E-readers will be big business this year judging by the early success that both Amazon and Barnes and Noble have had with their respective e-readers. Add to that the iBooks functionality of the iPad, and there is a plethora of gadgets available to read on. But investing in a custom reading device can be expensive, and if you’ve already got an iPhone or iPod touch you can easily shop around and try your hand at e-reading before shelling out on a dedicated device.
With e-reader apps you’ve got two choices. The first is you buy the book and e-reader software as a package. The second and, in my opinion, better option is to get a dedicated e-reader app and then get your books within the app. Going this route means you can use the same app with each book rather than relearning an app each time you begin a new book.
While the iPad’s iBooks app is due to arrive on iPhones later this year with the release of iPhone OS 4.0, there are already a number of options available. Thanks to the competitive nature of the industry most of the e-reader apps do much the same thing, but some have nicer features than others which make consuming digital text easier.
For a comprehensive look at the category go the ‘Books’ section in the App Store. To find the apps mentioned here, just search for the name in the App Store.
Kindle for iPhone (free)
I’m a big Kindle fan and the Kindle app for iPhone is the perfect complement to the dedicated Kindle device (which I own). Any book you buy on Kindle is available to read on both the Kindle device and on the iPhone app.
The Kindle app has plenty of ways to customise your reading experience. For instance, you can read in both landscape and portrait mode and choose from three different background colours – white, black and sepia.
To move between pages you can swipe or tap on either edge of the screen and the page will gently turn. To begin with this can be cumbersome but after a few pages you forget you’re doing it.
Amazon, which makes the Kindle, also has the largest selection of e-books, boasting well over 400,000 titles.
Unfortunately, due to restrictions that Apple places on in-app purchasing, to buy Kindle books you’ll need to use MobileSafari.
Amazon has optimised its Kindle store to work well in MobileSafari, and once you make a selection you can either buy the book or get a free sample. Either choice gives you an option to relaunch the Kindle app, and after a quick update you should be able to view your selection within the app and start reading almost instantly.
Kindle for iPhone also has other nice features, such as the ability to keep books in sync. For example, Kindle will remember the page I am up to on both my dedicated Kindle reader and the Kindle iPhone app and keep the two in sync. The same goes for any notes or bookmarks I make. This lets me do serious reading on my Kindle, but also ‘snack’ reading on my iPhone when I leave my Kindle at home.
Stanza, also owned by Amazon, lets you buy popular new books (albeit from a much smaller catalogue of 50,000 titles) or download up to 50,000 free classics and original works from sites like Project Gutenberg and Feedbooks.
The app also lets you transfer your own ePub, eReader, PDF or Mobipockets books from your computer using the companion Stanza Desktop software.
Stanza works much the same way that Kindle for iPhone works but also features a CoverFlow-like browse layout that lets you easily flick through your books.
Eucalyptus rose to fame when Apple famously decided to reject the app on submission due to the fact that it let you browse and download free titles like the Kama Sutra. Apple deemed the app too explicit for public consumption.
Fortunately that’s all behind us now and you’ll find Eucalyptus a pleasure to read with.
Eucalyptus only focuses on freely available books but presents them in a beautiful visual interface and makes downloading them a cinch. The simulated ‘book library’ lets you browse through books, and within two taps the book is downloaded locally into the app.
Once you’ve started the book, turning pages is as real as you’ll get on an iPhone. Like iBooks on the iPad, as you flick your finger across the screen the pages literally get picked up and flicked over. It’s a true work of art.
Unfortunately Eucalyptus is missing some options like the ability to change background colour, but it does let you resize the text by using the standard pinch-to-zoom gesture.
This article originally appeared in the March issue of Australian Macworld magazine.