Dammit, Apple. You’re Supposed to Be the Ones With Good UI Design.

The grand appeal of using an e-reader is the ability to own a large library of books without adding to the colossal weight of one’s possessions. Ever since I moved away from print books I’ve been able to remove hundreds of pounds of clutter from my apartment and from my life. Storing books digitally has improved my quality of life. That being said, the various e-readers that are out there have an obligation to provide a good user experience, and they do that through design.

In the past I’ve taken Amazon to task for user interface design that I felt was subpar. Since it’s introduction, Kindle for the iPad has gone through numerous updates to its UI, and while still not perfect, it provides a fine balance of text and whitespace. The only reason I don’t use the app regularly is because Kindle doesn’t have continuous scrolling. Enter iBooks, the e-reader app from Apple.

Apple prides itself on the quality of its design. One can see it from the look and feel of Apple’s signature hardware, to the way fonts render in OSX, and everything in between. Which makes this so inexplicable:


That is a screenshot of a page in iBooks, with continuous scroll turned on, after an update to iOS 10. The margins to the right and left are too small, leaving the text crowded to the edge of the screen. When using one of the new model iPad Pros, the text is less than an inch from the edge of the device. The width of the text also interferes with the eye’s ability to flow from one line to the next. What happened to all that whitespace that designers value so much? It used to be there. This is a screenshot of the same text taken in iBooks from an iPad running iOS 9:


The second screenshot shows a much better use of margins. I know there are charlatans out there who prefer text to be much closer to the edge, but they’re wrong. Luckily, a solution that satisfies most users should not be that difficult for Apple to implement. The Kindle app already has a margin selector in the same menu where a user adjusts fonts and background colors. The settings in iBooks does not. As of right now, the experience in iBooks on the iPad has been degraded by the decision to close the margins. Were Apple to add a margin selector, it would be a vast improvement to the app.


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noting and flipping

My wife bought me a Kindle when it first came out. While I’m an early adopter of new technologies, gadgets and services (or at the very least, keeping a close eye on the more intriguing ones), I wasn’t anxious to get one. I had the same beef with DRM on books as I did with music. Information wants to be free, etc, etc… you know the deal. I thought it looked like a well thought out product (and product ecosystem), but it wasn’t for me. It would be another year before Apple would announce an end to copy-protection on their music, but it had also been a year since Steve Jobs posted his Thoughts On Music on Apple.com. So I was mentally primed for a DRM-free (music) future. Then the Kindle comes along with their copy-protected media and we’re back to square one. I wasn’t naive to think they’d use open file formats, but I was still bummed. Now let’s fast forward 2 years to today. I still have my first gen Kindle and I still use it somewhat often although I usually prefer to use the Kindle app on my iPhone, especially during my day-to-day commuting on the Manhattan subway. But my Kindle still can’t do two things that are important when I read – scribbling down notes and flipping pages. These actions were important while I read the new book by Steve Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From.

On Noting

book_notes_WGICF.jpg Some might look disapprovingly at image above, with all those crude lines and chicken scratch writing, but for me, being able to underline chunks of text, scribble notes and circle words I want to look up later opens up a deeper level of comprehension into the book I’m reading. Of course this method can be adapted with an e-reader by simply pairing it with a physical notebook, but it’s a little more effort and not well-spent effort. I’m not a psychologist but something about physically interacting with a book takes reading beyond simple consumption. It becomes a form of creation. By the time you reach the end of your book you’re not left with the same pages you started with. No, no … these are my pages now. Sure, the author is making his points, but I’m deciding which ones are important. Once I’ve read through and made sufficient notes I can begin the fun game of flipping back and reading over the passages I marked up.

On Flipping

page_flip_WGICF.jpg This might seem like a minor point, but the fact that I can’t easily flip between pages on a Kindle is a huge frustration. No, this doesn’t mean I’m not able to remember what I’ve read, but sometimes I want to reread passages. Great books, like great movies, are meant to be read over and over (unless you’re satisfied watching a Kubrick movie once). I’m completely confident this technological limitation of e-books will be resolved but until then, my thumbs rule.

On Flying

This is more my beef with the airline industry than with e-books, but it’s relevant to this post. If we’re going to live comfortably/efficiently/normally in the 21st century, we need to start adapting our procedures to technologies and devices our generation is creating. Gadgets like iPods, iPads and Kindles are useless if I’m not allowed to use them during takeoff and landing. I’m waiting to hear of a plane that went down because 5 or 20 or 50 Kindles or iPhones were on during takeoff. It’s very likely many people never turn off their devices when they’re instructed anyway (not me of course). So to recap, I’m not giving up on technology. I love technology. I love tinkering, hacking and experimenting with new gadgets, but I encourage everyone to grab a printed version of the next great book you read. Don’t be afraid to get dirty and really make it yours.