Monday, February 15, 2016

The Usability of IBooks Application

                          The Usability of IBooks Application            

                                                                             By Yiheng, Zhao

Besides Amazon Kindle and Kobo, IBooks is one of the most popular reader applications provided by Apple Inc. It has friendly and succinct UIs (user-interfaces) containing many convenient and useful functions. Although many similar and related applications are emerging, IBooks still occupies the considerable market. However, there are several sophisticated rivals that cannot be ignored. One is Kindle, which dominates the half market [5]. Since Apple Company published IBooks in 2010, many articles, blogs and websites have been published to give both general and specific sense of benefits and shortages of these two applications and compare which one is the best. [2][3][4][5][8]

To make a brief summary, I list some similarities and significant differences between Kindle and IBook from [2][3][4][5][8]

1)      They all provide reading functions including downloading books from office bookstore or      anywhere else.
2)      They all allow users to preview samples to decide whether the book satisfies them.
3)      They all allow users classify and arrange books that have been stored on the application.
4)      They all provide portrait and landscape mode for reading.
5)      They all provide settings to change brightness of screen, background color, and so on.
6)      They all allow users to create bookmarks, highlights and personal notes.

1)      Kindle contains more than 950,000 ebooks whereas IBook only has around 200,000 [4]
2)      Kindle allows to label one book into many categories while IBook allows assign to only one
3)      Kindle supports more than ten types of file, such as .docx, .pdf, .txt. However IBook only supports .pdf and .epub (Ipad can convert .txt document to .pdf document automatically)
4)      Kindle allows change margin and format of the article which is not available in IBook.
5)      IBook supports continuously reading mode (no gap between pages), but Kindle doesn’t have.
6)      IBook contains audio reading function while users of Kindle have to download this function themselves
7)      In IBook, it is convenient to copy selected content to other software, applications or even websites. On the contrary, Kindle doesn’t allow.
8)      IBook provides in-app store integration [7]

There are also some articles make full comparisons with IBook and Kobo [9][10], and YouTube video to compare all of these three applications [1]. The discussion about which one is more useful and popular is still continuing. Kindle, Kobo and IBook all have attractive features and flaws. In this article, I will focus on IBook, because I have been using this application for a long time and found some aspects, which are not mentioned by other papers, need to improve. The functions of IBook listed above are mainly for books or articles with .epub format. When it comes to .pdf documents that are downloaded from internet or itunes, many functions become invalid. Because of the convenience and portable of Ipad (IBook is the default reader application on Ipad), I always use it to read academic papers and articles (primary with .pdf format) that download from website, such as Elsevier and ACM. Compared to Adobe Reader on the computer, IBooks are much less convenient for using. I summarize defects that could be further improved

1. Insufficient supported document formats:
IBook only supports .txt, .pdf and .epub documents. Many files saved by .docx or .pptx (e.g. course materials) cannot be opened with IBooks. I have to download other applications to scan these unsupportable documents or find software to convert these documents into available formats.

Suggestion: extends the type of supporting documents. It may be difficult to achieve this goal due to the security problems of documents or lack of data structure. However, it could try to provide automatic-conversion function. There are many available online converters they can imitate.

2. Functions missing:

      Apple has provided detailed introductions on how to take fully use of IBook [6]. However many           functions are only available for .epub files. When it comes to books that are downloaded from             internet privately with .pdf type, they do not work. Now I list some missing functions that I found       when using IBook:

1)  No way to change fonts, size, background color in .pdf documents:
Figure 1 contains two screenshots of application settings with previewed book (.epub type) downloaded from apple bookstore (left side) and a .pdf article from (right side). By pressing a small button “AA” of the first screenshot, it is very easy to find settings for change article styles. (“AA” is not an appropriate label for settings, because it always means some settings related to font size. Within this button, there are many settings, such as change background color, are not even related to font); in the opposite, I can only find settings to change brightness of .pdf document (right side). Other settings (the font size, background color, scrolling view) are missing.
                                                               Figure 1

I feel very tired with my eyes when reading papers with the default settings (small black words with white background) for a long time. Although users can scale  the sentences of article by stretching the screen with two fingers, the content is not completed, which means users have to move to other regions back and forth to read the whole content, which is very inconvenient (Figure 2). 
                                                                            Figure 2

2)   No way to highlight, underline regions and take notes:
Figure 3 shows the opened .epub document panel (left and middle screenshots).  By press the word for seconds, there is tool bar emerging, which provides functions, such as highlighting selected regions and taking notes. Unfortunately, these functions don’t appear in .pdf document panel (Figure 4). Screenshot of the right side illustrates that only “copy”, “define” and “search” functions can be applied for this model. This is inconvenient because most of academic papers are in the form of .pdf. Without notes or highlights, it is very hard to remember or review the paper.
                                                              Figure 3

                                                                           Figure 4

Maybe .pdf documents have security issues or don’t give any access to modify the original contents, which makes it difficult to repair missing functions, but it is possible to create a new file to store additional modifications that could overlap the original contents.

