My previous posts about ebooks have been concentrating on the Kindle and iPad user experience as such, and there’s still much to cover on those areas. After more than a year of reading on three devices, there’s one thing that keeps bugging me. In increasing amount, actually.
Everyone knows that the current way ebooks work is based on their respective ecosystems. Amazon has it’s own devices and formats, Barnes & Noble’s theirs and so on. All service provides struggle with their user experience, from purchase via the delivery to the actual use. As all the players keep on developing the user experience of their own platform, things evolve and little by little the users — us, the readers — get the benefit in the form of new and improved user interfaces.
One thing has been lost in this process, however. Something we’re used to in other digital formats already.
On a computer, there are several programs for any given purpose. For instance, I can store my pictures in a program of my choosing (such as iPhoto or Lightroom), and it doesn’t discriminate whether the pictures were took with this or that camera.
As we move onto handheld devices, we usually adopt the given program on that device for some purpose, for instance the Photos application on an iPad is a convenient way to display photos stored on it. We usually only seek to replace it only if that program is buggy, lacking in features and/or has a crap interface. So the well designed programs prosper, and via different application stores there’s always an alternative to this and that need. So on these devices we usually do have a choice, as well. I’m happy with the Photos application, as it handles all the photos in the way I want.
Now, enter the ebook market with their own ecosystems and DRM-protected formats. I’ll use my iPad as an example.
A book bought from Amazon is stored within the Kindle application, which only displays content bought from Amazon, wrapping them into Amazon’s view of user experience. Next to it there’s Apple’s own iBooks, which — of course — stores content bought via the iTunes Store, subject to Apple’s own design.
Then there are applications from smaller vendors, typically serving local & translated literature. I’ve got the Finnish Elisa Kirja and Suomalainen installed, which all function in their own way. And let’s not forget general readers for a variety of formats, such as Bluefire, GoodReader and Bookman.
So that’s seven different applications for books on my device. Guess if I can transfer a book from one application to another? Of course not, in most cases.
The fun part begins when I try to remember where a certain book is. At this point I have a total of about 100 purchased ebooks, all scattered among the different applications. Based on what? The ecosystem which sold me the book in the first place.
It is the desire of all the ebook vendors to keep us loyal and buying books just from them. As the volume of the books increases, our library management gets really annoying. Only because everyone wants to have an application of their own.
I haven’t organized my music collection based on where I bought the records, and the same is true for both the original discs as well as the file versions. The bookshelves in my home are not ordered by places I bought the books from, but on my tablet I’m forced to order them this way.
Is it so hard to try and come up with a unified solution, one window which would handle all the formats? Usability begins with understanding the user: I just want to browse my content. The same way I can browse my music, my videos, my photos, my email and so on. I want something labeled Books, for instance.