The thing I’ve noticed most about the iPad since I got one in April is how versatile it is. It’s hard to categorise; it could replace a low-end laptop and it makes my old Kindle look like one of those cheap yellow Tudor exercise books. However, one of its biggest selling points is its role as an ebook reader. Its strength in that department is its adaptability – unlike a Kindle, it can read books from a number of different sources (including the Kindle store itself). However, the native iPad reading solution – iBooks – leaves something to be desired. It’s a work in progress – and pales in comparison to the iPad itself.
It’s been six weeks since the iPad’s release in Australia, and there are still precious few books on the iBookstore, all of them public domain books, which do not violate Australian copyright territory agreements. It’s a disappointing experience to have the world at your fingertips, and yet not be able to get a copy of the The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. Nonetheless, we can assume that, just like the Kindle store, the iBookstore will be populated over the months to come when agreements with Australian publishers are reached and the correctly formatted ebooks come trickling into the Apple vaults.
As an ereader, the iPad has come closer to comprehensive ebook access than any other reading device. It has a Kindle reader, Kobo reader, Borders reader (based on the Kobo one) the new Barnes & Noble reading app and the native iBooks app. There are also countless third-party reading apps, like the Amazon-owned Stanza, that have been developed to read non-DRM ebook files. However, there is no single window through which readers can get a consistent ebook experience on the iPad. Each reading experience is different, and has obvious pros and cons. You have to be fairly well educated about ebook formats and DRM to know whether you can get an app to read that new ebook you bought, especially if you purchased it from somewhere other than the app on which you’ll read the book. Most of the device independent DRM formats are not supported on any app (like Adobe’s AER, that the Sony Reader uses). As most Australian ebook vendors are still selling books protected with Adobe’s, Microsoft Reader’s or Mobipocket’s DRM it begs the question: why hasn’t someone got an app that can read the DRM for these ebooks on the iPad?
Google has been hyping their soon-to-be-released, device independent ebooks offering, to be called ‘Google Editions’, for months – but why hasn’t some clever software developer created an app that can be used with the existing device independent DRM schemes? If anyone knows the answer – let me know in the comments.