Posts Tagged iPad

to ipad or not to ipad, this is the question

i bet i’m not the only one out here pondering whether an ipad is a good purchase or not… i also guess that like for macs in general, there are those completely ecstatic about it, no matter which flaws are in it, and those who are now jumping on the ‘not another windows, it’s an apple hegemony’ bandwagon saying that at the end of the day apple is like microsoft in their king of the universe complex.

so here it goes like the old mac vs pc parody:
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this battle of the readers is not too far
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currently i have a sony reader and despite the fact i like it very much, i feel that the lack of colours limits the hardware considerably. the kindle has the same issue: it might be lighter and brighter, but it is still in black and white!

i also have an iphone, not version 4, and i’m pretty happy with that as well, but although i can do many things with it, the screen is tiny and would love to have a bigger one. what’s the improvement though, a few inches?

so what is going to be? let’s wait and see is my verdict. it seems that everyone is jumping on the tablet format these days and i’m hoping that Santa will bring some festive enlightment!

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Resisting DRM: Doctorow on the iPad, ‘Sita’ and Netflix

Here are a couple of stories related to taking a stand on principles concerning DRM:

In Cory Doctorow’s latest editorial for Publishers Weekly, Doctorow sets his sights on the iPad and bangs the “DRM Is Evil” gong for all he’s worth. He talks about Apple’s infamously restrictive policies that promulgate device lock-in, and warns against publishing e-books for such a restricted system:

Think about what that kind of control means for the future of your e-books. Does the company that makes your toaster get to tell you whose bread you can buy? Your dishwasher can wash anyone’s dishes, not just the ones sold by its manufacturer (who, by the way, takes a 30% cut along the way). What’s more, you can invent cool new things to do with your dishwasher. For example, you can cook salmon in it without needing permission from the manufacturer (check out the Surreal Gourmet for how). And you can even sell your dishwasher salmon recipe without violating some obscure law that lets dishwasher manufacturers dictate how you can use your machine.

I’m certainly not going to disagree with Cory about DRM being an ineffectual annoyance that only ends up ticking off consumers. (In fact, I would probably have to admit that Doctorow’s attitudes on DRM have largely shaped my own.) However, I think he’s muddling the issue by talking as if only DRM-restricted e-books can be made available for the iPad—or else conflating the restricted app store with restricted e-books.

As my reviews of the last few days show, iPad reader apps exist for a number of formats—some restricted (iBooks, Kindle), some not (unencrypted ePub or MobiPocket). Just because your books can be read on the iPad doesn’t mean they have to be published through (or solely through) Apple, in a restricted format. I read my Baen books on my iPad and iPhone all the time.

On a related note, animator Nina Paley is taking a stand against movie DRM by declining to host her movie, Sita Sings the Blues, on Netflix’s video-on-demand service. (We previously covered Sita Sings the Blues here.)

Paley is declining a $4,600 offer from Netflix because Netflix’s movies are streamed with DRM and Netflix refuses to allow her either to forego the DRM or to place a bumper on the film explaining where it might be downloaded for free. Paley takes a stand for her principles in this case, just as she did when she chose to release the film under a Creative Commons license.

For now, people will just have to obtain Sita by visiting the vast Internet outside of Netflix. Most of the Internet still isn’t enclosed by Netflix, or Amazon, or iTunes. Most of the Internet is still Free; I’m doing what little I can to keep it that way. I’m sad to lose the potential viewers who may have found Sita through Netflix’s electronic delivery. But maybe some of those Netflix subscribers will discover the rest of the Internet because of my tiny act of resisting DRM.

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Reading on an iPad in before you go to sleep can keep you awake


That’s what this article in the LA Times tech blog says, and on pretty good authority too.

Evidently light emitting devices like a cellphone or the iPad can cause the inhibition of the body’s secretion of melatonin, which is what puts your body to sleep.

Because users hold those devices so close to their face, staring directly into the light, the effect is amplified compared with, say, a TV across the room or a bedside lamp, said Frisca Yan-Go, director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center in Santa Monica. …

“The take-home lesson is that insomnia and electronics gadgets emitting light should not [be] mixed before bedtime,” UCLA Neurology Clinic Director Alon Avidan, also an associate professor at the university, wrote in an e-mail. However, “Kindle is better for your sleep,” he wrote in another e-mail.

