Review: iBooks 3’s new scrolling view, collections, sharing

As part of its Mac and iPad mini event on Tuesday, Apple also unveiled iBooks 3. It’s free, and it’s the first significant update to the ebook software since January. The big new  features include a new scrolling view, a Collection to easily view books you’ve purchased (as opposed to side-loaded), and better way to share passages of books via social networks. I’m going to take you through each of the new features, and give you my thoughts on them.

Scrolling view

You can access the new scrolling view by tapping on the “aA” icon in the upper-right corner, choosing Themes, and then tapping on Scroll. Now, instead of tapping on the screen edges to turn the page, you can just scroll up to keep reading. If you use Instapaper at all, it works just like reading in that app.

The chief problem I have with this view is it felt like I was reading a run-on page. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but my eyes and brain are used to the brief rest that comes with turning the page. Simply put, I did feel myself freaking out a bit when the page went on way longer than I expected. My initial experience was so displeasing that after vowing to give it a solid chance, I just gave up. There are location numbers in the left-hand margin so you can get a vague sense of when page numbers change, but I would like it better if there was also a thin horizontal rule to mark the location changes.

I don’t think the new view is completely useless, though. An ideal use would be reference texts where you need to view a section of text than spans over two pages. For general reading, however, I still find the tap-to-turn method the best. Also, while Apple has said it’s tweaked iOS to detect accidental thumb pressed with the iPad mini, the scrolling text view could be a guaranteed way to make sure you don’t suddenly jump ahead 20 pages.

Purchased Collection

I don’t buy a lot of books via iBooks — Amazon(s AMZN), for the time being, is still my chosen purveyor of reading materials — but recently I needed to look at a book I’d bought through the iBookstore previously. To read it, I needed to go the iBookstore, choose Purchased, and then redownload it from there. It felt like a few steps too many.

I know, I know. I suffered.

One thing Amazon’s Kindle app has done better than iBooks is how it handles books in the cloud. You just click on the Cloud tab and you view a library on non-downloaded books. Now, iBooks works the same way. Go to your Collections list, choose Purchased, and boom, your Books in the Cloud are there.

Unfortunately, one area Amazon still eats Apple’s lunch is how it handles sideloaded content. You can upload damn near anything to your Personal Documents section on Amazon and download it to your various Kindle apps. Apple only supports this feature for books you buy through the iBookstore. If you sideload a lot of content to iBooks (guilty) you still need to use iTunes to sync it to your iOS devices.

Now, that’s suffering.

Sharing passages

Every now and then, I tweet a book I’m reading (or just finished reading). Maybe it’s the bibliophile’s version of sharing what I ate for lunch. How I’d expect a sharing feature to work in a books app is to tweet, Facebook(s FB), or whatever, a book I’m reading, some general thoughts, and a shortened link to the book in the retailer’s store.

That’s not how it works in iBooks.

Instead, you highlight a passage, tap Share, and that passage along with your commentary are shared. I rubbed my temples at the various types of passages that may be shared with me on Twitter and Facebook since I have friend with odd tastes in reading.

As with the scrolling text, I’m going to say this feature is the most relevant to people reading texts that need to share passages with others via email. When I was in school, I’d need to share parts of scientific texts with group mates. Schools, book clubs, religious study groups, etc. could find this handy for sharing amongst themselves.


I’d put a side bet with myself that we’d see an iBooks update on Tuesday. What with the rumor mill and all, I felt it was easy money. It’s a good thing there wasn’t a point spread, though.

Because while testing these new features out, my thoughts kept tracking along the lines of: this is a full version release? It felt like it should have been called iBooks 2.5; not iBooks 3. Maybe there’s more coming in future dot releases, especially once iTunes 11 is released.