EReader for iPad limps to the starting gate long after the race is finished

For once I understand the desire to get to the bottom line, even if that means skipping my wonderful prose. Here’s the bottom line on eReader. Don’t bother.

If you have a lot of eReader books on your bookshelf you want to read, you can access them through Fictionwise in Stanza. Unless you really, really love your ancient eReader app (the way you still use your old Commodore 64 and replay those beloved 8 Tracks).

  • eReader looks amateurish at best
  • The “e” sure doesn’t stand for “easy” reader

In addition, I discuss the evolutionary history of a once proud piece of software and remind the reader why nostalgia isn’t always a good thing.

Remember what I said about developers
taking their time and getting it right?

I make this comment frequently about developers (Apple) who rush their product to market. But if you’re going to take your time, you really should get it right.

It’s a shame eReader even released an iPad version.

I waited for months to finally open all of the books I added to my eReader bookshelf over the years on my iPad and start to read them again.

I might also add that I was slightly miffed to find books I downloaded this summer on Kindle or iBooks were already on my eReader bookshelf. Some, like Stieg Larsen’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I purchased with eReader before I bought my iPad, and then—when I couldn’t finish it unless I wanted to go back to reading on my iPhone or drag out my laptop—went ahead and ordered again knowing I would eat the cost.

Others I simply ordered because I wanted to read them and I had given up even bothering to see if they were on my eReader bookshelf. In fact, it never even dawned on me to look because I figured eReader had simply given up on the iPad. Even Borders beat them out of the gate.

This is a shame because eReader may well be the oldest commercial eReader and—until the iPad—the most viable. Carol recalls an older reader called Peanut Press, but we can’t remember whether or not it was commercial. We do remember it didn’t last that long.

The eReader app survived just about every taker, however. You could download eReader for your Handspring Visor, your Mac, your PC and just about any other device long before the dedicated readers like Kindle were being pitched to investors.

Carol and I read hundreds of books on every device we owned and eReader remained our reader of choice through every one. I even preferred eReader iPhone over Kindle iPhone, partly because the books were a smidgen cheaper, partly because I found the interface slightly easier to read.

Then came the day my iPad arrived. One of the first things I did was check to see what readers were available and I found the new iBooks and Kindle. Kindle really blew me away, but I had a very small library of Kindle books.

There was no eReader for the iPad.

I downloaded iPhone eReader. After all, Apple said iPhone apps (most iPhone apps) would work in full screen mode on the iPad. What a disappointment to realize that this meant you could scale the apps and most would look terrible. eReader iPhone fell into that category.

One look at the free Fenimore Cooper book that came with the download made that clear. It reminded me of reading text on my old Mac Plus printed out in an off-sized font on an ImageWriter II. For those of you who don’t remember that experience, Apple shipped fonts for screen display in sizes 10, 12, 14, 18 and 24. With any other type size the screen or printer had to interpolated what they thought the pixels should look like, and the results were rarely pretty.

(Yes, purists, I know I’m condensing the story somewhat, and that software and printers don’t think, algorithms translate approximations. I also remember that there were a number of developers who offered fonts in odd sizes—of which there were perhaps two, including one called Boston, that were designed for optimal reading and printing. May I remind you that those were also the days when any one with a Mac could call themselves a designer, slap together a newsletter using fonts like Hobo and Bubble Gum, and take it down to a service bureau to be run on a Postscript Linotype imager and then whine about how bad that machine made their lovely newsletter look. And how would that crappy little newsletter look? The one with six fonts, including Zapf Chancery, and bitmap clip art? Better than James Fenimore Cooper looked in eReader iPhone at 2x size on the iPad.)

This was where the rationalization process kicked in. I thought to myself, I can live with this as long as I can read my books. And they’ll probably have the iPad version ready in a couple of weeks.

Then I tried to download books from my bookshelf. The eReader app said my account information was invalid. I immediately emailed eReader and included a screen shot of the alert dialogue. They emailed back saying it was probably an issue on Apple’s side.

I called the Apple Genius. After trying several options, he finally suggested I do a clean reinstall, which meant losing the settings I had already entered on all my apps. But there were too many books on my bookshelf for me to argue with him. I did a clean reinstall, and, guess what? (No, I’m kidding. You don’t have to guess, you already know.)

The next email from eReader assured me they were aware of user problems (too bad they didn’t admit this before I lost all my settings to a clean reinstall) and would have the problem resolved quickly.

When Carol and I bought our 3G iPad in June, two months later, they still hadn’t resolved the problem.

In July I discovered that Stanza could access my eReader bookshelf. I checked eReader. It was still waiting for my authorization code. So I downloaded the books I wanted to read into Stanza (discovering how many books I had forgotten were on the bookshelf that I’d since downloaded on my Kindle or iBooks).

