Books without Boundaries

For those of my readers looking to finish the review, finish their coffee and get on with their lives I offer the following preview:

Kindle for iPad takes top honors among iPad readers at least for now:

  • Kindle keeps books synced on multiple devices (hence the title of this blog entry)
  • Kindle’s interface is gorgeous
  • Kindle has good note taking and annotation capabilities
  • Kindle organizes your library for you

A few small quirks plague the app:

  • The touch screen is buggy
  • Kindle wont allow you to copy text in the public domain
  • Kindle doesn’t track page numbers

If you actually read these reviews, however, you would know by now that I embrace many more topics including: a correction to a comment in a previous blog, why certain interface designers should go back to interface college, the joy of eBooks in general, the possible role of digital screen shots for source citations, Bibles, Bible study, ungrateful friends who receive your gifts in the wrong spirit, and why, on the other hand, my sisters and I had good reason to dread the arrival of a certain annual Christmas present which in most homes would seem quite benign. Oh, and I take a gratuitous jab at Dan Brown, who did nothing to deserve it other than to waste my time with his latest book.

Product Plug: Since this is a review of one of the leading e-reader programs, I want readers to know that Barnes and Noble finally released their iPad reader. Furthermore, for the next three weeks, iPad users who download the reader will get a free eBook each week. Just take your iPad with the app to the local Barnes and Noble for the download code.

I would have notified you at the beginning of the promotion (late May) had Barnes and Noble emailed me with a release notice. I am a member, and I haven’t blocked them as spam since you can’t block spam on the iPad. But for some reason they decided not to clue me in to the BN reader release, maybe because they already knew I switched to Kindle reader.

Kindle it is

First of all, let me be the first to admit that I can make a mistake. I made a mistake when I complained that iPad Mail has no “Save as Draft” feature. It turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong. I should have said, iPad doesn’t have a documented “Save as Draft” feature.

So if you’re typing an email and you need to “Save as Draft” you can do so at any time. Just don’t look for a “Save as Draft” command. Or look in the iPad User Guide to figure out how to do it. All you need to do is click, “Cancel.” As soon as you cancel, Mail asks if you wouldn’t rather save your draft.
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Mail’s undocumented “Save as Draft” feature

This should be so obvious, you don’t need documentation (and many of you will figure it out by accident anyway). After all, whenever I want to save something the first thing I think to do is click “Cancel.” It would never occur to me that “cancel” might mean “lose all your work to this point because you are going to stop what you’re doing and undo what you’ve already done.” Anyone with a rudimentary grasp of the English knows that “cancel” means, “commit to this.”

You would think that somewhere in the Apple review process someone would have said, “Wait, won’t readers think ‘cancel’ will erase all their work and not touch it?” It isn’t as though Apple was the source of volumes and volume of interface guidelines in the eighties and the pioneer of user friendly interface design. Apparently, however, they didn’t.

Nonetheless, I retract my criticism and have already updated the blog entry. Even though it chaps my grammatical ass, you can save drafts by canceling them.

Now I can pick up the discussion I intended to start:

If you already have a Kindle (or a Nook) or any of those digital e-readers devices, you might not want to read today’s blog. There are two possible reasons for this:

  1. You may think, I have a Kindle so why would I need to buy an iPad just to use the Kindle app, or
  2. You will realize that you really need an iPad but you already blew a wad on your Kindle. So you don’t want to think about how miserable you will be for sticking with your Kindle reader. Nor will you want to buy the iPad and regift your Kindle to someone who has no ereader at all because the regiftee will most likely be one of those ungrateful souls who will resent the gift because you didn’t give them the iPad and keep the Kindle for yourself.

Those readers who aren’t locked into a long-term marriage with their Kindle device might want to read on.

I bought my iPad because I finally found an ebook device worth shelling out hard cash for–an ebook device that is actually a portable computer with ebook capabilities. Before I pre-ordered my iPad, however, I researched it to see if the only reader would be the heavily promoted iBook. I was hoping that other ereaders would support the iPad as well. Carol and I have a huge library of Kindle, Barnes and Noble and eReader1 books for our iPhones, and I didn’t want to start our collection over again.

