the perfect eReader will have….

ipad_libraryOver the past couple of months, I’ve had the good fortune to help develop a new e-reading app. I’ve been a fan of e-readers since the day I got my very first Kindle. Currently I read on a Kindle Paperwhite, a Kindle Fire, an iPad, and an iPhone. I also use a variety of apps to read. I’ve tried the Kindle app, iBooks, Marvin, and Bluefire. I read five or more books a week and, despite searching, have yet to find the perfect e-reader.

For me, the perfect e-reader would work across platforms and devices. It would allow me to begin a book on my Paperwhite, read a few chapters on my iPad, or on my phone, all while synchronizing where I am in the book and any notes or highlights I’ve made.

The interface would be easy to understand and would work smoothly. The screen would show me where I am in the book, how long the book is, the author and title of the book, and would have easy to access controls for font size, screen brightness, screen orientation, highlighting, and  note–taking. It would be clear where to tap to pull up more information about the book, my library, and other resources such as Wikipedia, Internet browser, and social media.

The program would work quickly and intuitively. I should be able to easily move back and forth within my book and find and define text.

These features are basic to any quality e-reading program. But what if an e-reader could do more?

I’d like to be able to click on a word or phrase and easily have the option, within the app, to search for more information about that word or phrase. For example, if I’m reading a historical romance that refers to the Corn Laws, I’d like to be able to select Corn Laws and have the option to learn more about them from any number of sources. If, while reading a contemporary romance in which the heroine makes Raku pottery, I’d like to be able to select Raku and be able to find and see a picture of Raku pottery. And if I were reading a fantasy novel in which the characters wore Mystic Goth nail polish, I’d like to be able to click on Mystic Goth and find a link to a site where I could purchase it. To me, the possibilities are endless.

I believe interactive, enhanced e-books are inevitable. Whether having inserted video, music, art, or all sorts of links, within the next few years e-books will become—if you want them to and, I suspect, even if you don’t—far more than just text on a screen. The Apple store already sells many enhanced books (my favorite: Moo Baa La La La) ranging from the sophisticated Alice in Wonderland to the less so Scooby-Doo and the Creepy Chef.

There will always be regular e-books just as there is still a wealth of print. But for those who want more, e-readers and e-books will offer other diverse choices. What would you like to see? What would you avoid at all costs? Is there an app or an interactive book you love?

The future of reading excites me. I’ll always love my tattered copy of The Voice That Is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century. But the ability to share the magic of A Charlie Brown’s Christmas on my iPad? That strikes me as pretty damn cool.

Dabney Grinnan

38 thoughts on “the perfect eReader will have….

  1. i just finished reading all of the comments. i wanted to respond to a few points.

    OVERDRIVE APP-I find this works extremely well with my ipad. i download the ebook in the epub format and read it directly in the overdrive app. i tie into three public library systems with this app and have a huge selection of audio and ebooks. i do not have the complete control over fonts and margins like i do in Marvin, however, but i can make this big enough to read comfortably for my vision problems.

    CALIBRE-the problems mentioned above are not with this software but with all the “bugs” that the various competing companies who sell ebooks throw at it. Apple recently decided to force us all into syncing our books in iTunes whereas it used to let us import from CALIBRE directly. It is trying to force us to use the IBOOKS store. This is when I turned to the MARVIN app (currently only on the IOS platform, not the android one). The major advantage to CALIBRE is that all my books have metadata attached which is readable in a side panel. this includes the book summary, reviews, the cover and descriptive tags.

    MARVIN-Marvin is not perfect but for someone with a visual problem, like my recent one, it is a godsend with the fonts and margin adjustments. it also has an import from CALIBRE feature plus an import from DROPBOX feature.

    DROPBOX-crucial because you can load your books into your choice of app directly from dropbox. it is the biggest way around the competing ebook vendors.

    GOODREADER-i still read art books, graphic novels, cookbooks, law books and other books which are not all text in PDF format. this app is the best for that on IOS but is not available for android. ADOBE READER is available for android and it is good.

    I just compiled a listmania list of android apps for my husband to refer to over at Amazon, which anyone else can also use. go over to my amazon page, given here, and click on listmania lists there. among my newest lists at the top is my BEST ANDROID APPS one. my husband has switched from IOS to android so i have had to keep up with both platforms of apps as otherwise he’ll stick to the old fashioned way–use browsers exclusively. UGH.

