‘office’ documents, unprotected by DRM. I guess Apple don’t want you emailing or printing DRM-protected novels, so that’s why we don’t get these controls in normal mode.
With controls showing, at bottom we see just one navigation control – a squidgy array of tiny reproductions of the pages in the PDF, which we can run our finger over to navigate through the book. It’s not as nice as the normal-mode control, though, and there’s no way of jumping back where we came from. Personally, I think the page reproductions are too tiny to be of any value.
Again there’s no way to go to a particular page number directly.
The search in PDF mode works pretty much the same (and as well as) the search in normal mode.
Table of Contents
The Table of Contents view is plain weird in PDF mode, in my opinion. By default, you get an array of thumbnails of the individual pages:
There is a button, however, to take you to a simpler textual list. Again, though, the colors and background texture are very cold and severe. Are PDFs so much less welcoming than ePubs? Apple certainly seems to want to make it so.
The Library View is pretty much the same as in normal mode.
Note though, that I had to add the cover back in to the PDF conversion which Smashwords did of my book. Apparently PDFs aren’t supposed to have attractive covers. But regardless of that, notice how iBooks treats the cover image as though it were a spiral bound report, compared with the slight apparent indenting it does to ePub books, making them look like hardbound books. There’s definitely a philosophical issue here at the heart of Apple’s treatment of PDFs. That’s a pity, because some novels still seem to be only available in PDF format – the copy of Outlanders on my shelf, for example, is borrowed from my local lending library, but was only available as a PDF. And a novel with a spiral bound cover just looks odd.
There seem to be none of the extra features of iBooks available in PDF mode, which seems an odd omission. Nothing happens if you hold your finger down on a word in a PDF document in iBooks. You can’t highlight the word, make a note, look up a dictionary definition, or search for that word. Compare and contrast this with the wealth of features available in the GoodReader app when viewing PDFs.
PDF mode in iBooks seems like the poor cousin. It certainly forces the idea on you that PDFs are not for casual reading, but are cold office documents or reports. Yet features which might be useful for such documents, such as highlighting or adding notes are simply not available. Definitely an area which Apple could improve.