How To Find Reading Apps For The iPhone and iPad

Ok. There are a ton of lists on book and reading iPhone apps out there. Too many, in fact.

Instead, I’m going to try a different and hopefully more approach: how can you find iPhone reading apps you want?

As good a place to start as any is the Top 20 Free Book Apps, courtesy of eBookNewser. The list includes some of the more recognizable ones (iBooks, Kindle, Nook, Google Books), as well as a somewhat eclectic mix of other book-themed apps.

(This brings to mind another issue for me worth thinking about — the vagueness of ebooks and book-related apps. But I’ll save that discussion for another future discussion).

A great place to look, when thinking about how to decide what reading apps are for you is a very good guide from MacWorld: “The iPhone e-book readers’ guide.” Among some of the most important things to consider —

  • Interface — Beyond something that looks nice, it needs to be something that you actually want to read on, right? — “The goal of every reader app should be to make the reading experience as easy on the eyes as possible. The interface should be clean and the text should be fully scalable, with a wide variety of typefaces, text colors and backgrounds to choose from. You should be able to read in either portrait or landscape mode.
  • Compatibility and content — One of my critiques about some of the big-name ereading apps (i.e., Kindle, etc.) is the siloed content approach. Of course there are sound business reasons why this is so. But those sound reasons don’t make it less annoying. That is, you only read Kindle books on the Kindle app, Nook ebooks on the Nook app, and so on. But what about our other reading formats (PDFs, non-DRM ePub …) — “The ideal reading app would be one that you can use to read books, magazines, and newspaper articles seamlessly and transparently in every format imaginable. And, for goodness sake, avoid digital rights management if at all possible.
  • Customizability — We all want the luxury of more options, even if we’re not goig t use them — viewing options, type, font sizes, spacing, margins and colors: “Along with fully adjustable text, a reader should have total control of the reading experience. If you want to simulate flipping the pages of a book, then the app should let you flip the pages. If you’d rather save time and turn pages with a single tap, you should be able to do that.
  • Interactivity — Different readings call for different reading apps. The first apps I looked at on my iOS devices were reading apps — some apps are better than others for books with graphics and tables, some apps seem to be better for novel reading. A personal pet peeve for me is an app that doesn’t have decent note-taking and all of the normal things we’d do while reading a paper and ink book —

“A reader should be helpful, resourceful and fully networked. Looking for a particular section, passage, phrase or word in an e-book? You should be able to open the search engine and tap away. Don’t know what a word means? You should be able to look it up without leaving the app. You should also be able to bookmark the definition in the text for future reference. Ideally, an app would either have an excellent built-in dictionary and thesaurus or link to a dictionary you might already have installed on your device.

If you are compulsive highlighter, the app should let you highlight text with a tap and a stroke of a finger. Prefer to underline instead? Then the app should let you opt for that. The app should let you annotate the text and bookmark as many pages as you like. You should also be able to link directly to passages and references in other works, regardless of whether you own the e-book or even if you do and it’s stored on another computer.”

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All that being said, I think the praise for the Stanza app is well-deserved, for all of the different things it does, and does well. And the desktop program comes in handy for converting to ePub and putting ebooks on your iPhone.

Thanks to that MacWorld guide, I had a look at the iFlow reader, which is another good free option.

However, an article of interest, CNET: “As iFlow Reader app closes, harsh words for Apple” with some background information on the effects of the new “agency model” of ebook sales on iTunes.

And finally, an interesting observation: “Apps are 15 times more popular than ebooks” (along with a helpful comparison, in chart form) and this historical perspective: “Books are a 400 year old medium. Songs only 100 years old and apps a mere 10. “

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[Update: I couldn’t find Fictionwise’s eReader app in the App Store, which I am assuming is a result of this, per TeleRead, “Fictionwise acquired by Barnes & Noble for $15.7 million in cash


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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