Some say e-ink is easier on the eyes than the screen on a computer
(tablet or otherwise). However, the
Wall Street Journal
published a report this month to the contrary.

…Really? where is the ‘real’ evidence?
I have to say that I am usually in fron of my computer untill just before going to bed: for what is worth, if you are tired, you sleep, but maybe I am a lucky one?

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Digital Writing and Pedagogy: How Do We Teach, What Do We Teach by Matt Hayler

images.jpegI was lucky enough today to speak at a conference on Teaching Digital Writing, run by the Higher Education Academy’s English Subject Centre. What follows is that talk in full, and it draws on a number of concerns which are central to this blog: the implications of digitisation, the resistance to digital books, and the importance of understanding the bodies of texts and readers when we attempt to consider the effects of making written texts, at least apparently, incorporeal. Thank you to everyone who organised and attended the event and made it such a success.I work in an English department, mostly teaching critical theory, and today I’d like to look at a deceptive question, one which I’m going to increasingly face in the discipline I’ve chosen: “how do we go about teaching examples of digital writing?” Now this is not a simple question. Before we can get to the ‘how’ of teaching something, we need to at least approximate what it is we are about to teach, if only to propose an appealing course. I’d put it to you that many students are just not certain what a digital text is, or what digital writing is, not really, and yet I feel that the worst thing we can do, as tutors, is attempt an exacting definition.

Now this might seem oxymoronic, but what I actually think it is, is potentially exciting. Digital texts, digital literatures, digital writing, these still somewhat ineffable things represent a rare chance for us to teach the ‘contemporary’ in the thick of it. English Studies has only rarely been about hunting for, or rote-learning, the proscribed meaning of texts. Often, ideally, it has instead existed as a way of identifying the jumping-off points where written texts allow us to explore our own state of being-in-the-world – how we might think, how we might understand, how we might strive. Unlike contemporary English literature classes I’ve both taught and attended, which seem to think that the ‘contemporary’ must end in 1960 if we’re to have any chance at critical distance, ‘digital’ offers another way, and I would say a compelling way, for our students to see the ways in which their subject wraps around them, to feel that they can live what they learn, and to think that ‘contemporary’ can actually mean ‘right now,’ and ‘tomorrow,’ as the story of the way we receive written material unfolds before their eyes.

In this spirit my talk will touch on a number of disciplines which I believe the digitisation of the written word opens up to the English classroom. This doesn’t represent an attempt to define the borders of the subject, but instead to ignore past delineations and see where productive exploration, symbiosis, and downright theft might allow us to teach better, and to get students feeling and realising what is being taught.

To begin then, how might we sketch a definition of digital work? If I hear the words ‘digital text’ then the frenzy of images that spring to mind, the substance of what I’d like to teach remember, leaves me baffled – are we talking about any written work which appears on a screen? And any screen? Will a television or a mobile phone do? Or must it be a computer? Is a Kindle or an iPad enough of a computer to qualify? And why? Do we really read differently on these things? And once we’ve settled on a carrier medium does a digital text include scans of a paper document? .pdfs? Photographs of existing texts? And are we just talking about Katherine Hayles’ ‘digitally native’ literature here, works made on, and for reading on, a pixelated screen? Because that seems to include most things now that we’re all word processing every document we produce, and then consuming a lot of it online. And what of books about digitisation, or that use digital forms remediated back into print? Or instead are we talking about books, any books, which interrogate, or have shaken off their material bodies…Ah! But that seems to hit somewhere closer to the nail’s head doesn’t it? It’s this change in bodies which is causing all the fuss after all. Because if popular media has taught us anything about digital and digitised books, it’s that they don’t ‘smell right,’ and that they don’t ‘feel right,’ and that you certainly can’t read them on the beach or in the bath.

For the record that last one’s actually not true. Jeff Bezos, the founder and president of, apparently reads his Kindle e-reader in the bath. He puts it in a one gallon see-through zip-lock bag. The touch screen works and everything.

