Six Clicks: Top ebook apps for iPad

Six Clicks: Top ebook apps for iPad

Summary: Apple's iPad has arguably become the ultimate ebook reading platform, with several prominent reader apps that are now supported on the device. Here's the lowdown so you can make the best choices in which ebook app software to use on your iPad.

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TOPICS: iPad, Tablets
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  • Top ebook reader apps for iPad

    Since the iPad's introduction in early 2010, it has quickly become one of the most popular platforms for reading eBooks, simply due to the variety of content providers which have written applications for the device.

    However, the average iPad user may not be aware of features or limitations in the various ebook reader apps available on the App Store, so I'm going to try to boil this down so that you can make the appropriate choices which best fit your reading lifestyle.

    As of June of 2010, Apple has imposed restrictions on its App Store as to how ebook reader applications can distribute content.

    As a result of these changes, many of the applications listed in this article are no longer capable of buying content directly from the application, and can only act in a "receiver" mode where content is purchased outside the application (such as by using the iPad's built-in Safari browser or browsing using your personal computer) and then synchronized to the ebook reader program.

    While this is not by far an exhaustive list of ebook reader apps for the iPad, these are the ones that made our short list.

    See Also:

  • iBooks

    By virtue of being Apple's preferred book-reading platform, iBooks has quickly become one of the most popular ebook reading applications for iOS. iBooks runs native on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, giving it some of the largest consumer reaches of any ebook reading platform available.

    While there is no doubting iBooks' success in terms of its widespread use, compared to all of all the other reader applications we've looked at, it actually has a lot of functional deficiencies.

    Apple originally designed iBooks to behave and act like a real book, and focused more on the aesthetics and UI than actual App functionality.

    One of the main benefits of iBooks is that unlike the two other major ebook reading applications, Kindle for iPad and Barnes & Noble e-Reader, iBooks supports syncing of DRM-free EPUB and PDF content directly to the iPad thru iTunes.

    This is an excellent feature, but essentially locks the user down to using iTunes as the primary data transfer mechanism and thus requires a host PC or Macintosh in order to maintain the library.

    Additionally, EPUB and PDF content synced into iBooks' library is not accessible by other e-Reader applications. Generally speaking, every e-Reader app for iPad maintains its own separate database, and is not compatible with each other.

    Unfortunately, iBooks doesn't scale very well as the size of your EPUB library increases. While iBooks is perfectly fine for a few dozen or perhaps a hundred or so books purchased from the iBooks Store or synced into iTunes, it is extremely unwieldy once you approach 300+ titles loaded into the database.

    In casual testing we uploaded over 1,000 full-length EPUB novels to iTunes which we synced to the iPad. We encountered a number of connectivity/timeout issues with the iBooks sync on Windows, plus we discovered that iBooks performs badly when browsing in "Bookshelf" mode when many titles have been loaded into the application.

    We found that the less aesthetically-pleasing "list" mode actually works better for browsing a large content library. Although the third, fourth and fifth-generation iPads are much faster than the original iPad and the iPad 2, caching that many titles into the database still causes the app to perform very slowly, so I wouldn't recommend using iBooks for storing your entire personal library in EPUB format.

    While Apple has made a number of performance improvements to iBooks in the four years since its introduction I'd still say that the iBooks software isn't as sprightly as the others on this list.

    The aesthetic focus of iBooks is also in my opinion one of its most serious weaknesses. Much time has been spent by Apple's developers on how the app looks in terms of eye-candy and very little time was spent on how well the application works for actual text reading.

    The current version of iBooks has 3 color schemes (black on white, sepia, and inverted white on black) and seven font variations.

    Although iBooks got a major overhaul for iOS 7 by elimination of skeumorphism from the UX, there is still no way to set iBooks to maximize the most use of screen real estate and adjust margins. Four years after release this is a huge peeve.

    One thing that iBooks does that many of the apps on this list cannot do is have embedded interactive content. Most if not all of these are created using Apple's iBooks authoring tool that is specific to Apple's platform.

    Many of these books are educational texts, and I haven't seen much in terms of fiction and non-fiction titles or even magazines that make use of these features. As of this writing the "Made for iBooks, Our Recommendations" section is pretty slim picking, a whole 55 titles total.

    This isn't to say there aren't a lot of iBooks Author-optimized titles in their catalog if you include the educational texts, but as far as showcase works, obviously not a whole lot.

    Also Read: The ultimate ebook on hurricanes is an iPad exclusive

    Still, by far iBooks' best asset is the iBooks Store, which has a familiar interface similar to the App Store. It's very easy to search for content and you can get free reading samples for just about every book in the store before you decide to purchase.

    Because it is Apple's official eBook reading application, it is also now the only one which offers an integrated bookstore.

Topics: iPad, Tablets

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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7 comments
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  • Other file formats in Kindle app

    Perhaps not entirely accurate: "You can't import other file formats into it (such as PDFs or .MOBI files)..."

    You can email a number of different document formats to a kindle email address that you choose for yourself and assign to a device: username@kindle.com. Presto - the document will appear in the Kindle app on your device.
    dms666
  • As Jason pointed out for iBook collections, there is a substantial textbook

    section to choose interactive ebooks from. (Really, they are almost too numerous to cite in this post but for those interested, I suggest a visit to the online iBook Store to browse.)

    However, although Jason is correct in stating that there is a rather slim choice available in Apple's own iBook section entitled "Our Recommendations", (currently around 57 books), there are other iBook categories that contain many useful ebooks excluded from the "Our Recommendations" section.

