Since updating to OS X 10.6.6 and having available the new Mac App Store, I have acquired yet another book app: Amazon’s Kindle for Mac. There have been, and are, others, none of which have the killer function that I look for in an eReader.

In reverse order of my acquisition, there’s Kindle for iPhone, which I got because some folks on Twitter were saying you could get a ton of P. G. Wodehouse for free. They were wrong, as it turns out, at least as far as UK customers are concerned. I’m suspicious of Kindle, thanks to its DRM, but it seems Amazon’s loosening up a bit about that, and you can break it quite easily, I’m told.

Prior to that, I was quite happy with iBooks. I assume purchases are just as DRM-crippled as their Kindle counterparts, but I don’t know for sure as I’ve never bought anything through it. I have read free ePubs and PDFs on it, and was quite happy with the experience.

Before Apple got into the book business, though, there was the mighty Stanza — still the book app my wife swears by. Having no online store of its own, it lets you buy from a variety of sources, like Fictionwise. I’ve had magazine subscriptions through them which have worked out pretty well. You can also get free books from Project Gutenberg as you’d expect.

Now, the desktop version of Stanza does what I’d like any mobile reader to do, but as yet the iPhone version does not. Perhaps it’s a feature that most users simply don’t know they want because, unlike my good self, they’ve never had the opportunity to try it.
My chance came with what is still my favourite phone out of all the ones I’ve owned: my fondly-remembered Palm Treo 650. There are still several things I wish my iPhone, in all its might, could do that my old, clunky Treo did effortlessly. One of them was the way it let me read ebooks.

In short, it gave me the option of automatic scrolling. You set it rolling and could read an entire encyclopaedia without having to touch the screen ’til you’d finished.

The two main benefits were that you could read while doing something that required both hands, like eating in public, and that it stopped you getting distracted by other stimuli. Granted, the latter is probably specific to me, but it significantly helps my reading pace when I’m keeping up with the screen. Without it, not only do I visualise when I read (unlike some people I know, including my English teacher wife), I tend to adapt the novels for the cinema as I read them. (They’re almost always great movies for the first three quarters, but then their plots get too convoluted for a movie and I have to give up on my mental adaptation by sticking in a car chase and moving on.) This leads me to wander away from the text to ruminate on, say, casting or production design and I can find that I’ve spent hours reading but a few pages like some imbecile. The auto-scroll function forced me to forget my “movie” and just read the damn book; I got through a lot more literature as a result.

I suspect that ereader designers assume that people will miss the act of page-turning when they switch from traditional dead tree editions, so they build in a simulated equivalent. I don’t mind swiping or tapping my finger to reveal the next “page”, I just miss auto-scroll so desperately that I watch updates in the App Store (both on my phone and computer) with great interest.

By Kenny Park

Kenny Park, pro video editor in Avid and Final Cut for over a decade.

One thought on “Reading Along”
  1. I know you’ve talked about your favoured ‘autoscrolling’ method of reading books before but I still don’t get it :). Mind you, I accept that that’s my problem and not yours; it looks like it’s a fairly frequent request on the Stanza forums. You could “like” the idea here which may help get it some attention.

    And I didn’t know that there was any Wodehouse in the public domain, but it looks like there’s a selection available on Gutenberg.

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