Marvin is the most advanced and customizable book reader for iOS.
The developer of the application, Kristian Guillaumier, agreed to share plans about the app, and thoughts on digital reading. It’s an amazing story of a person with passion who develops a much better application than big players like Amazon with Kindle, or Apple with iBooks.
Every time I open the app, I have this wonderful feeling that it was created by a like-minded person, by somebody who very well understands the needs of a digital reader, or even meets the expectations before they are expressed by the user.
When I started using it, I immediately got rid of the rest of the reading apps.
It’s Marvin’s first birthday, and it’s marked with an essential update. Since now Marvin is a universal iOS app – one for both iPad, and iPhone/iPod Touch. For a limited time the app is free, to let iPad users update it at no cost.
There are over 20 categories in iTunes App Store and over one million apps. Why have you decided to develop a book reading app?
My love for ebooks and necessity.
About 5 years ago, I bought a Sony 505 for no reason other than that it looked like an interesting toy. It didn’t take long for me to absolutely fall in love with the idea and convenience of ebooks and I haven’t looked back since.
Eventually, I moved on to an iPad for reading and quickly became frustrated with the limitations of existing apps – at the time, some of the more popular ones didn’t even let you change fonts! I knew that a responsive touchscreen device could make the e-reading experience so much more enjoyable.
For instance, I was reading a biography and realised that there where many characters, events and places I knew almost nothing about. Switching out to other apps for reference every time was very annoying so I started wondering what it would take to build something that “reads” my books, finds all the cool stuff in them and makes it super easy to discover new things. Why couldn’t I just tap on a name and bring up a biography, a photo or a video?
I convinced myself that I could do it. I bought a Mac, taught myself how to write iOS apps, and started working on Marvin about 18 months ago.
What are your learnings from a process of developing Marvin?
What I’ve learned while developing Marvin:
- Be passionate about what you’re working on. Keeping any project alive is hard stuff so make sure it’s a love affair and a long-term commitment,
- Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who care deeply about the product and are fastidious about quality. I’ve been blessed with a brilliant beta team – I cannot emphasise how much better Marvin is because of this,
- Building a good app is only part of the job. Getting people to discover it is a big challenge,
- Stay very close to the ebook reading community. Over the past year, Marvin was updated about every two weeks and got over 360 new features and enhancements. Most of the improvements were based upon suggestions and input from users. It’s a win-win situation.
Marvin doesn’t support pdf. What was the reason to get rid of this still quite popular file format?
PDF is a format dedicated to recreating the printed page on-screen. This means that users don’t have the control they’ve come to expect in Marvin.
If I decide to support PDF, I want Marvin to handle it at least as well as it handles EPUB books. It’s an incredible amount of work so it will take some time. At this point, I want to focus on delivering the best EPUB reading experience rather than spreading myself thin over multiple formats.
I still have many ideas I want to explore in EPUB-world and ebooks in general. In the meantime, there are some excellent dedicated PDF readers like GoodReader.
What is the single feature of Marvin you are most proud of?
The fact that virtually every single part of Marvin, including the rendering and layout engine, has been developed “in-house”. This gives me enormous flexibility and allows me to experiment with new ideas rapidly.
How is that possible that an independent developer can design a way more advanced book reading app than Amazon’s Kindle or Apple’s iBooks? What advice would you give to developers of these apps?
I can only speculate, but I think it’s a combination of two things.
- Amazon and Apple are in the business of selling devices and books. Their ebook reading applications help them sell books – they are a means to an end,
- The target audience. Kindle for iOS and iBooks are meant to be simple enough to be used by casual users, while Marvin is geared more towards people who are already comfortable around apps and want more powerful reading tools.
I’m sure that Amazon and Apple are perfectly capable of building more powerful apps. They just choose not to. It is a deliberate design choice on their part and it’s perfectly fine.
However, I find it interesting that some of the features in Marvin (like building a vocabulary of words you define) are starting to show up in other mainstream ebook readers.
Can you share from which countries most Marvin users come from?
Sure. 25% U.S., 25% Russian Federation, 10% Germany, 40% other.
Localizing Marvin is now becoming a priority.
Social reading features are missing in Marvin. What’s your opinion about this area of digital reading?
Marvin lets you share your reading progress, selected text, covers, highlights and notes to Twitter and Facebook. That’s been a feature of Marvin since version 1.4.5 released last April.
On a personal level, I prefer my reading to be a private form of entertainment, but I see the value in social reading features, especially when they can help me discover new material. I have some ideas in this area that I’d like to explore further.
What we can expect from the next updates of Marvin?
I maintain a public feature request list on GitHub. Every suggestion that I think will be good for Marvin is moved onto my to-do list. These are some requests that I’m currently working on:
- Vertical scrolling of pages,
- Reading statistics (time to read books, estimated time to finish a book, etc…),
- Textured paper-like backgrounds to enhance the reading experience,
- The ability to search text across all books in your library,
- Synchronising bookmarks, highlights and notes across multiple iDevices,
- Adding support for additional cloud services.
What is the next big thing in digital reading? A feature, interface, users’ activity?
A few months ago, I finished reading a fantastic series of books and felt a bit saddened when it was all over. I wished I could tap on a book and get a really accurate suggestion about what to read next based on the content and writing style of what I had just read – all without leaving Marvin.
I believe that book discovery will become more important for readers. I’ve got lots of ideas about how this can be done really well.
Any other applications in development?
I’ve now reached the stage where I’ve hired additional developers and have several other ebook-related projects already in prototype stage (and a million other ideas).
I’m aiming for my next app to be available early next year. Although it will integrate deeply with Marvin, it can be used as a companion to any other ebook reader on iOS. You can follow @marvinreader on Twitter for news and updates.
Kris has been writing software ever since he could type and is the proud creator of an ebook reader for iOS called Marvin. He is also an assistant lecturer at the University of Malta teaching machine learning, data structures and algorithms, and search and optimisation techniques.
He is totally fixated on the idea of making the world of ebooks a bit better than he found it. When he’s not working, he loves cooking, reading (of course) and spending time with his family.
Kris lives in Malta with his wife and together they’re the happy parents of a street cat named Nacho.
More posts about Marvin:
[ef-archive number=5 tag=”marvin” ]