The iPad is great. Scholarly e-Book interfaces on an iPad are awful.

Last night I borrowed an ipad from my library/place of work to see how our vendors’ e-reader platforms stack up. In a word, the interfaces which the vendors provide are not ipad/tablet friendly at all. EBL, ebrary, and MyiLibrary all show content on their framed pages, i.e., what we’re used to seeing on our desktops and PCs. This may be acceptable to some when you have a widescreen monitor, but it doesn’t work well at all on a tablet. It is terribly difficult to zoom in on the page in order to click on the vendors’ own zoom functions, which hampers the reading experience.

Obviously, it’s still quite early in the game, but I think the vendors could learn a little from the e-book platforms used for devices and GUIs such as the Kindle, the Sony e-reader, etc. Books used on these devices are stored in a similar PDF format, but it is far, far easier to scroll through, to zoom, and to annotate on these than it is with vendor ebook interfaces. This became as clear as day once I tried out the iPad‘s own  iBooks Bookshelf: this different piece of software – used on the same device I was trying to read our ebooks on – gave me so many more functions than the vendors’ software could.

I’m not writing off the use of tablets, in the least.  I adore the iPad and will buy one shortly.  I also think that there will be a time when most textbooks will be purchased and read on them, and I think that time is much closer than we expect. But we’re at a point where the hardware exists to support the idea, but the software interfaces still need to catch up.  Apple does have a fine product; I’m curious to see how our vendors will react to it.

In the mean time, check out an iPad if you can and compare vendor-supplied e-books to books on the Apple iBooks bookshelf (some are pre-loaded for free), and then check out other books – also on PDF – on the Project Gutenberg website. You’ll see the difference in spades.

n.b. i am referring to browser-based e-reader interfaces in this post, which are substantially different from the Apple iBook bookshelf.  But that’s my point – we need to see great software from vendors to really make the ebook work.