June 14, 2024

Why iBooks (currently) Suck

I bought a couple of iPads last weekend. I’ve already shared with colleagues how although I think it will be wildly successful in K-12 for all of the wrong reasons*, I’d buy one anyway because:

1.    I like new gadgets
2.    I like Apple products (since 1985 – prior to that I preferred Commodore)
3.    It’s my job to keep up with emerging technology
4.    My best friend has one
5.    I’m an adult with disposable income

I didn’t wait for the 3G model because I don’t want yet another stinkin’ AT&T bill. Had they come up with a fair plan for multiple devices, I would have jumped at it. I won’t even complain about 3G costing an extra $130 making the 64gb iPad the same price as a MacBook.

I harbored no illusions that the iPad would change my life like my laptop, iPhone or even iPod have done. Yes, the iPad is beautiful. Yes, the battery life is great. Yes, I feel less neurotic about losing or breaking it, as I do with my laptop. Now, I just have to figure out what to do with the iPad.

Go ahead. Call me an old codger, but I’ve been around eBooks/interactive books since the late 1980s. I still own a bunch of the groundbreaking Voyager Expanded Books. The Society of Mind, MacBeth, Who Built America?, The Rite of Spring, Poetry in Motion, Beethoven’s Ninth and Dazzeloids represent few of the examples of true commercial digital art ever created. It’s hard to think of any digital media that is better since those Voyager titles from nearly twenty years ago.

In 1991-92, I led countless workshops for educators on how to create their own interactive books using the Voyager Expanded Book Toolkit. Digital books would soon be widespread, right?

That said, I did not buy a Kindle because the design is ugly and I expected Apple to produce something better, an iPad perhaps? I love books. My house is filled with them. Had Amazon offered me the option of paying $2 extra and getting a digital copy of the physical book I ordered, I would have bought a Kindle. I recognize the value of carrying lots of books around in one device and the power of personal digital annotation. Whispernet is brilliant too. Anyone can use it, anywhere.

So, now I own an iPad. Oh, how I would love to use it as my primary way to read, but alas – not so fast!

Here are some of the reasons why Apple iBooks currently disappoint. I hope they get better quickly.

Steve Jobs is contemptuous of print

Mr. Jobs can be like that when he assesses the competition.

Today he had a wide range of observations on the industry, including the Amazon Kindle book reader, which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading.

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.” (1/15/08)

Further evidence of Jobs’ contempt for print is the fact that iPad owners have to wait for their iPad to ask them, “Would you like to download iBooks?” before the application is on the device. Why doesn’t the iBooks app come pre-installed?

I won’t even raise the specter of Jobs banning books from the iBooks Store because he disagrees with the content as he has done in the physical Apple Stores.

The iBooks catalog is pathetic
Although I hope that every book ever written will soon be available for download, the Apple iBooks store doesn’t even have relatively popular recent publications in it.

I know that I can (and did) download the Kindle App for iPad, but I didn’t buy an iPad to get a Kindle. Switching between two different book readers is a drag. Sheesh!

I eagerly await word from Apple that they are just as serious about publishing books for the iPad as they were in encoding YouTube videos for the iPhone.

Jobs must know how craptacular the iBooks Store is or otherwise he would have given Amazon the “Adobe-treatment” and forbidden a Kindle app for iPad.

Jobs hates Amazon.com so much that he’s letting publishers punish us
One of Steve Job’s greatest accomplishments was getting tough with the music and video companies and forcing them to charge a fair price for audio and video via iTunes. He single-handedly broke the cartel that was raising CD and DVD prices to absurd levels.

So, what’s the first thing Jobs does regarding written content? He tells publishers to go ahead and charge anything they want, not just the reasonable $9.99 per book pricing instituted by Amazon.

iBooks cannot be annotated
I hope this obvious omission will be rectified soon via a software update.  Surely, Apple would like to offer functionality customers came to expect from Hypercard 20+ years ago.

There are no magazines for subscription in the iBooks store
Surely, Apple knows that this is a potentially fertile revenue stream. I’d love to save some trees.

Amazon’s Kindle Store offers too few magazine currently. That’s still better than zero magazines available  from iBooks.

Are the books I purchased backed-up in the cloud?
Unless I’ve missed it, Apple has not indicated where my purchased books reside in case something goes awry with my iPad.

Why can’t I subscribe to a podcast on my iPad?
For a super-dooper mobile media device, I would expect that I could download audio and video podcasts directly to my iPad without requiring syncing with my laptop. Why can’t I do so? Shouldn’t the iPad make me less dependent on an old-school computer?

