iPhone as ebook reader revisited (Part 3)

My iphone was hacked in September last year, and because it worked fine, I saw no need to upgrade the firmware – the few tweaks that Apple provided didn’t seem sufficiently compelling to risk bricking the thing. But my mate John took the plunge to 1.14 about a month ago. And lo and behold, one of the things that was pretty annoying was fixed – that being a problem with short sms messages which meant that voicemail notifications weren’t getting through. So, in the spirit of new toys, I did the deed yesterday (re-virginizing and using iplus 2) and apart from a couple of hiccups (first go had to be aborted due to a missing file and a remaining issue with ftp access) and a couple of hours entering star-trek like commands into a terminal window, it’s all good to go.

And it confirmed to me a couple of things. Firstly, those who dismiss the iphone because it can’t do x or y are really missing the point. The iphone is not a phone, but a platform. At the moment it’s incomplete and awaiting the imprimatur of the Fruit Company Mothership. But the difference between the iphone and the rest of them is that the iphone really *is* a computer in your pocket. I had a Treo 650 for 2 years and whilst I installed a bunch of third party hacks, Palm never gave me a worthwhile upgrade to the OS, and never provided a way to make it easy to do. So, in essence the Treo never progressed. In less than a year, the iphone has had a few firmware upgrades – all of which have added significantly to the user experience – and all of which were no-brainers for legitimate users to do. 

But I digress. The firmware update made extra applications far more accessible, so as a result I’ve been installing a bunch of toys. One of which is the books.app, which I had so far neglected. And it pretty well addresses all the issues I’ve had with the iphone as an ebook reader. At first blush, it’s pretty damn good. 

For a start, the books are stored locally, so you don’t have to be online to read, nor deal with the instability of filemarks. Then, the interface works a treat. Touching the bottom of the screen pages down; touching the top pages up. Touching the middle provides a bunch of navigation options (next chapter, a scrollbar) that just make sense – as well as easy font resizing. And you can set the default font. All in all it seems to make reading much more accessible. But I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve read a complete book – I’ve just started Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” and will post a note when I’ve read it. 

The only problems are the obvious ones – it’s a hack – so a certain geekiness is required to get it to work (jaikbroken iphones and ipod touches only); there’s a lack of titles in the appropriate format (although a kind soul has provided a properly formatted repository of the Baen Free Library); and there’s hurdles to jump through to get books the way you need them.

But the Books.app has restored my faith in the iphone as ebook reader – and suggests that once the official SDK is released and some publishers see the potential (4 million iphones so far, millions more ipod touches – compare that to kindle or sony reader), there may be some real good times ahead!!

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