Finally, a couple of days ago, they announced the eReader iPad upgrade. I didn’t know because I’d long ago deleted the iPhone version. But Carol was ecstatic.

So I decided to download the iPad eReader and see if they had really delivered a product that was worth the wait. You probably have surmised what my answer is.

eReader has moved from the forerunner app to the back of the line.

Like still at the starting gate warming up after the race has been called. That back of the line.

Like still waiting at the ticket booth three hours after the “sold out for all shows tonight” sign is posted.

Like the store clerk has told you thirty-seven times that the sale is over and he’s about to call the cops and you’re still asking if he can just look one more time at the back of the line.

Like the kickball game is over and everybody went home and you’re still waiting to be chosen for one of the teams at the back of the line.

Like the Rapture came and you got left behind and everybody else went to hell and you’re still wondering where everybody went to back of the line.

eReader actually has more features than the beautiful but shallow Borders and Kobo readers, but the overall look and feel is so disappointing I still have to give the two apps with window dressing the nod. Even Stanza, which resembles the older concept of shareware more than that of an app, makes the eReader look shabby.

One look and you’ll understand why. The eReader iPad app simply looks unprofessional. It’s as though they fired their quality control guy, or were in such a hurry to get it over with they didn’t even glance at the product to make sure they hadn’t missed anything glaring.

Sloppy Workmanship

The first thing you see when you rotate your device and try to access the tool bars (or menu bars) is that the text rotates but the menus don’t. The images below are not tricks. If you rotate your iPad 180 degrees the menus are upside down. If you rotate 90 degrees the menus rotate as well.

This goes against the basic principles of interface design. The tool bar should be constant.

I’m not playing with the iPad, the tools are sideways and upside down.

In addition, showing the tool bars is counterintuitive as well. You tap to turn pages, but swipe to reveal the tool bars. It took me a while to figure this out. If this were the first eReader app to the market they might be forgiven, but it’s not. The standard for showing toolbars has become accepted as a tap on center screen or at the very top or bottom. Ironically, even the eReader iPhone app follows this protocol.

I’m not saying developers shouldn’t innovate. If you can improve on interface design, by all means do so. But doing something radically different isn’t necessarily improvement.

The stranger part is, swiping isn’t really the way to access the tool bars. The way to access the toolbars is to make whatever gesture doesn’t turn the pages. If you decide you want to swipe the screen to turn pages, you can change the settings to do so. But then tapping becomes the method for revealing the toolbars.

It’s almost as though the eReader developers thought to themselves, let’s see how the other developers have readers access tool bars and then do something completely counterintuitive to that.

You choose the gesture to turn pages, eReader makes the opposite reveal menus.

Busy and crowded reading screen

One of the reasons books have margins is to make reading easier. Text that runs from margin to margin is incredibly difficult to read even when the type is legible. eReader, unfortunately doesn’t get this.

I suspect this is because eReader remains an iPhone app patched to stop reader complaints. (Or maybe we had stopped complaining because we all simply moved on, a thought that might have scared them even more.) On the iPhone, screen real estate was premium. Reading margins made no sense. And the small screen made scanning lines easy even without margins,

On the iPad, all that text running from screen border to screen border crowds the screen, especially at normal type sizes.

Normal-sized type crowds the screen

I thought the problem might be solved at larger sizes but I found that the screen still looks squeezed with all but the largest type size.

The text and crammed screen conveys a sense of claustrophobia. Eliminating full justification helps slightly, but not enough to make reading comfortable.

While she was proofreading, Carol pointed out that I was wrong about this. You can actually go into the settings, scroll almost to the bottom, and add margins. So why did I go ahead and include this rant? Because the “huge” margin setting is still pretty small. Even Carol agreed that the huge margin isn’t much of a margin at all. The rest of the margin settings? They’re so small I don’t see the point in bothering.

Normal-sized type crowds the screen

Is there anything good to say about eReader?

Not really, and I tried hard to find something. I’m going to be treating eReader exactly the way I treated the Borders and Kobo readers. I’m deleting it as soon as I finish this app.

Sometimes nostalgia wins out over practicality. Even today Carol, who had announced that eReader her preferred reader and would stay that way, finally had a chance to spend some time reading. She read the 200 page Colorado Kid. I told her I’d received an email announcing a 15 percent off sale on eReader books.

She told me, “I don’t think I’ll bother. You may have been right about eReader.” As for me, I don’t even need to ask Jenny Manytoes’ opinion. We’ll read the books we bought in eReader, but we’re not buying any new ones.

Jenny Manytoes rates eReader

Actually, I didn’t bother to show it to her. I 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.

iPad Envy is created entirely using apps from my iPad
iPad Envy.

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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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