The flavour of the month is the eBook, what with the Kindle 2’s release and iPhone commercials celebrating animated page turns. Another major release, though slightly more under-the-radar is the release of Shortcovers, a social-reading environment.
I’ve been playing with 4 e-reading environments on my iPhone lately: Google’s BookSearch, Stanza, Shortcovers, and Classics (as seen on TV!). Each is a different take on accessing content, browsing it, saving it, and buying it. Remarkably, however, only a couple of the apps seem to have put any thought into the act of reading itself. And I find that quite surprising, really, since that’s what each should be all about, right?
The worst reading experience in this group of apps occurs with Shortcovers. Two things really hinder one’s ability to enjoy the content. The first, and most annoying of all the apps, is the omnipresent interface. Here’s a screen shot:
That’s a whole lot of interface at the top and the bottom of the screen that interferes with one’s reading enjoyment. The iPhone offers little enough screen real estate, there’s no need for an app to reduce that further.
Google’s BookSearch interface is moderately better.
Unfortunately, the translucent title bar come off as a poor attempt to overcome what is certainly the greatest annoyance with e-reading on the iPhone: scrolling text.
Both Shortcovers and BookSearch force the reader to scroll through text to read it, and this is exceptionally annoying. Scrolling is inefficient and provides a constant distraction from the content itself, as one’s mind must remain wary of when to scroll, how much by, and at what rate. Then there’s the matter of correcting the over-scroll which totally destroys the reading experience.
The other two apps I mentioned, Stanza and Classics, have eliminated scrolling. Instead each screen of text is a page, and you simply click from page to page. This results in a vastly more natural and pleasant e-reading experience.
Classics also offers a page-turn animation, which looks great on television commercials, but is actually moderately distracting.
The yellowish hue that the Classic’s developers have imbued each page with is also very nice and conducive to a much more natural reading experience. Their choice of font is excellent, though it unfortunately cannot be changed to suit one’s preference.
Unfortunately, the app sports a sizeable omnipresent header that is distracting and unnecessarily steals away valuable screen space.
So far, my favourite e-reading experience, is found with Stanza.
With Stanza, as you can see, it’s just a page with words. And that’s what reading is all about. There is no scrolling, and the interface goes away (you can make it come back just by tapping the screen, though). To turn a page, you tap on one side of the screen and a new page slides into view.
Interestingly, of all the apps, Stanza’s approach is the simplest, and that’s what makes it such a great reading environment. Whilst e-reading is a technical undertaking as a platform, that doesn’t mean that the experience of e-reading need be obfuscated by a technology-based approach.