  2. this past summer i had an emergency situation with my eyes. essentially the cortisone injections i was getting for my knees completely messed up my vision including making me overly sensitive to sunlight. i ended up with colored spots in front of my eyes after being outdoors. it took months of staying off cortisone before i began to approach my former vision. then it was discovered that i had developed retinal scarring in my right eye and had become legally blind in that eye. so i had to have major retinal eye surgery and it takes the eye 18 months to recover from that. i will next need two cataract surgeries. the only thing which kept me going reading wise was my iPad. it was impossible for me to read a regular print book. i used primarily the ibooks app and then added the Marvin app. both are really good for font adjustment which is crucial for my problem. the Marvin app is absolutely the best for layout, fonts and sizing for my vision. i just loaded my husband’s new ereader, a Kobu Glo. He loves it. I can see the print on it but it would still be too much of an effort with these visual problems. the fact that the iPad is so well lit and the screen is so large is essential for my problem. i am 65 years old. if you are a senior, you might want to factor all of this in as i got hit with all of this right out of the blue. at first they thought i was going blind but then all day testing with the high tech machines at the Cleveland Clinic showed it was cortisone. for a solid two days though i thought i was going blind. nothing has ever affected my reading ability like this overload of vision medical problems. as for reading on my iphone, i will be lucky if that ever returns. i rather doubt it. carol

  3. Thank you all for the comments here. It has helped a lot in my decision of which new reader to get. Also, a friend at work just today got her new Kindle Fire in, so I was able to get a real good look at it. While it is nice, I can see now where many complain of the weight of it and glare. It would wear me out, physically and my eyesight, to read on it as much as I do my kindle keyboard. While it would be great for other things, maybe someday. Right now, I can do most of the same on my phone and it is with my all the time. The fire would be too much to carry around constantly.

    It’s settled, the Kindle Paperwhite is the one I’m ordering!

    Thanks for all your input.

  4. I am now dependent on text-to-speech for much of my reading and will never be able to go back to paper books. (Low vision problems) My Kindle Keyboard and Fire HD have saved my sanity (reading addicted,anyone?) for e-books for the kindle platform. I recently grabbed a Nook HD in their great Black Friday sale, and have discovered the Text-to-Speech option on the Reader Application. I also found IVONA apps with some good voice choices to replace that painful Google voice listening experience.

    I can’t afford the i-Pad cost, so I am glad I have both Amazon and Barnes and Noble to get me through. Do check out your public library for e-books and audio if you need this reading aid as I do.

  5. I’ve the kindle keyboard – in an ideal world, I’d like it to feel like my first ereader, the Sony, which was just a beautifully designed object. The kindle has no charm.

    I can imagine that, in a few years, when they’ve got to grips with interactivity I’ll enjoy reading that kind of book – but I don’t feel the need to have extra facilities in the meantime – don’t want to look up words, or information, or see what quotes other people have found memorable.

    I’d like – for no particular reason – to be able to opt for traditional page numbers rather than percentage read. I’d like to be able to flick through pages in a similar way that I can with a book. (Can you do that on touch screen ereaders?)

    But mostly, I’m still in awe of the thing. If I could have had a magic wish as a child I’d probably, once I’d flown round for a bit, have wanted every book in the library all at once – and to have that and in a size I can put into my handbag and carry round with me – that’s fabulous beyond fairytales.

    (See also: electric blankets! Beds that are warm when you get into them! Adult life is great.)

  6. No one has brought up the issue of e-ink vs digital screens. I have a Nook Simple Touch. I’m not totally in love with it, but I love the e-ink screen. I find that I have lots less eye strain with e-ink. It seems that most outlets are now pushing their tablets. I have an iPad, but I have much more eye strain when I read for long periods on the iPad.

    Otherwise, I love everyone’s suggestions! Do you think anyone will listen to the readers?

  7. I’d like the ability to be able to sort or “stack” books by series, by author, etc. So that there is less scrolling through lists… for example, if I have 10 books by Joe Brown, I’d like them all under a Joe Brown heading, rather than all listed up front so that I have to scroll past all ten before getting to books by Jean Green.

    • DJ: for example, if I have 10 books by Joe Brown, I’d like them all under a Joe Brown heading…

      Exactly. For those authors who write book series, show me an icon for the series that I can expand – instead of filling pages of my library with individual books.

  8. I have a kindle keyboard, ipad, and iphone. I find the phone screen too small to read on unless I’m desperate. I LOVE the e-ink kindle, especially since I read outside a lot, in full sunshine. The ipad is good for image-heavy books (cookbooks, craft books, etc.). The one thing I have wanted from the beginning with the kindle is library management. I want the ability to make sub-collections and sub-sub-collections. I want my collections to sync better across to my ipad and iphone and windows kindle apps. I want to be able to easily correct things like how an author’s name is listed so I don’t have books written by Jane Austen filed under both J and A in an alphabetized list.
    I use calibre and like it for back-up and database. I’m still exploring marvin. But I’m with everyone who wishes for DRM-less access on any device.
    I’m meh on enhanced books–that seems a different experience from reading to me. As others have said, the narrative draws me into the world I want to experience–don’t jerk me out.