    Those iBook sections and the number of books listed inside each are given below.

    Arts & Entertainment: 80 iBooks (I sort of like "The Hobbit" and "Frankenweenie" myself)
    Food and Cooking: 43 iBooks (How could Jason not comment on this section? Grin)
    Children's: 51 iBooks
    Science & Technology: 34 iBooks (Not necessarily included in the iBook Textbook section)
    Travel Guides: 17 iBooks
    Education & Reference: 43 iBooks

    Actually, for a format (iBooks) that was only introduced four years ago and it's authoring tool, "iBooks Author" that is, itself, only two years old, quite a few quality ebooks exist using this format.

    Considering all the bad press this particular format has had recently (both judicial and "religious" open vs closed propriatory format wars that have been created over this issue), iBooks have become a valuable assest for consumers and authors alike, IMO.
    kenosha77a
    • Just so we are clear

      I'm referring to iBooks that are exploitive of the iBooks Author tool and make heavy use of embedded interactive contend. Not just the regular EPUBs with pure text that it has which more or less matches what Kindle has.
      jperlow
      • I understand. I only referred to ebooks in the Mac iBook store that

        were annotated with the blue box icon labeled "Made for iBooks". Again, that blue icon is seen in the OS X Mac iBook store section.

        Of course some of those ebooks (or many - I'm not sure) may not use every feature of the iBook Author tool set but it has been my experience that most of the text books I have audited do.

        And I know "Frankenweenie" - the ebook based on the animated movie - does. Grin.
        kenosha77a
  • Inaccuracies

    Mr. Purlow misstates some critical facts in his piece:

    First, Kindle content purchased from sources other than Amazon can be displayed in the Kindle library on an iPad. If I download an eBook from Manybooks.net or Gutenburg.org, for example, and specify the Kindle format (either AZW or .mobi) once the book is downloaded to my PC, I can email it to my Amazon email account with "Convert" in the subject line. Almost immediately the title will appear in my Kindle library on Amazon's website.

    If I want to have the book available in my Kindle inventory on the iPad, I instruct Amazon to copy the book to that location. A few minutes later the book will appear there, and I can read the book using my Kindle app.

    Another inaccuracy is Mr. Purlow's statement that content for other ePub reader apps cannot be read on the iPad unless purchased through the vendor's website. Again, using Gutenberg or Manybooks.net as examples, if you use your iPad browser to download a free book from these sites, you only need to specify "ePub" when choosing the dowload format.

    Download it to the iPad, and when it is completed, a pop-up screen will ask which application you wish to use to open the book. It works with the Sony reader, Nook and with Kobo as well. You can also specify iBooks if you wish. I haven't tested it with Google Playbooks app, so I cannot say about it.

    Furthermore, if you leave the popup screen active after downloading it to your desired reader, you can return to it and and download another copy to any of the other ePub reader apps you have.

    The only downside to reading with these "foreign" apps is that the imported titles will not be synced with your other devices on which the same apps resides. All of them will sync only books and other material downloaded from their sites.

    Rayhendon: ereadingnews.com
    rayhendon
  • More inaccuracies...

    "iBooks supports syncing of DRM-free EPUB and PDF content directly to the iPad thru iTunes. This is an excellent feature, but essentially locks the user down to using iTunes as the primary data transfer mechanism and thus requires a host PC or Macintosh in order to maintain the library."

    This simply isn't true. Any PDF file that you can open in Safari or download via DropBox can be opened in iBooks *without* access to any sort of desktop computer.

    If you can open a PDF file in Safari or DropBox then you just have to tap on "Open in..." or "Open in iBooks" for the file to be copied to your iBooks collection and opened. (Of course, your iBooks can be backed up to iCloud wirelessly.)

    There is no need for a copy of iTunes, nor any need for a desktop PC.

    I have not tried doing this with EPUB books, but I'd be surprised if the same method didn't work just as well.

    "Additionally, EPUB and PDF content synced into iBooks' library is not accessible by other e-Reader applications. Generally speaking, every e-Reader app for iPad maintains its own separate database, and is not compatible with each other."

    Is that the fault of Apple for not accommodating their competition or Kindle for not accommodating Apple formats, or ...?

    "While iBooks is perfectly fine for a few dozen or perhaps a hundred or so books purchased from the iBooks Store or synced into iTunes, it is extremely unwieldy once you approach 300+ titles loaded into the database."

    Again, you do not need iTunes.

    I am also dubious about the accuracy of the claim about the number of titles. I have more than 200 titles on my iPad, and still more in the cloud, and my (64gb) iPad works without noticeable delays.

    I am also unclear about why anyone would want to have 300+ titles on an iPad. I know I could delete most of the titles that I have currently have on my iPad: the icons of deleted books remain in iBooks, with a little down arrow to show that I still have a copy in the cloud. If I need a book again, I can download it again in one or two minutes. (The gigabyte, full multimedia 'books,' that use every trick in the iBook arsenal (movies, animations, voice, interactive charts and text) can take longer, but most people would be lucky to fit 50 such books onto their iPads!)
    Slurry
  • *** You can add .mobi files ***

    In iTunes, click Device > Apps (Tab) > File Sharing (At Bottom of Apps Tab) > Kindle.
    There you can drag any .mobi files for syncing to the devices you own. Only thing is, if it's not bought through Amazon, you're devices won't sync where you are in the book, you have to manage that yourself.
    SStap