But the body of the book, and we might as well talk about the book because that’s what the majority of the popular debate surrounds, the body of the bound paper book, the codex, is changing, and the new forms we are experiencing are not the product of a kindly received metamorphosis. There have been increasingly frequent attempts to begin ‘e-reading’ over the last ten or so years, prior to the watershed of the Amazon Kindle’s release in late 2007, and numerous commentators have lined up to warn us of the dangers of digital, particularly its lowly status in comparison to print. Sven Birkerts is perhaps the totemic example here, with his exhortation in the Gutenberg Elegies, that: “this may be the awakening, but it feels curiously like the fantasies that circulate through our sleep. From deep in the heart I hear the voice that says, ‘Refuse it!’”

What should we make of Birkerts’, and others’, resistance? I’m not sure. But we should teach it. We should teach it now, and we should teach it when all the journals are online, and when all the books are online, and we should continue to teach it when every student is doing their homework on a digital device. Because this resistance, whilst presumably futile, is all about bodies, those bookish-bodies holding books, and those bound-book bodies being held. And bodies books certainly have; books have chapters, from the Latin for head, caput, whilst pages have feet for their footnotes. The book’s body has a spine, and their contents can have an appendix. Even references to sections being ‘above’ or ‘below’ rather than ‘shallower’ or ‘deeper’ within the text suggest that it should be standing on its feet.

And where there are bodies there are interactions; nothing knows it even has a body until it starts to resist the world. Birkerts, in his article for The Atlantic, ‘Resisting the Kindle,’ discusses codex reading as existing as part of such an interacting system. He describes the system of libraries and filing that have grown up around the bound-book form, but he also describes how our bodies gain access via participation: “[t]hat system,” says Birkerts, “stands for the labor and taxonomy of human understanding, and to touch a book is to touch that system, however lightly.” He knows what it means to touch a book. I don’t think he expresses it that well here, but he is beginning to get to the root of all the ‘it just doesn’t feel right’ type of arguments.

Birkerts suggests that we can interact with ‘the labour and taxonomy of human understanding’ haptically, via our tactile interactions with objects. This seems to ring true; we interact with the world via touch, and always have. From primates’ becoming one with the forest canopy as they travelled, each brachiating limb extending out and amalgamating with the drooping liana, to the invention and mass deployment of hammers and other simple hand tools which extrapolated the skills of the naked arm, our species’ evolutionary history is based around touch and what the neurologist Frank Wilson describes as ‘incorporation.’ To incorporate something into ourselves requires that we treat an external object as if it was part of our flesh, and I use the Merleau-Pontian term intentionally. Heidegger would have called this ‘ready-to-hand;’ the sociologist Andy Pickering might describe it as a temporarily stable interaction between two subjects in a ‘dance of agency;’ an evolutionary cognitive psychologist like Merlin Donald might look at how ‘incorporated’ objects allow us to actually extend our cognition; and a philosopher, such as Andy Clark, might even see it, at times, as an extension of our minds.

Andy Clark and David Chalmers demonstrate how our interactions with objects might alter the locus of cognition from a place inside our heads to somewhere out there, in the world, forming a ‘coupled system’ between human and object ‘that can be seen as a cognitive system in its own right.’ In a very simple example they discuss the use of pencil and paper to jot down lecture notes, to do a hard sum, or to take a long list, all tasks which the human mind alone could not perform accurately. Cognition, at this point, is spread onto the paper and pencil, it forms an extension of the brain’s own short term memory. For Merlin Donald, if the notepad is a prosthetic short term memory, then a library represents much more long term storage.

Along with these extensions it is important to note that our hands’ interactions and brains’ contemplations are intimately linked. Frank Wilson’s study in The Hand, is an excellent entry point to this field, but contemporary research into gesture and pedagogy has provided compelling evidence of this symbiosis in action. Scientists in Norway studied a class performing basic mathematics problems such as 3+2+8 = BLANK+8. The students had to learn to resolve the equation by finding the single digit which is equivalent to 3+2, i.e. they must understand the concept of ‘grouping’ – adding numbers together to produce an analogue which balances the sum. In order to teach this act of ‘grouping’ tutors were getting students to draw a little ‘v’ shape with their finger under the 3 and the 2, physically tying them together. Sure enough students understood the concept significantly faster than when the technique was not deployed. But the researchers also found, over the course of the study, that it didn’t matter where the students drew the ‘v’ at all, it was the very act of making the gesture which introduced and sublimated the concept.

So our touchings of the world can have a profound effect. Both Clark and Donald suggest that what makes humans distinctive is not consciousness, per se, but cognition offloaded, cognition, to use Edwin Hutchins’ term, in the wild.

