Ebooks part I • 2 July 2010 • The SnowBlog
Ebooks part I
So I've been busy reading books via the Kindle software on my iPad for a couple of weeks now. And while it's not perfect, I don't see it being any sort of problem either. I read heaps of text-only non-fiction (the sort of titles that you'd buy in paperback) so I'm not referring to picture-rich coffee-table books here. But if I could only ever read paperback-style books this way, I don't think I'd mind - though I'd want them to do a lot better with the software.
I mentioned this before, but I'm amazed at how rough around the edges the Kindle app is. This is 2010 after all. They've had years to get this right and Amazon are far and away the market leaders in selling ebooks. Apple have their own iBooks app but Amazon have nearly eight times as many titles (=450,000) so if you're at all eclectic in your reading habits (which I am) then Amazon is the only realistic option. It has the titles I want and they're a cinch to buy and download. The drawback is that everything looks it was just transferred straight over from Word, without being typeset first.
Part of this is down to the iPad itself with its poor choice of fonts (a problem I linked to previously). Part of it is down to the Kindle app and the way it handles things like justification. Its justification options guarantee every book looks awful. To get the spacing between words looking nice you either have to hyphenate (i.e. break a word over two lines) or you have to let the right-hand edge of the text be a bit ragged. Most Kindle books do neither, preferring to open huge gaps between the words in order to keep both margins straight.
Given the sci-fi-ness of the iPad and the level of mature design it exudes, it's a real blow to the electronic book market to have many people's first experience of an ebook look like it's running on software from the Nineties. Ebooks are capable of amazing things - touch a word to look it up in Wikipedia - add a soundtrack - embed interactive illustrations - you could even make books intelligent. I picture, for instance, a spotter's guide to trees and animals which asks you questions to help you identify which specimen you've just encountered and then takes you to the right chapter. The iPad has just introduced around three million people to ebooks and it will have done so rather badly.