lundi 27 décembre 2010

Crashing William

I just wanted to share with you the latest update message of Readdle's Shakespeare app, a free iPhone app, giving you access to Shakespeare's complete works:

Definitely a fantastic summary of the pros and cons of ebooks!

vendredi 17 décembre 2010

iPad reading

Today's post won't be, for a change, about Amazon!

I not only have a Kindle, I also own an iPad. I bought the WiFi version, not the 3G, because I am less comfortable bringing it everywhere with me, than I am with, err, a Kindle for example (Gee, I promised no Amazon!) The iPad seems a bit fragile to me, and I don't feel like putting it my bag and going everywhere with it.

Nevertheless, it has some ebook features that I'd like to discuss.

You've certainly heard about Apple iBooks, the app that let's you use your iPad as an ebook reader. I will not talk about it today (but I promise to come back to it once soon).

You know by heart the Amazon Kindle App, but I will not talk about it either.

No Stanza, either.

I wish to talk with you about Safari. No, not Safari, Safari. I mean O'Reilly's Safari Books Online which, as its full name implies, gives you access to many books, from publisher O'Reilly, via a Web browser (for instance, Apple Safari...)

I happen to have a limited access to it through an ACM membership subscription, 600 titles out of 13000. It seems a tiny fraction, about 5%, but they are well-chosen titles, and it fits the bill.

Oh, and before you ask, they are computer science titles, not the latest John Grisham best-selling novel.

Above, you can have a quick look at what the interface looks like on a PC, using Google Chrome as the browser. It is a page from Robert C. Martin's Agile Principles, Patterns and Practices in C#.

As you can see, it features a very neat rendering. Figures and code excerpts are rendered OK, text is perfectly readable, and you have a quick navigation from the table of contents on the left. On the other hand, it suffers from the good old lanscape nightmare of today's PCs: You can't actually read the book, since your screen would display approximately half a page, and you will have to constantly scroll down.

On a desktop PC, you often have the option to put the screen in portrait mode, but it is definitely not very convenient to do this on my home laptop.

All in all, you can only use Safari Books Online on a PC for reference material, but not for actual reading.

It is completely different on an iPad.

As you can see on the image on the left, when in portrait mode, you have a nicely laid out page that you can read happily, lying in your bed rather than sitting on a chair.

You have to tweak things a bit to have a comfortably sized font, and to see the table of contents on the left (which I didn't do on this picture), but once you got used to it, you can actually read the book, not just browse it.

Funny note: when you are viewing the book in Chrome, you are actually using a Flash plug-in. When I first had my iPad, it didn't work, of course! There was - and still is - an html view, but it is crappy for code excerpts.

Now, it works like magic on my iPad. I don't know what technology they use. It is not a plain html view, because the displayed page is a single entity (you can only select it as a whole, not select a single paragraph). It is not an image, because you would be able to save it. And of course you cannot see the page source code on the iPad!

So, does anybody here know the technology that is behind it?

mardi 14 décembre 2010

Barcode scanning?

Lately, Amazon added a barcode scanning feature to the iPhone mobile app.

I have to admit that it is, technically, an awesome feature: to scan a barcode, you only need to approximately put the red line on it, and it very quickly provides you with the information about the book you are scanning.

Oh, and as opposed to what I am doing on the picture, you must not put your finger in the way, either.

OK, I have been stunned by the technical prowess, but I am left wondering: what is this feature good for? The whole point of it is that you have to be holding the very book in your hand to scan the barcode. Why, in this case, do I need to get to Amazon in the first place?

I tried to imagine a few scenarios where this feature could come in handy:

- I am at a bookshop, and I spot an interesting book, but I want to check if I cannot find a better bargain for it (e.g. as a used book).
- A person shows me the book, and I want to buy it now.
- I really loved this book, but now I have to return it to the library. I want to own it!

On the one hand, these all seem perfectly reasonable scenarios. On the other hand, I think they are basically biased, since they are all based on the occurrence of several unrelated or, worse, opposite, events.

One event is common to all three scenarios: I really want the book, be it a love at first sight or after carefully reading it.

The other event depends on the scenario.

The first scenario exhibits an opposite event, since on one hand I do want the book but, on the other hand, I am ready to wait a while to have it. We are all used to that, aren't we? You have the object right there in your hands, but you are perfectly ready to wait... Trust me, it has to be a hell of a bargain for me to resist the temptation to buy it right now.

The other two scenarios are based on the straightforward assumption that I cannot buy the physical object I have at hand. They are also based on the sloppy assumption that I will forget all the information, including the title, about a book I really want to have, as soon as it vanishes from my view. This is possible, but not really plausible: I don't need to buy it at once; I can wait a bit to return to my comfort zone, and nevertheless be able to buy the book.

All in all, I am not really convinced by the actual need for such a feature.

And call me pompous if you want, but I picked up a book at random next to my bed for the above photo, and Amazon did not find it on its virtual shelves!

Sic transit gloria mundi...