Part of what Birkerts, and others, might be mourning then, is that it may seem that we are taking our hands out of reading through digitisation, removing our ‘tactile observation’, as it were, and introducing a uniquely human kind of blindness. Tales of sudden blindness, of Milton, to use a literary example, or of Nietzsche, of Joyce, or of Borges, for all of their ability to shock us with our own fragilty, hold none of the horror of a true loss of touch, not just a numbness of the hands, but a removal of the skin from our sensation. To touch is never in our control – we touch against our will – always forced to maintain at least a point in pressure with something, hence our fascination with acrobatics, zero-gravity, or the weightlessness of floating in a heavily-salted sea, though none of these represent a true, total loss of touch or else they would become grotesque. Touch is never in our control, but for the most part it is controlled, we might think of pain as excessive touching, or the echo of a misplaced touch. We see the most important aspects of our world with our hands, our skin. No wonder that so many avid readers, so many holders of printed books, feel that they must speak out – do they not subconsciously fear that the new technology might make us, if not paralysed, then haptically blind?

It’s not my intention here to lay out how we should respond to these changes in the book form, whether we should receive them in a positive or negative light, whether we should receive them at all. But I do want to say that we should start to take these kind of changes seriously, not writing off any resistance as doom-mongering or Ludditisim, and certainly not saying what might actually amount to such, that these changes will never come, that the book will always remain in its present comfortable form. This last assertion seems the most problematic of all in some ways; it does a profound disservice to the rich studies of book history and textual criticism, disciplines, incidentally, which should certainly be used to contextualise the digital, which have demonstrated the profundity of the changes the form has experienced over the course of its 2000-some years of evolution. But it also ignores, once again, the contemporary experience of interacting with the written word; as Stuart Moulthrop has said: “[t]he book is already ‘dead’ (or superseded) if by ‘alive’ you mean that the institution in question is essential to our continued commerce in ideas.”

We are, potentially, on a road to no longer needing books, which is why we need to be able to articulate just why we might want them. When we are talking about what they do best, when we are teaching how the words on their pages are different to their words on the screen then we need to fully appreciate aspects of the form that we have often previously taken for granted. The page space, it’s borders and typography, it’s footnotes and endnotes, it’s indexes and contents lists, the covers which separate it from the world, the opacity of its leaves, its linear order, all of these things, which make up the book as we have come to accept it, are reconfigured into articles to discuss, rather than invisible facets of the gestalt we know as the codex.

Katherine Hayles puts our task succinctly:

By and large literary critics have been content to see literature as immaterial verbal constructions, relegating to the specialized fields of bibliography, manuscript culture, and book production the rigorous study of the materiality of literary artefacts…It is becoming overwhelmingly clear that we can no longer afford to ignore the material basis of literary production. Materiality of the artefact can no longer be positioned as a subspeciality within literary studies; it must be central, for without it we have little hope of forging a robust and nuanced account of how literature is changing under the impact of information technologies.

Now, it seems I’ve said a lot in defence of the traditional book form here, but what I really wanted to emphasise is that digitisation reinvigorates our discussions of the materiality of texts. When we take seriously the fact that books, digital or bound, have bodies, then we can start to get to the heart of the effects of the changes which we are seeing. If, as humans, we have extended our minds onto our artefacts in the past, then isn’t it likely that we will continue to do so? What better way to try and understand how we might put aspects of ourselves into digital reading then, than to consider how we have used the bound-book form to do the same thing?

As a very brief example we might consider Sherry Turkle’s notion of ‘objects-to-think-with,’ the use of artefacts to physically work-through what we might otherwise miss about an idea, or about our times. The bound book has functioned as just such an object, privileging linear thought, the elimination of error, and the packaging of ideas into discrete bundles which can stand in isolation, waiting for us to approach and discover them. A digital text, in many ways, functions oppositely. Let’s just take one aspect, the hyperlink, a device which Steven Johnson has described as “the first significant form of punctuation to emerge in centuries.” When considered as an object-to-think-with we can see why Johnson might well describe them as a form of punctuation; a hyperlink, an underlined blue word in an otherwise familiar page of script, even if unclicked, still has power, still has an effect. It exists to remind us that we can head out into other texts, out into the world, that where we are is not the final say, and that the boundary lines we have revered are blurred at best, and potentially inconsequential. In this one blue word we can see the potential to discuss what the word ‘text’ even means, to discuss copyright law’s inability to recognise the power of influence, and its related inability to adjust to these new ‘disembodied’ forms. We might also see how our own boundaries blur as much as the text’s, as our minds extend, and our society encroaches; the digital text might function as an analogue to ourselves. A lot can be said for a hyperlink.

