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Using the iPad as a Mobile Library

E-book readers are increasingly popular — but the iPad may be the best e-book reader yet. Bud Smith loves the iPad so much he wrote Sams Teach Yourself iPad in 10 Minutes and the upcoming Using the Apple iPad. In this article, Bud shows you what’s great about the iPad as a e-book reader. He also explains how the Kindle app on the iPad works with Apple’s own iBooks app to give you the best overall experience in buying and reading e-books.
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A home graced with shelves full of books has long been the mark of an educated, intellectually active person. But with e-book readers and tablet computers becoming increasingly popular, one device can contain an entire library.

While e-book readers are holding their own, it’s the iPad that’s captured people’s imagination. While it does many things well, the iPad is especially popular for reading. Content includes online newspapers and magazines – mainly via their websites – as well as books. This article takes you through the best tips and tricks for using the iPad as a mobile library for books.

Kindle vs. iBooks

Many people make a tough choice between getting an Apple iPad, Amazon’s Kindle, or even both (see Figure 1). You might think that, once you’ve decided to get an iPad—the more expensive, but more capable, choice—you’ve at least solved the problem.

Figure 1 Amazon Kindle vs. Apple iPad

But no. That’s because one of the best ways to get and read books on the iPad is, ironically, via the Kindle app.

Amazon is pursuing what’s called a multi-platform strategy with Kindle. That is, Kindle books don’t just work on Kindle devices. They can also be read on a laptop or desktop computer, a smartphone, or a tablet device – notably including the iPad.

The Kindle apps work together really well. If you read the first five pages of a book on your PC, using the Kindle for PC application, you’ll then pick up on page six on your iPad, using the Kindle iPad app. And if you read five more pages on the iPad, you can then continue from page 11 on your Kindle device.

Kindle also has the best selection of books of any such service, with more than half a million titles. And the book selection is fully integrated with Amazon.com, with its many strong features, including the best array of user reviews of books, author blog pages, related book recommendations, and more, that you’ll find anywhere.

So, the answer seems simple. Just use the Kindle app on your iPad – and on every other device you own. Buy your physical books and your e-books on Amazon, and have a single source for all your books – and a unified online library.

There’s just one little problem. The iPad’s native iBooks app is, in important ways, better.

No, iBooks doesn’t have as many titles as Kindle; iBooks has “just” 60,000 titles, one-tenth the number as for Kindle. (And yes, you’re likely to find some desirable titles “missing in action” when you shop using iBooks.) No, iBooks doesn’t work across multiple platforms like Kindle. No, iBooks doesn’t benefit directly from Amazon.com user reviews like Kindle does.

The iBooks app is, however, noticeably easier and more pleasant to use than the Kindle app on iPad. As with the comparison between the iPad vs. other tablets, or the iPhone vs. other smartphones, the differences are subtle—little things really; but, they add up.

Here are a few “wins” for iBooks:

  • Opening screen—iBooks opens with a view of a wooden bookcase and full-color covers of your books; the Kindle app floats the book covers onscreen.
  • Fonts—Apple gives you more font choices (five vs. one) and font sizes (10 vs. five).
  • Contrast—Text contrast is a little bit better, enhancing readability for iBooks.
  • Integrated graphics—iBooks seems to do a better job of displaying graphics in place than the Kindle app.
  • Page animation—The animation shown when turning pages on iPad is smooth, where the Kindle app jumps jarringly between pages; with the Kindle, you can’t readily tell if you’ve gone forward or back.
  • Features—iBooks had search capability and dictionary support first.
  • Integrated shopping—Book shopping happens from within the iBooks app, whereas the Kindle app tosses you onto the Web.
  • Reading books aloud—The iPad will read books aloud. Go to Settings and choose General > Accessibility. Turn on VoiceOver, the text-to-speech feature used by blind people. When you open a book, tap the first line – to get the focus there –swipe down the page with two fingers, then tap with one finger in the body of the page. The iPad will continue reading to you, turning pages as needed, until you tap with two fingers to stop.

I bought one book, Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start, for both the iBooks app and the Kindle app. I found the reading experience just a little bit better in iBooks. Figure 2 shows the screen for The Art of the Start in iBooks.

Figure 2 Reading a book on the iPad.

Most people are likely to simply use the Kindle app on the iPad, and their other devices as well. Having all your books in one place—and all accessible on multiple platforms, with smooth bookmarking across all of them—is a great advantage, as is using Amazon.com directly for book-buying.

If you’re particular about reading, though—and especially if you like the option of having your books read to you aloud—you may find yourself using iBooks first, and the Kindle app only when you can’t find a book you want through iBooks.

And if you want even more places to search, Barnes & Noble has its own app as well, with some books that both iBooks and Amazon lack. Adding to the opportunities – and the confusion – Google Books, the newest entrant, claims to have more than three million books available today.

And here’s a tip: If you use multiple sources for ebooks, consider entering the names of all the books you own, and the bookstore each book comes from, in a word processing or spreadsheet app. That will give you searchability for all your book titles – and, if you use a spreadsheet, sortability too.

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