  9. Like several posters, I’m not all that interested in interactive features.

    I do want better library and account management features.

    I want to get rid of the prompts at the end of the ebook that try to lead me back to Amazon or another social networking site to rate/review the book. I hate that! I wish we had the option to turn off that prompt (if we do, I don’t know about it).

    I don’t like touchscreens, but that is the direction new technology is going. I like having the option of using buttons.

    I’m also worried about how quickly devices are becoming obsolete. I don’t like the thought that when my Kindle Keyboard does finally wear out, the new devices won’t be to my liking and will be cluttered with features I don’t want or need. I’m a if-the-wheel-isn’t-broken-I-don’t- want-to-fix-it kind of gal.

    As for note-taking, the ability to highlight and search works for my meager needs (and is a vast improvement over trying to find a passage I failed to mark in paper books), but I can see where enhanced capabilities would be helpful for editing/reviewing/teaching, etc.

  10. I’d also like the ability to sort books by not only title and author, but by genre, publish date, date I added it to my e-reader and any collections I’ve made.

  11. I have a basic Kindle and am not that happy with it for books that I need to be able to mark up, use textual and marginal notes, and flip around to locate material quickly. The standard paperback book still works best for books I use in class. I might be interested though in a more interactive e-reader with a stylus and more enhanced bookmarking features. I bought my 9-yr. niece a Kindle Fire for Xmas, but she wants to be able to read and stream movies, play games and use it for email, etc. I’m looking forward to exploring in it.

  12. I have an iPad, a Nook Simple Touch, a Kobo Mini, and a basic Kindle. I didn’t actively seek to collect all of these reading devices; it just kind of happened. But I have things I love about each. I enjoy the in store features I get with my nook when I take it to a Barnes and Noble. But it’s a little clunky and there are rarely special deals on the Nook I can’t get elsewhere. I love the prime membership benefits I get on my kindle such as the lending library and the kindle first program. Kindles cooperate much more with the Overdrive at my public libraries so I tend to read most of my library ebooks on that one. Kobo is my favorite. The Kobo iPad app is better at syncing information like my shelves than the other readers. And I love being able to support my local bookstore by linking my account with that store. The mini is a great little reader that I can carry around in my pocket. But the online Kobo store isn’t the best.

    I really want to be able to read my ebooks on any device I want so I hope to see that in the future. Right now, I am able to track where each book I purchase is through goodreads but it isn’t ideal. But any added music or links? I’d probably turn those off.

  13. I want:

    – a built-in finder alarm. I’m always misplacing my ereaders.

    – both touch feature *and* page turn buttons. This feature is why I still use a Simple Touch despite B&Ns craptaculous customer service

    – the ability to go somewhere else in the book and easily get back to where I was.

    – browsing ability

    – better designed access to bookmarks. As a reviewer, I use this feature a lot and it sucks on all three of my ereaders. I have to keep repeating commands to go back in and see the next bookmark.

    – the magical ability to make pdfs readable

    • So far I’m using either Moon+ Reader or Mantano, which both have note-taking abilities. However, when I’m done, I upload all the notes to Evernote via the Share feature, so I can get at them on my computer. That’s about the nearest I’ve managed to the system I want when I’m reviewing books.

  14. I have an iPad, an iPhone and a Kindle Paperwhite. I ready almost exclusively on the Paperwhite these days, but will switch over to the phone if I’m having to wait somewhere. The iPad (2nd generation) is too heavy (and the Kindle fits in my purse, plus it doesn’t have to be recharged all the time), but I’ll be interested to try out my SIL’s new iPad Air when I visit at Christmas.

    I’ve downloaded Marvin and Calibre but have yet to find the time or desire to set everything up. I want to eventually strip the DRM out of the books I bought at FIctionwise. As for interactive features, I’m not on that bandwagon yet.

    • I bought the new air and love it. It has replaced my Kindle as the thing. I carry around in my purse. And, by the way, Marvin and Calibre work beautifully together if you decide to go down that path.

  15. I want an e-reader that can read across all platforms and decipher all forms of DRM. I have both a Nook and a Kindle (my daughter’s), and I hate that books I buy for one device can’t be read on the other device. I know I could use calibre to manipulate all of that, but I have neither the time, knowledge or desire to go to all of that trouble. This leads me to using my husband’s iPad and two different apps to handle both different DRM scenarios. When the Nook and Kindle die, I will not replace them but rather save for a new iPad instead. I know this isn’t really an e-reader/app issue but rather a publishing problem – publishers need to stop DRMing e-books. But since I doubt that will ever change, it needs to happen at the e-reader level.

    • I too read more on my iPad for that reason. I don’t know that I’ll ever buy another straight Kindle although I love it for reading. But Amazon has so many limitations that it’s frustrating.

    • Jenna, I’m right there with you regarding not having time, knowledge or desire to go to all of that trouble. It will probably bite me one day.