One more funny iPad observation… Apple is a company famous for protecting its intellectual property. Therefore, it seems peculiar that iTunes automatically copies my iPhone apps for use on my iPad as well. I know that I MAY have the legal right to maintain the software of two computers as long as I’m only using it on one, but how did Apple miss the opportunity to make me buy the same software twice?

Recommended reading: Ken Auletta’s 4/26/10 New Yorker article, Publish or Perish: Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book business?

* I will write an article on why the iPad is a bad choice for K-12 education at a later time.

Come to CMK 2010!

8 thoughts on “Why iBooks (currently) Suck

  1. “I won’t even raise the specter of Jobs banning books from the iBooks Store because he disagrees with the content as he has done in the physical Apple Stores.”

    ~ Woah, this thought never even occurred to me! Hopefully Hamsun, Bukowski, Thompson, Huxley, etc will all be safe.

  2. A couple of notes– one reason iBooks may not have come pre-installed is to put it on the same level as 3rd part ebook readers, so as not to conflict with apple’s prohibition on reimplementing things they provide, like the browser.
    According to the manual “If you delete a book you purchased, you can also download it again from the Purchases tab in iBookstore.”
    You can download podcasts directly onto the device, and get more episodes of those you have on it already using the itunes app. I guess subscription implies automatic downloads, which you don’t get.

    The restriction seems to be on syncing devices with multiple computers. You can certainly sync software paid for once to many ipod touches (i’ve done 10) from the same computer without complaint. This could be handy for class sets (if you can find any good uses for them in schools)

  3. Gary:

    You asked: “Are the books I purchased backed-up in the cloud?” That answer is yes, sort of.

    Apple is treating iBooks like Apps for re-downloading, which is good. Unlike music (which you have to backup yourself) you can re-download a purchased iBook without further charge. I had to do this because my first iPad had a power button that stopped working, so Apple gave me a new one. I wish iBooks were like Amazon’s Whispersync, and they all were visible for download if needed. As it is now, you have to remember which books you purchased, go find them again, and click to buy/download them. A pain, but it’s good you can at least download again without another charge.

    I recommend you give the Kindle iPad app a try. It’s really great. My wife likes it a lot more than reading on her actual Kindle.

    In terms of iBook annotation, I agree this is direly needed. You can highlight in multiple colors, but not add comments currently. Maybe the firmware rev this summer will address this.

  4. Thanks for the info on the “cloud.” However, this barely makes iBooks suck less.

    Why should I have to run the Kindle app on an iPad? (I have it and purchased Kindle books too)

    The iBooks catalog is terrible. New books mentioned on major TV shows aren’t even available.

    Why isn’t Apple making ANY promises about ramping the catalog up as they did with iTunes music, videos and YouTube?

    A lack of annotation is a no-brainer and doesn’t require firmware to be revised. Apple just got sloppy or arrogant here. This feature has been available in other contexts for decades.

    I still don’t understand why you have to download the iBooks app either.

  5. Well, I personally think it’s great we can purchase books from Amazon and use them on multiple platforms. We use the same account in our family, so our Amazon books are read on my son’s iPod Touch, my wife’s Kindle and iPhone, my iPhone, and now my iPad. Since we’ve made these “investments” in eBooks it’s nice at least within our family we can share. Of course it would be good if we could share those with others (virtually “check them out” so someone else could read a book we were not reading currently) but that’s not supported and I don’t think it will be soon. I’m glad to see the Apple platform is open to this. (I was particularly amazed when they released the approved Netflix app.)

    Version 1.0 of a lot of technologies is never a good as it gets… the iPad is a case in point, I think. I’m glad they are trying, but I agree it can improve.

    I am particularly interested in open eBooks without DRM. Stanza is a great app for this, but Amazon purchased it and I hope they don’t kill it. I think we can and should be doing a lot more to read books which are now out of copyright on our devices. Treasure Island, Alice in Wonderland, Animal Farm (out of copyright in Australia at least) and Huck Finn are all books in the public domain now which don’t require any $$$ to purchase and read. It looks like Apple does have a good start on making those free eBooks available, but I was curious to see/learn that some free books are also offered for sale on iBooks. I need to post on this and will soon. It would be good if the paid versions of books like these had a link that said, “Also available FREE thanks to Project Gutenberg” but of course they don’t and won’t have such a statement.

  6. Although I thoroughly enjoy the iPad and all of it’s features, even in the non-3G version, it shocks me at how limited the library is. Classic best selling novels that are on almost every school’s reading lists are not on the database, such as Animal Farm.

  7. Why doesn’t anyone mention how fast iBooks kills the battery? I can watch movies for three times longer than using iBooks. What’s wrong with the developers!?

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