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BLOG: iBooks 2 for iOS

Lex Friedman | Jan. 25, 2012
Whenever I’m asked to review an e-reading app, my first reaction hovers around snarky amusement.

Though obviously this depends on how the author prepares your fancy textbook, all the launch textbooks currently available offer impeccable, incredible design. Tapping to play a movie, or using your fingers to explore a 3D model or interactive graph, is very cool.

Unfortunately, though, because of how carefully laid-out these optimized ebooks must be, the ebooks themselves aren’t as flexible as regular ebooks. You can’t, for example, adjust the font or font-size when you’re reading an optimized book, since that would mess up the formatting. (It would also mean that if an instructor asked you to turn to page 27, your page 27 might be different from your classmate’s—no good for the intended classroom audience.)

(Image Caption: Why The Long Face: When you read optimized ebooks in portrait view, iBooks allows you to resize the text as desired.)

The sole exception to this font manipulation limitation occurs when you rotate your iPad from landscape to portrait. When you do that, you bid farewell to the fancy book’s fanciful layout, and instead get a view more akin to one that Instapaper or Safari Reader might provide. All the interactive elements get pulled out to the left margin, with the text flowing across the rest of the screen. Instead of turning pages, you simply keep swiping vertically—again, just like in Instapaper.

In this view, you can freely adjust the font and font size. In most of the textbooks I sampled, the font size used in the fancier landscape view was readable, but smaller than my old man eyes might prefer for lengthy reading; that I can adjust the font size in portrait mode is a welcome nicety. And since the portrait view doesn’t use a page-turning mechanism, it can keep page numbers consistent. Page 17 might be two feet long if you measured it out, but all the text that should be associated with that page number is.

When you’re reading optimized ebooks, you get access to iBooks’s new highlighting features. All you need to do is tap and drag over text to highlight it. Tap the highlighted text to change its highlight color (or switch to underlining), or to add a note. When you’re reading a regular book, this same gesture merely selects the text, at which point you can choose whether to highlight it or not.

To select text in optimized books, you can either double-tap, or tap and hold without moving your finger while holding until the selection interface appears. Only by selecting text—as opposed to highlighting it—can you bring up the option to see a word’s inline definition.

When you add a note to highlighted text, a tiny note icon is added to the page’s margin. Delicate-fingered folk should have no problem tapping the tiny icon, but fatter-fingered folk like me might accidentally turn the ebook’s page (in landscape view) if they inadvertently tap elsewhere in the margin. Switching to portrait view eliminates that problem, since you don’t tap to turn pages in that mode, on the optimized ebook side. If you’re attempting to review notes in a landscape mode or while reading a regular book and you find the tiny tap target too small to hit with any accuracy, you can instead tap once on the highlighted text the note is linked to, and then on the easier-to-reach Notes icon that appears.


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