In this way a course on digital writing could very well be based, ironically, around the bound book, taking a part of its anatomy each week, and then exploring it and seeing how digitisation might turn the effects of each element upon their heads. The footnote could be paired with the hyperlink, linearity with the internet, or codexical materiality with a perceived digital incorporeality that Matthew Kirschenbaum’s forensic studies might certainly justly refute.

Although I’ve tried to gesture toward a number of disciplines which I think have a logical place in the digital writing classroom, I’ve consciously resisted the term ‘interdisciplinary.’ Interdisciplinarity suggests, or I think should suggest, the adoption of alternative discourses, something which only comes from embedding yourself within a discipline which differs from that in which you have previously trained or written, or by collaborating with a practitioner from another discipline and allowing your voices to merge. At this point it is perhaps not appropriate, at least as far as teaching these changes is concerned, to attempt either, and for the most part this stems from the sheer range of disciplines required to interpret these events; to be interdisciplinary at this time, for these changes, would necessarily be to attempt polymathism.

However, specialisation is the privilege of established discipline, and we do not yet have that luxury, either in the Digital Humanities or in whatever subsection of such digital reading may provoke into existence. Any discussion of digital reading devices and their associated texts can no longer afford to ignore the diversity of fields required to begin mapping the effects of these early days, and whilst the study and pedagogy might not be truly interdisciplinary, it can be outward looking, generous, and deferential where appropriate. Although pursuing a discussion of the literary products which have marked the shift to a digital reading mode, Hayles again amply demonstrates this fundamental point, she says:

electronic literature is evolving within complex social and economic networks that include the development of commercial software, the competing philosophy of open source freeware and shareware, the economics and geopolitical terrain of the internet and World Wide Web, and a host of other factors that directly influence how electronic literature is created and stored, sold or given away, preserved or allowed to decline into obsolescence.

To this list I have added Philosophy, Evolutionary Cognitive Psychology, Biology, Neuroscience, Forensic Investigation, Copyright Law, Sociology, Textual Criticism, and Book History. All of these, for me, seem a natural, and logical fit alongside English Studies as it comes to focus on the objects and bodies of digital and digitised reading. Devices such as the iPad, and the Kindle represent potent sites which, without a discipline of their own, at least as yet, must mark a coming together of scholarship, and a concomitant adjustment to pedagogy so that students can begin to contribute to a variety of fields after an exciting period of education, the tools of which, the objects-to-think-with, they can very swiftly put into practice, instantaneously in the case of observation and reflection on the story which is unfolding around them.

We obviously can’t teach everything, but that’s always been true. A large part of university English study is about opening doors to new ways of thought via literary works. The same is true when we encounter digital texts, but the doors to more disciplines, whose effects might then be felt in all aspects of English Studies as we relearn the materiality we so often neglect, the doors to such disciplines become, perhaps, easier, and more logical, to open.

Editor’s Note: the above is reprinted, with permission, from Mat Hayler’s blog 4oh4 Words Not Found. PB

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iPhone/iPad e-book app review: BookShelf

BookShelf iPod 001The last few e-readers I’ve reviewed have been corporate-, or at least company-created—crafted by teams of developers, with a very smooth and polished look to them and, with the exception of eReader, all relative latecomers to the iPhone platform. It’s time to switch things up and take a look at a much older, largely solo effort: Zachary Bedell’s iPhone/iPad universal application BookShelf (v2.3.2968).

If any app could be called the original iPhone e-book reader, BookShelf certainly qualifies. A predecessor, Books 1.0 (not written by Bedell), actually pre-dates Apple’s first iPhone software development kit—it was in one of the unofficial app repositories created by those hardy souls who were jailbreaking their phones to program and run apps before apps were even officially possible.