3. No instruction for re-name document:
Sometimes, when I input a paper into IBook, I forget to change the name of that paper, which is consisted by a sequence of numbers and letters. When finding the paper in IBook, I can’t remember the name of paper. At the beginning, I have no idea to change the file’s name, because there is no such instruction or button in the IBook. After trying for sometimes, I found the way. The steps are shown as below:

Step 1: open IBook and select the list viewpoint by press button on the up-left corner

Step 2: press “select” button

Step 3: press any title that you want to change and type new name (there is no hint or tip for rename the document)

Step 4: press “done” to complete the re-naming

There are two problems I found in this function:
1)      Downloaded books or novels with .epub format cannot change the name.
2)      Different articles can have the same name without any warning. Regardless of the forbidden duplication of name to keep the uniqueness of article’s title (like ID) for user to quickly recognize what is this article about, at least, there should be warming about redundant name exists in the list.

1)   Create a button to allow re-name the title. For instance, add an additional tool bar with re-name button on it.
2)    Re-name function should be accessed for books of all types.
3)    Duplication of name should not be accepted; just like windows did (second document will be named “_copy” automatically). At least, there should be a warming dialog showing “The file’s name: - has already existed in the list!” in case they make wrong names by accident.

4. No multiple view:

When I read a paper, page separation always bothers me, because some explanations of figures or graphs are in the different pages and I have to turn back to find exact graphs. This is significantly troublesome when numerous features need to be compared and they are all in different pages. E.g. After trying to find a reference from the last page, I have to scroll back to previous pages. Besides, scrolling view model is also not available in this case.

Make it possible to have two or more viewpoints, similar to view models in Power Point and Eclipse. Each view can scroll up and down independently, so that users can find different contents without operating pages.

5. Outline occupies the whole page:
In order to accelerate the scanning process of the general structure of article, firstly, I always look at outline (catalogue) of the paper (especially for e-books), and then read useful chapters by click that title (application can switch the current viewpoint to corresponding contents). Indeed, it is a very useful and efficient function to read books or articles with hundreds of pages. However, sometimes it is not obvious to get main idea of one chapter only through title. After I click that title to get more information about that chapter, I have to re-open outline again for the next chapter, which is inconvenient. Furthermore, many articles have no outline, because the hyperlinks of outline are not automatically created. Authors have to create outlines and hyperlinks themselves.

1)      Outlines can be shown on only a half screen. Another half screen shows the corresponding contents.
2)      It will be better to create an outline automatically, or provide a wizard functions to help writers create a simple outline, just like the function in Microsoft Word.

Although lots of shortcomings still exist in IBook, it is worth regarding IBook as a preference of reader application according to its features and advantages. I also use Adobe Acrobat on the computer (win 10 system), which offers more attractive functions refer to .pdf documents. IBook can be more perfect and attract more users by overcoming its shortages, expending book market and adding more creative functions (take advantages of adobe’s functions).

1.       AppTV: Your Ultimate App Guide. (2011, 6 3). Comparison of 3 Reading Apps: Kindle, Kobo and iBooks. Retrieved from YouTuBe:
2.       Calimlim, A. (2015, 4 28). Apple's iBooks versus Amazon's Kindle. Retrieved from AppAdvice:
3.       Chavanu, B. (2014, 9 8). Kindle vs. iBooks: Which Is The Best eReader For Your iPad or iPhone? Retrieved from makeuseof:
4.       Friedman, L. (n.d.). Reading on the iPad: Kindle vs. iBooks. Retrieved from
5.       GARRETT, C. (2010, 11 8). iBooks vs Kindle app- Which one should you use? Retrieved from iMore:
6.       Inc., A. (n.d.). IBooks. Retrieved from iOS Apps Support:
7.       KOWALCZYK, P. (2015, 9 8). 12 things to know about iBooks and iBooks Store. Retrieved from EBOOK GEEK HEAVEN:
8.       Lovejoy, B. (2015, 8 11). Opinion: Is iBooks really gaining ground on Kindle,or do iBooks sales lag behind users? Retrieved from 9TO5Mac:
9.       Quatermain, A. (2011). Why Buy Kobo over iBooks? Retrieved from tumblr.:
10.   SORREL, A. C. (2010, 5 28). Kobo Beats iBooks with International iPad Bookstore, App. Retrieved from WIRED:

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