One of the downers of the iPhone to me is that I can’t install one of my favorite eBook readers like I can on my Windows Mobile devices. I tend to use eReader, but also hop over to Mobipocket or Microsoft’s Reader, depending on the format […]


One of the downers of the iPhone to me is that I can’t install one of my favorite eBook readers like I can on my Windows Mobile devices. I tend to use eReader, but also hop over to Mobipocket or Microsoft’s Reader, depending on the format of my content. I was thinking about this last night and then had an "A-ha!" moment realizing there was at least one possible solution here: Amazon Upgrade right in the Safari browser.

If you’re not familiar with Amazon Upgrade, it’s a program that debuted back in 2005 and provides a digital copy of a physical book purchase from Amazon. Not all of the books in Amazon’s collection are eligible for the digital copy, but if the book you want is, you can pay a nominal fee to have instant access to the book in digital form. I checked my prior book purchases and found that one was eligible: Marc Orchant’s wonderful "Unofficial Guide to Outlook 2007". You’ll know the book is eligible if you see the "Upgrade this book" information in the main description. I dropped $3.79 onto my AMEX right over the iPhone and was able to view the book immediately within the browser.


So can you really read the book? It’s a challenging experience at best, but yes, you can read the content on the iPhone, or any other full featured browser. The digital books are essentially scans of the physical books, which presents a challenge. Since the content is a scan, you won’t get the textual reflows to fit your device screen like you would with a dedicated eBook reader. This is the biggest challenge right off the bat due to the iPhone screen.

I tried to read the book in portrait mode, but once you pinch the screen to make the content fit from left to right, the text is very small; too small for most folks.


Turning the iPhone to landscape made for a much easier reading experience, but again, you’ll have to pinch the screen to get the text just right. When doing this, you’ll need to account for the next page arrow bar as well. I set the screen to show the text and the right arrow bar only, so that I could easily flip to the next page as shown below. BTW Marc: I missed your acknowledgments in the physical book, so this was a nice surprise! :)


Now that you can read the book in landscape mode you’ve got another challenge: vertical scrolling. You’ll constantly be flicking the page down as you read, again because the text isn’t really flowing to fit your screen. It certainly doesn’t make for the ideal reading experience, but it’s doable. Page turning is also tricky as you have to tap on the very thin arrow bar. For this to work right, we need some larger buttons that are easier to find and press. In fact, when I first started reading, I kept missing the arrow bar and originally thought there was no way to turn the page other than entering the next page number in the top menu bar. Eventually, I realized I was just missing the thin bar with my finger. Bear in mind that each page of the book has to be loaded in your browser: there’s a small lag over WiFi so reading over EDGE increases that loading time.

So what’s next for eBooks on the iPhone? Well, with no current third-party application installations, there needs to be a change in the content format and delivery methods for eBook reading. The Amazon Upgrade platform is fantastic on a full-sized screen, but if Amazon wanted to cater to smaller-screened devices, they’ll need to move from book scans to some HTML-based content platform. I doubt they’ll do this simply because I see them as a competitor to Apple in terms of content; remember that Amazon sells a ton of CDs on line and will be selling DRM-free digital audio as well.

How about the major eBook content providers? I’d love to see them mod their platform by combining their current offering approach with Amazon’s web-based delivery system within a touch-optimized interface. Wouldn’t it be great to log into your eReader account, view your bookshelf and have web-based access to your purchases, for example? I don’t know that Apple really wants to get into the relatively small eBook market, but I’m wondering if they’ll see the opportunity here. With the right web-based content system,  web interface, agreements with publishers and the famous Apple marketing, it’s very possible they could swoop in and own the eBook market in one fell swoop.

  1. I have a question. Are you able to do most stuff using one hand? If the answer is no, are you able to dial a number with just one hand?

    I’m thinking of getting a touch but I’m not spending big money unless a touch screen device can be as comfortable to use as my LG V.

  2. I’m not sure that I think web-based delivery for ebooks is a great solution. A better solution would be either for Apple to open up their platform to 3rd party development so that real ebook readers could be made available or, barring that, sticking with an actual smartphone…

  3. I find that I’m using the iPhone more with two hands than with one hand. With multi-touch, it’s definitely not easy to use two fingers on the hand that’s also holding the device. For dialing using the keypad or via your contacts, it should be quite easy to use it with one hand for most people. As a frame of reference, my winter gloves are size small, so I have relatively small hands.

  4. Hey, Kevin. I figured out the site that is offering iPhone-formatted e-books: it’s Manybooks.net. They have a bunch of free e-books formatted for all sorts of devices. One of the formats is “iPhone PDF”. Can you view PDFs without them being an attachment? Anyway, you might want to try them out. Here’s a good example, Cory Doctorow’s short story collection called Overclocked:


    If the PDF format works well for you, there’s another site called WOWIO.com that offers free e-books in PDF format that might work on the iPhone’s smaller screen. I know they worked pretty well on the N800, with a bit of zoom tweaking.

  5. You can click on a URL to a PDF document in Safari and the iPhone will launch its built in PDF viewer to display it.

    I’ve got my own Digital Bookshelf of iPhone PDF’s which is simply an HTML file on my own web server that points to various PDF’s of interest to me. I click on the bookmark I have stored on my iPhone and then touch a link on that page to open the ebook.

    Now if they had the ability to hand off a bookmark or page # via the URL….

    By the way, the photos above are out of focus and don’t do the iPhone justice. Text is very crisp on the iPhone.

  6. Link luv:

    And I’ve been writing about ebooks on the iPhone.

    You just haven’t been reading my blog.

    But you have an iPhone, so all is forgiven (not!).

  7. Scotty, I agree with you completely, the pics aren’t a great representation of the screen clarity. However, I find that the font in Safari is much cleaner looking than the Times Roman font used for the book. The more you zoom though, the cleaner it looks.

    Thanks, Mike! Ur in my feedz, but I’m slo 2day.

  8. Chris Barthelemy Thursday, July 19, 2007

    Hello there,

    Actually there is at least another solution/trick.
    Safari for iphone is able to render data URI scheme that can actually contain full HTML pages even when not connected.
    Look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data:_URI_scheme for tecnical explanations.
    There is a size limitation (4kB?)

    You will find a useful and simple way to store your PDF or HTML content offline in your bookmarks at:

    I actually built a few ebooks for iPhone this way – 1 bookmark by chapter to make them easy to read.

    Hope it helps

  9. You can drop that cruddy Microsoft reader by using the freeware Amber Lit Converter: http://www.processtext.com/abclit.html
    It’ll convert those pesky .lit books to practically any format, including PDFs and palm database files. It’ll even let you enter a folder ad convert everything in that folder and all subfolders at the same time. A warning, though, if you try to batch convert more than about 20 a time it’ll freeze on you. One wonders why you’re trying to do ebooks on an iphone at all, isn’t it uncomfortable turning pages by touching the screen?

    (By the way, a palm lifedrive with the extended battery makes for the best dedicated ebook reader under 250 bucks)

  10. >>>(By the way, a palm lifedrive with the extended battery makes for the best dedicated ebook reader under 250 bucks)

    WTF? You must still have the HD in your LD. Mine is CF-based and I can do at *least* three *hours* of *video*. I haven’t tried ebooks. Too much to read on paper right now…

    Chuck your HD and go CF. You can ditch the extra battery. (And by the way, my CFed LD was below $150 total!)


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