  16. Can I ask which of the ereaders you prefer? I have an older model kindle (with keyboard) and want to upgrade. I can’t decide which to get. I’m leaning toward the paperwhite or kindle fire, but since you can do pretty much anything the fire can do on a phone, I’m not sure if it would be worth it. I also fear with a fire, I will wind up carrying too many devices around with me all the time. Phone, fire, kindle. I guess my question boils down to how is the actual reading on a fire? Better or worse than a kindle ereader?

    • Of those two choices, just for reading, I’d buy a Kindlepaperwhite. The Fire is really a tablet with Kindle installed on it. It’s a great alternative to the iPad. But for just reading I’d go with the Kindle.

      • Thanks! I am leaning toward the paperwhite. I read a lot and I think that model will probably work better for me at this point. I may get decide to get a fire later on.

  17. I want library management. I don’t just want a list of books I can sort by either title or author and nothing else. I want sub-categories, and I want it to sort by tag if I want it to. Like Mantano’s.
    And I like it pretty, with a few choices. Not the boring wooden bookshelf or a list of names, but something a bit more imaginative.
    I really want the ability to change font, margins and brightness easily, like a swipe up the side of the screen (Moon+ Reader does that).
    I need a good note-taking facility, and a way of sharing the notes to Evernote.
    Interactive? Not really because of what Katja said.
    I want the choice of hiding everything, all the bars, so that I can get lost in the book, but I’d also like a bar that shows me battery power, date, percentage of book read, page number out of how many in total, and easy options. Better still, a status bar I can set myself (like Moon+)
    The program has to be able to communicate with Calibre, or at least make it possible to load books up for it to read.
    And it really has to open on the page I’m on when I open it. I don’t want to have to fiddle about with contents and libraries to continue reading where I left off.
    My favourite is Moon+ but it’s recently developed an annoying bug. Italics are rendered in Robotic, whatever other font I’ve chosen. Very annoying. Mantano has the best library management.I used to like Aldiko, but the import feature is annoying, and you end up with two copies of your books on the device. Mantano and Moon have import features, but they don’t duplicate your books.
    I tried Calibre Companion as library manager, but it’s useless. Very hard to work out, and the library is too inflexible for me. besides I don’t want to go outside my reader in order to sort my library.

    • Yes on the library management. At least allow a book to be part of more than one category / group. Not all authors write in just one genre! The kindle grouping is just not good enough and the (German) lending library app I’m using is even worse :(

      • These are great ideas. I too use Calibre and it drives me crazy I can’t import collections back and forth from my Kindle to my computer. I also like the idea of setting your own status bar.

        Thanks!

    • I have a Nook First Edition. There’s no touch screen or highlighting. Everything that’s been discussed sounds like science fiction to me. I’ll read over this column and comments later – when I have time to take copious notes. :-)

      • p.s. I don’t have a cell phone or iPod Touch either. Maybe that’s why I love Print books. :-)

  18. Funny, one bit about your dream ebook reader sounds like a nightmare to me.

    I would absolutely hate to have interactive ebooks, where if I accidentally touch a word or line, I get send out of the story to a webshop to buy something or even to land on a wikipedia page to be informed about some concept or other.
    I already throuroughly despise the fact, that whenever I touch a word for a little to long, my Kindle provides me with a Thesaurus or a translation.

    When I’m reading, I’m happy to be transported to another reality and I absolutely would not want to be jolted back all the time. In fact, as much as I love my ebook reader, for its convenience in changing font sizes or adjusting light and contraxt,for its the ability to carry around lots of books in one little device and for the instant gratification of getting new books easily – if my ebook reader started to deliver these enhanced reading experiences, I would revert back to print.

    • I think there will be something for everyone in the future. I should have added that all features should be able to turned off, even the thesaurus one!

      • I know it does probably not sound like a lot of difference, but couldn’t these features be something you need to turn on rather than off.
        I seem to spend a lot of time to turn new features off in facebook/my email program/any other application I use. I’d love to just keep them as they are and then activate what I want, when I really want it.
        But yes, at least if I’m able to turn them off, that’s something.

    • I actually agree with you, Katja. That’s one issue I have with my e-reading experience, when I touch the screen too long in a certain way, that words become highlighted or definitions pop up. When I’m reading, I just want to keep reading without any distractions. The idea of an e-reader that acts like a webpage with auto-links that open up pop up ads when you hover over them would lead me to give up on e-readers immediately!

      I get the concept. And there is something kind of cool about a writer being able to, for example, insert a link to a song that she had in mind while writing a scene or a link to a piece of artwork that inspired her. While I’m sure I would get used to the idea and maybe even come to appreciate having other forms of media as part of my reading experience, at this point I prefer to let my imagination fill in those blanks.

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