I found a couple of articles that said Kindle and Barnes and Noble were planning to release their software for the iPad the day the iPad shipped. eReader was supposed to update too, but at a later date. Only Kindle was ready when the iPad was delivered. Barnes and Noble finally released their app at the end of May and eReader keeps promising to deliver an app but doesn’t. I mention this because the iPhone eReader app looks terrible on an iPad, and that doesn’t even matter because it won’t let me log on to download my library anyway.

I’ve used both Kindle and iBook for two months and compared them head to head. I’ve glanced at the BN reader. The three programs all function well and sport a number of features in common. If one has a title the others don’t carry, the store will get my purchase. In the end, however, I will probably use Kindle for reading and research. Furthermore, I can say unequivocally that if you intend to carry books on multiple devices, Kindle should be your reader of choice.

Syncs across devices

Kindle has one feature that no other reader shares. You can carry a book on five different devices and whichever device you choose to read from at this moment, the app take you to the last page you read. This means I can be reading Dan Brown’s exciting adventure The Lost Symbol on my iPad at home, find myself bored to tears while waiting in line at the store, whip out my iPhone and pick up right where I left off.

Oh, wait, I did read The Lost Symbol and it the line at the store was more exciting. Fortunately, Carol can read it if she wants to and it will ask her if she wants to advance to the farthest location–the location I last read–or start at the current location on her iPad. The Kindle can perform this amazing feat because some wireless database in the digital ecosphere remembers and keeps track of every device.

Ordinarily I would associate that level of data collection with Big Brother and the rise of the Apocalypse. In this case it’s pretty neat.

Amazon hasn’t worked all the wrinkles out. If Carol and I want to read the same book at the same time we can pretty much pick up where each of us left off as long as we read it on the device we used when we started reading. But if we want to both read the same book on all four devices, we’re never going to know where we left off last.

If I jump to a footnote, or read the glossary at the back of the book, which I had to do with Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, then there’s no way I’ll be able to jump back and forth between my iPad and iPhone. Nor does Kindle sync bookmarks across devices.

On the other hand, it’s a free app. In addition, it’s the only app I’ve found that syncs locations. Think of it as a baby app on a baby device with only toddler brothers and sisters. I’d be happy if it was potty trained.

Elegant reading interface

I’ll admit that this preference is a matter of taste, but I personally feel the Kindle has the most elegant interface of any ereader app I’ve seen. It has more text customization options and once you start reading, all interface elements disappear. All you see is the page, and it’s usually a gorgeous page.

Kindle also keeps you focused on a single reading page no matter which angle you turn the device. I wouldn’t mention this except that iBooks, in its attempt to design a “real world” appearance, splits the page into two panels when the iPad flips to landscape mode. The pages even curve inward toward the center and draws a seam between pages so that it looks like you’re reading both sides of a book.

That has to be about the stupidest interface idea I can imagine. An iBook isn’t a book. It’s an ebook. The dual page design is inelegant and distracting by comparison to Kindle, and I find a have to reduce the type size whenever I rotate the iPad so that huge gutters don’t run down the pages.

Kindle and iBooks in landscape orientation

I will cover this in more detail when I review iBooks.

Note taking features

Kindle also allows you to both highlight text and write notes in the digital margins. Just about every ereader app lets you highlight, but Kindle actually keeps track of notes, highlights and bookmarks. This means you don’t have to scroll through every note to decide whether or not you made an annotation to the text or you were simply marking your place (iBook).

You can annotate passages in Kindle’s convenient note window

Unlike iBooks, Kindle distinguishes between notes, highlights and bookmarks

This is a wonderful feature for students and researchers because you can also refer back to your notes and copy and paste into papers. Sadly, because of copyright protections, no ereader software allows you to copy copyrighted text so you still have to type those entries by hand.

I was thinking though, as an alternative, perhaps students at least could persuade their teachers to accept screenshots of the passage pasted into their reports. Professionals wouldn’t have that option since the citations have to be reset, but I can’t see any reason to deny the option to students. I think it should become a documented option in the MLA, Turabian and Strunk and White.