Originally just a simple unencrypted-MobiPocket-format reader, BookShelf was also the first application to allow downloading Baen Free Library and Webscription books directly from the web and into the reader. Until Baen also made EPUB-format books available and added a Stanza download catalog, BookShelf was essentially the only way to read Webscription books on the iPhone without going to a great deal of extra effort.

It is also the only one of the original “big three” iPhone e-book apps (BookShelf, eReader, Stanza) to get an iPad upgrade. It is still just about the only way to read unencrypted MobiPocket books on the iPhone without running them through Calibre to convert to EPUB—but thanks to some recent changes, it can read EPUB, Plucker, FB2, LIT, and a remarkable number of other formats as well (Update: though, as Bedell notes in a comment below, some of them do have to pass through its PC-based sync conduit first).

For its first couple years, BookShelf was priced at $9.99—pretty high for an iPhone application. It has since come down to $4.99, with a free ad-supported and limited-capacity version called BookShelf Lite. The app is universal, so only need be purchased once for both the iPhone and iPad platforms. But is it still worth the money in this age of iBooks and Kindle Reader? Let’s find out.

(Portions of this review come from my 2008 review of an earlier version, updated to reflect more recent changes.)


BookShelf iPad 002 BookShelf iPad 001 Bookshelf offers a wide variety of font choices, including Georgia, Hevetica, Marker Felt, and a number of others. There are a couple of them, such as Bodoni 72, on the iPad that aren’t on the iPhone, but in either one there are fonts available I haven’t seen in any other reader program. However, some of these make little sense to use for book reading (for example, “DB LCD Temp”—who wants to read an entire book in pocket calculator font?). Sizes are given in points, ranging from 8 point (tiny) to 40 point (only 5 or 6 lines fit on the screen of an iPhone).

BookShelf iPod 002BookShelf iPad 003 BookShelf has one of the more impressive text presentation options dialogues I’ve seen on any e-book app. Not only font face, size, and color scheme can be set, but also justification, side margins, line spacing (my preference is 135%, less than the 165% default), extra paragraph space, and others. There is a window of sample text at the top of the setup screen so you can see the effect of changes as you make them.

Oddly, BookShelf’s manual (included in the app at download) claims that the app supports automatic hyphenation, but the hyphenation option it describes is missing from the setup screen. Wonder where it went.

It is interesting to note that the justification setting can apparently be overridden by the settings of the e-book file itself—when I downloaded an e-book file directly from Baen, it remained fully justified even though I had changed the selector to left-justification only. On the EPUB e-book files I had recompiled with Calibre to remove full justification for iBooks, setting changes had full effect.

Once these options have been selected, the font faces are readable and quite clear. As with eReader, Bookshelf will rotate the screen to any of the four possible orientations of the device.

Ease of Use

Paging up and down in Bookshelf is done by thumb tapping on either the top or bottom of the screen. The text scrolls up or down in accordance with the direction you tap. (By default, tapping on the bottom pages down; flipping the “Reverse Tap Direction” switch in Settings reverses this.) You can also slide the screen up and down with your finger to scroll only part of the way, just as in Mobile Safari. Tapping in the middle of the screen opens the menu bars.

Unlike essentially every other e-book reading app available for the iPhone or iPad, BookShelf is built on a scrolling metaphor, like a web browser. Ever since the early days of the e-book, some people (such as my friend Travis Butler, who occasionally comments here) have simply preferred to read that way, sliding their thumb up or down to advance the text a line, a paragraph, or page at a time, as they like.

But the fly in the ointment is that, in programming it, Bedell was only allowed to use Apple’s published APIs—and their API for scrolling text, as opposed to page-at-a-time, simply doesn’t work for long segments of text. Bedell could fix it if he were allowed to write his own API, but that is prohibited by the developers’ agreement.

So Bedell does the best he can: each book is loaded in chunks about the size of a printed page (or several iPad screens, or even more iPhone screens). The beginning and end of each chunk is marked with a red arrow, and cannot be finger-slid past but must be tapped to advance to the next or previous chunk.

In the bottom menu bar are options to go to the settings page, lock the screen rotation, view or add bookmarks, and start autoscroll for hands-free reading. (They are all presented in a single row in the iPad version, but there is only room for half of them at a time plus a “more” icon on the iPhone version.)

