One book, nine e-reader apps – Part 11
Summary and Conclusions
It’s been quite exhausting looking at and writing about these nine e-reader applications, but now I’m ready to draw my thoughts together. I think my major conclusion is that there is no one perfect e-reader app, and further, that the best e-reader to use depends on what you are reading.
For my taste, there’s no question that if I am reading a novel I would prefer to do it with Apple’s iBooks app. It’s by far the most comfortable and well-featured, and its page numbering system gives me a real and natural feel of where I am in the book. But the faux hard-cover book decoration becomes annoying after a while, and I would prefer to be able to see a clean white page and not pretend that I’m using something that I am not. This unnecessary nonsense is particularly inappropriate when one is reading a text-book or reference work, and it does reduce the amount of text you can see at a reasonable font size.
I also greatly dislike iBooks’ PDF mode, and would far prefer to use a dedicated PDF reader like GoodReader for reading office-type documents in PDF format.
When it comes to textbooks or reference works, I would prefer using Bluefire Reader, I think. And I would also use Bluefire in preference to the other apps I have discussed, should I be unable to use iBooks for some reason.
The one e-reader application I would go out of my way to avoid: Adobe Digital Editions on the desktop. It’s simply terrible to use and ugly to look at.
None of the apps I looked at would let you set layout options, font, and font-size on a per-book basis. I’m still waiting and hoping for someone to introduce this feature. It’s not a big ask, surely, just a small amount of data to be stored with each book, in just the same way that these applications store metadata such as title and author on a per-book basis.
The Elephant in the Room
But there’s an elephant in the room which I have been ignoring up until now. And that is that which e-reader you use is likely to be forced on you by where you bought a particular e-book. I’ve been able to ignore this very important issue up until now because I have been looking just at one book to which I own the rights, (my collection of SF stories Islands). This has enabled me to compare the same book in different e-readers without having to purchase, say, the iBooks version, the Kindle version, the Kobo Books version, and so on.
But, short of using suspect software to remove the digital rights management (DRM) from a particular book, the average iPad user is going to be stuck with having to use the appropriate reader app associated with the store where they bought the book. For example, I bought The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh from the Amazon Kindle Store. Regardless of what I think of the Kindle e-reader app on the iPad, I don’t have any choice – I have to read that book in the Kindle app. Similarly, I bought Beginning iOS 4 in the iBooks store. If I want to use the Bluefire Reader to read it – nope, tough luck! And this is probably why we have so many different e-readers available; each e-book retailer cranks out their own version because they want you to be locked into their store. (By the way, I wasn’t able to review Barnes and Noble’s Nook e-reader app because it’s not available here in Australia).
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a single great e-book reader for the iPad which was able to read books from every store? Or else if there was complete inter-operability between apps, so that you could read an iBook in the Kindle app if you preferred, or vice-versa? Alas, that’s not going to happen because of the entrenched interests of the book retailers.
The closest we come to such interoperability are with books whose DRM is based on Adobe’s Adept technology. Fortunately, outside of Apple and Amazon, most e-book retailers sell ePub format with this version of DRM. (Actually, I can’t believe I just wrote that – what would be fortunate would be if there was no DRM!)
For example, Kobo and Books on Board both sell books this way, and they are where I buy most of my e-books. Also, my local library will lend me books with Adept DRM. This means that, with a bit of work, I can read such books in Bluefire, which authenticates you against your Adobe ID; and you can read Kobo books in Bluefire. (For some reason however, Kobo refuses to read Adept-DRM books bought outside of its store). The ‘bit of work’ is that I have to plug my iPad into my computer, run iTunes, and drag and drop the ePub files into the appropriate application’s folder in iTunes. I’m hoping this will be a lot easier when Apple introduce its iCloud technology, but I’m not counting on it. And the less said about Apple’s petty insistence that e-book apps remove ‘purchase’ buttons linking to their associated stores, the better.
If you can get hold of DRM-free books from legitimate sources, or if you do somehow (illegally) remove the DRM from a book, then of course, the world is your oyster. DRM-free ePub books will open in iBooks, Stanza, Bluefire, Nook, Kobo apps on the iPad, or in Calibre or Adobe Digital Editions (yuk!) on your computer.
All of this just demonstrates to me how annoying digital rights management is to the normal, honest, customer. I’m sure it doesn’t bother pirates in the least. One day, perhaps, the publishers will realize this, like the record companies have done, and free us up from all this nonsense.