I’m sure there will be any number of screenshot pasting resistant college professors, but, hey, some colleges allow PowerPoint presentations now. Or maybe that’s the professors doing the PowerPoint. Whichever, in my experience, colleges always catch up with technology in ten or fifteen years (at least, they catch up with technology from fifteen years before).

Kindle’s note taking is also a great feature for people who like to mark up their Bibles but hate the thought of defacing the Word of God. (Don’t deny it. I know there are some of you out there). Now you can mark up your Kindle Bible and keep your leather bound version pristine for family outings.

Or, in my case, I can carry my Kindle Bible unmarked in my iPad and nobody will know the difference. (If you sense a 90 degree digression coming on, you’re probably right.)

You see, I was raised Baptist. Worse than Baptist. I was a BPK–Baptist Preacher’s Kid–which is just about the worst kind of PK designation to acquire. In my family you didn’t want to keep your BIble pristine, especially not if you took it out in public. Appropriate BIble attire included a BIble that looked like you poured through it and anguished over every verse. The only sign of care you could show for your Bible was your BIble cover, but that had to be stuffed with pencils, notes and bookmarks.

Let me tell you, brother and sisters, BPKs had it tough because we were under everybody’s scrutiny. Every slip we made let someone else’s kid off the hook. Every time we even wobbled on that straight and narrow path, that moment was recorded by someone and brought up whenever my father asked for an increase in salary. And our Bibles were the badges of our walking the path.

“Let’s see that, Bible,” the deacon (who secretly lobbied for liquor by the drink in the county so he could serve cocktails at his restaurant) would say. He’d thumb through the tattered pages and say, “Looks like you skimmed through the book of Hebrews. I thought your daddy would teach you better.”

“Oh, my would you look at this,” the deacon’s wife would say to my sister. This would be the deacon’s wife who started the diet pill exchange with the other deacons’ wives. “You’ve been reading the Song of Solomon. Isn’t that a little racy for a pretty young thing like you?” (Of course, it’s the deacon’s wife who would be blushing.

This made it tough for me in high school, a time when I believed it was better to coast for a B than work for an A (an attitude I wished more students would have taken when I taught college and had to grade their papers). Every Christmas each of the kids would get a brand new Bible from our Presbyterian grandmother, who couldn’t understand why we took such poor care of the Bibles she gave us the year before.

Because of these wonderful Christmas gifts, each year my sisters and I had to go in the back yard as soon as grandmother left, then scuff the covers on the driveway and rub dirt in the corners to make them look scruffy and used. Once the outsides of our Bibles were done, we had to go buy highlight markers by the bag and stay up all night highlighting passages and writing random stuff in the margins.

You might wonder why we didn’t just read our BIbles, but the answer should be obvious. That’s a big book. If we took the time to read it, we wouldn’t have time to mark it up.

Besides, when you’re a BPK you don’t have to actually read the BIble to know all the important verses. We heard them every Sunday at the noon and evening services (from the front row where BPKs were required to sit), at Wednesday night prayer meeting, three times a year during revival, during every Billy Graham TV Crusade when we had to switch over from the Monkees or The Man From Uncle (and that didn’t go over well because my sister Beth lived and breathed her love for Illya Kuryakin so completely she named her cat after him), and even at the dinner table whenever our conduct reminded Dad of a verse from Proverbs or the Beattitudes.

By the way, whatever kind of Bible you want to read, you can get it for your Kindle. You can download the NIV, ASV, NAV, NSAB, ESV, CSB, the out of date RSV and its younger cousin NEB. You can buy the CPAP, ASAP, CYA and Douay-Rheims translations. You can even buy or download for free six or seven versions of the King James Bible which I once heard an evangelist swear was the BIble the Apostle Paul carried on his missionary journeys. Your Kindle reader, as soon as its loaded with your iPad BIble(s), will be guaranteed to keep you on the path of righteousness wherever you go.