The upper right menu bar contains a very small meter of progress into the book (so small as to be not really recognizable as such until enough of the book has been read that the progress dot elongates into a bar). Tapping on it brings up a slider that allows you to advance to any point in the book.

Happily, the problem that I mentioned in my prior review about accessing the download screen seems to have been an artifact of a bad installation on my iPhone. I have no such problems now.

In fact, since my previous reviews, BookShelf has gotten considerably less buggy in general, and is now almost entirely usable. And its many configuration options give it a pretty big lead over apps such as iBooks and Kindle Reader where just about all you can change is the font face and size. On the other hand, all those options also make it a lot more complicated than other e-book readers, so it might be a little more confusing to a newer user.

Adding Content

This is one area where BookShelf really shines. Over the years, BookShelf has added the ability to read a number of other formats, including EPUB, to its MobiPocket base.  It should be noted that only non-DRMed files can be loaded into Bookshelf—which means that e-books purchased in Secure Mobipocket or Secure EPUB format will not work unless a way can be found to remove the DRM. (Note that, in the United States, removing the DRM from a purchased book violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.)

Bookshelf comes with a Java-based Bonjour/TCP server application—a stripped-down webserver for e-books. It is simple to set up (though I did have to uninstall and reinstall Bonjour on my Winbox to do so) and to add content which you can access from your LAN or, with a little router configuration, from anywhere on the net.

With a little experimentation, I was easily able to make the e-book directory of my hard drive available (password-protected) and download a book from it onto my device. And since the server contains the entire directory, I do not need to worry about having to manually add every book I want to install.

But the shelfserver is also easy for publishers to integrate. That’s why Baen Books set one up for its Free Library and Webscriptions (which is now built right into the download menu of BookShelf), and there is also a public-domain-books server at

BookShelf iPad 003 And BookShelf has also added a number of other downloading options, including an internal browser to allow downloading directly from the web (a considerable improvement from BookShelf’s prior web downloading option, which required using a bookmarklet to rewrite download links on a given page) plus direct links to Feedbooks, ManyBooks, Smashwords, Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, and even Dropbox. The iPad version can also be loaded via drag-and-drop via the File Sharing section of the Apps tab of the iPad iTunes sync screen, as with GoodReader.

Suffice it to say that there are about a zillion ways to get an e-book into BookShelf.

Of course, one annoying thing is what happens with the book once it’s there. For some reason downloading a book from an on-line source creates a directory structure within the app—several layers deep. For instance, downloading Conflict of Honors via the Baen Webscription link puts that file four layers deep, in the “Downloads –> –> Sharon Lee and Steve Miller” folder. That makes it a bit troublesome to keep track of where your books actually are.


I bought BookShelf as soon as I got my old 1st-generation iPod Touch, at its full price of $9.99, because it was basically the only iPhone app that read Baen e-books at that point. It was fairly buggy back then, but it was the only game in town so I put up with it. But since Stanza came out, I largely hadn’t used it until I went back and read a book in it today for the purposes of this review.

The fact is, I prefer the page-turning metaphor of eReader, Stanza, and now Kindle and iBooks. I like tapping to the left or right to jump to the next screen’s worth of text, whether it comes with a fancy page-turning animation or not. (There is a “tap left/right to scroll” option in the text settings menu, but it doesn’t seem to work for me on either the iPod Touch or iPad.) Scrolling up and down is a bit too fiddly for me, and too easy to lose track of where I had been reading before.

I’m not sorry I bought BookShelf, on the whole. It was highly useful before Baen went EPUB, and still looks pretty good today on the iPad—it’s just not the way I prefer to read. At the original price of $9.99, it would be considered a bit too high today, but $4.99 is a more decent price, especially considering that it covers both iPhone and iPad versions (and you can try out the Lite version before you buy to see if you think the paid version would meet your needs).

If you prefer the scrolling model of book reading and would like an EPUB reader that doesn’t try to pretend you’re reading a paper book (or would like to read non-DRM MobiPocket and LIT files without passing them through Calibre first), $4.99 is actually a pretty good deal—especially for the level of control you have over the way the book is displayed. BookShelf has improved a lot over the years, and if it is not necessarily as polished as iBooks, it is nonetheless impressively functional and nearly entirely bug-free.

But for people who don’t care about those things, BookShelf isn’t necessarily that much better than iBooks—and iBooks is free.

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