Unless you’re an atheist or Episcopalian like my brother-in-law Jim, who’s a priest. But don’t worry. There are plenty of good books for you to read too.

Keeps track of recently read books

Kindle also keeps the book you last read at the top of your library. It also keeps the book you opened before that next on the list. This can be very convenient for someone like me who carries a lot of books around. It might not seem important until you also carry a large library in iBooks where you have to manually move the book you’re reading to the top of the shelf. It’s a little thing, but it’s worth mentioning.

I’m noticing that Jenny Manytoes is getting antsy. She wants to make biscuits on the Kindle and leap of my shoulder to find some food. But there are a few small things she has to mull over first.

You can’t copy text from public domain documents

This may seem like a small thing since you can’t copy copyrighted materials from any ereader. However, iBooks does even let you copy text from public domain works to the clipboard. So if you do research involving older texts, iBooks will be your app of choice in this one area.

Pagination is wonky

Seriously. It’s hinky wonky. I mean downright weird. Kindle doesn’t count pages, it seems to count paragraphs. It does give you an estimate of the percentage of the book you’ve read, but no answer to the question, “yes, but I’ve read twenty percent of how much?”

Where am I in the book? Kindle’s page numbering makes it hard to know.

I grant you, this is a silly concern. After all, the number of pages in an ebook depends on the size of the text you choose for reading. And, when you think about it, an ebook doesn’t have pages. The words shift from page to page depending on the size of the window and the device you’re using. Still, other ereaders create the illusion of page numbers and I just feel a little weird each time I check the bottom of the page to see where I am.

Buggy touch screen

The ability to check the bottom of the page assumes, of course, that when I tap the top or bottom of the screen the menus will actually reappear. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen with the Kindle. Maybe it’s just me (although it isn’t me when I use other ereaders) but I can tap, double tap and pound on the screen and those damn menus won’t pop up. Two minutes later I can brush the bottom of the screen with my thumb, and there are all the options.

No search feature

Kindle seems to be about the only major book reader on the iPad without a search feature. Maybe they figure we don’t need one. Usually I don’t. But sometimes it’s nice to be able to find a word or a phrase in a reference book (or one of the twelve dozen Bibles I can download). That’s why the other apps do it.

Wait, let’s get back to Bible readers. They are undoubtedly going to buy a lot of Kindle downloads. Let me tell you, when you’re a kid in Baptist Bible camp and you’re doing a sword drill, which is what the counselors think Baptist kids like to do for fun,2 there is nothing more embarrassing than not knowing which book has that precious verse you need to find. With the iPad, all those church kids can type the verse in the search field and shine like the Christian soldiers they’re meant to be,

Books are expensive

Actually, all eBooks tend to be expensive given the fact that they cost next to nothing to reproduce and distribute. And most of the time, the price comparisons between Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iBooks are comparable for identical titles. But even Amazon’s bargain books seem to run a little bit higher than the other vendors.

No matter which vendor you prefer, I recommend carrying all three e-readers and shopping for the best price before you download any title. But if Amazon carries the title for the same price, at this point I tend to download it on the Kindle.

Jenny’s verdict

To be honest, Jenny Manytoes doesn’t actually make biscuits on my iPad apps. She sits on my shoulder and makes biscuits or purrs as she watches what I’m doing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, however, her behavior reflects my feelings. Except when she crawls off my shoulder and perches in front of my iPad and tells me its time to pay attention to her.

Usually when I read books with the Kindle app Jenny starts to make biscuits, but when I try to call up the menus or need to search for a phrase, she just stops and purrs. So I will declare that Jenny makes biscuits on the Kindle app, but its more like a grade of makes biscuits minus.

1eReader the app, as opposed to ereader the generic name for ebook reading software
2On the other hand, maybe the counselors were well aware of what we really liked to do and thought those sword drills would distract us.
They didn’t. Every night at revival we would sing the invitation “Oh, why not tonight?” and pair by pair those campers would realize that was a pretty good idea then sneak out to the woods as soon as the first distraction presented itself.

Jenny rates iPad Mail

Jenny Manytoes would cover this app in the litter box as quickly as possible.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
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