When you get a new iPhone or iPad, iBooks will be probably the first book app you try. It’s well-designed and perfectly integrates into the Apple ecosystem.
Many users start reading ebooks on the iBooks and are happy enough not to try anything else.
Some users, however, are aware there are other book-reading solutions around. Just like there are many book-reading apps for Android tablets and smartphones, you can find a lot of alternatives to the iBooks in the Apple Store.
Is it worth the effort? Spending a couple of evenings to find out which book app is better than the one natively delivered by Apple? Yes, it does.
The more you know what you can do with the alternative solutions the better you’ll see what’s missing in the Apple’s own ebook platform.
Below you’ll find facts and tips that will help you decide whether it’s good to stick with the iBooks or pick up another solution.
12 things to know about iBooks and iBooks Store
1. iBooks is the only properly integrated app
What does “integrated” means? It’s how the app connects with the ebookstore so that the user can conveniently get new content to the personal library.
Four sections of the bottom navigation pane link to the iBooks Store (see the first screenshot above). You can buy new books without leaving the app. They will appear immediately in your library.
“That’s obvious,” you’ll say, “every app should have that.” True, but the only app that does that on the iPhone an iPad is the iBooks.
What about other ebookstores that have their own iOS apps: Kindle, Kobo, Nook? They don’t have the in-app store integration. They decided not to include it, and it’s not because they don’t care about the end user experience. It’s because Apple, with just one decision, cut this option out.
In 2011, Apple updated the conditions of how app developers earned money via in-app purchases. The competing ebookstores were forced to remove the store links from their iOS apps.
Since that time, when you wanted to buy the full version of the Kindle book from a link at the end of a free sample, you had to go to the Amazon website, find that book, buy it, return to the Kindle app, and refresh the content. How convenient.
So, if you had used Kindle on your Android smartphone before, and has recently switched to the iPhone, don’t get disappointed with the Kindle for iOS. The app is crippled not because Amazon doesn’t care about iOS users, but because Apple “cares” to bring as many as possible to the iBooks Store.
2. iBooks is not the most advanced app
Many users assume that the app that comes natively with the operating system offers the best you can get.
That’s not quite true. When you take store integration out, iBooks suddenly becomes an average app. It’s still one of the most beautiful book-reading apps for the iPhone and iPad (and its Mac version as well), but when it comes to features, others offer more.
Kindle for iOS offers extended book analysis called X-Ray. Plus you can seamlessly switch between reading the book and listening to its audio version (Whispersync for Voice).
Kobo app includes social reading features – Reading Life. They are designed to help you read better (reading stats and awards), and share your passion for reading (share the book, the passage, and the review to Facebook).
Finally, there are even apps coming from small independent developers, that are more advanced and better thought out than the iBooks.
Two apps from one developer, Appstafarian, show how good the book-reading app can be.
Marvin offers synchronization via Dropbox – a way to move the entire control over your ebook library to you, and still have the comfort of the-last-read-page sync between iOS devices. Plus, there are advanced and customizable commands, and an AI engine similar to Kindle’s X-Ray.
Gerty is a beautifully designed app that combines book reading with note taking – a heaven for the book lover.
3. iBooks and iBooks Store are available only for Apple users
In the recent years, many new users enter Apple ecosystem not by buying a Mac computer, but a mobile device – iPad or iPhone.
If you decided iBooks would be your book-reading app, make sure that you will never want to get the books you bought in the iBooks Store to the computer. Because you won’t access them until you buy the Mac.
Apple’s proposal for book readers is similar to what Henry Ford coined: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”
Any user can read ebooks on any device as long as it’s made by Apple:
- iPod Touch
The app is included by default (and not removable) on every device with iOS 8, and OS X Yosemite. The books can be synced via your iCloud account.
If you downloaded iTunes app to your Windows-powered computer in order to manage your music library, don’t try to find the book section. It’s not there.
4. You can’t read books in the browser
Amazon offers an access to Kindle books via the web browser. Maybe Apple does the same?
No. You can’t access, manage and read the books from your iBooks library using the web browser. This is not an option to PC users started to convert to Apple via iPhone or iPad.
Access via the web browser is very helpful if you seriously think about using digital textbooks to learn. Some things just have to be done on a bigger screen with a full-size keyboard.
Apple puts a lot of stress on the textbooks and using their devices in education, but only the richest students, the ones who can afford iPads and Macs, can study this way.
If you want to access your books and textbooks literally from any device (nowadays, any device has a browser), you should consider Amazon Kindle or Google Play Books.
5. iBooks Store does not have a web store
When you think of an online store, you are sure it can be found on Google and accessed from a web browser.
Not iBooks Store. Apple hates browsers to the point, where you can’t access the iBooks Store this way. The only way is via iBooks app or iTunes.
The Apple’s walled garden lets test how good iBooks and iBooks Store are only after you buy the Apple device.
That bad, because many users who consider buying a device for reading, don’t start from picking up a device, but rather compare the ebook platforms: their offers, prices, and convenience.
When you search Google for “iBooks Store” and keep scrolling down the search results, you may see the site with the url address ibookstore.com. Don’t get cheated. They’ve got nothing to do with Apple, although the site’s design resembles iTunes. They actually sell stuff from Amazon.
6. You can still search iBooks Store using Google
The good news is that there is a way to browse the iBooks Store without having to buy the iPad or Mac.
Apple doesn’t have a web storefront, but the content from iTunes is available online in a limited form, and can be searched using Google web search.
A trick is to limit the search to one site. Here’s an example that finds books about Steve Jobs in the iBooks Store US:
site:itunes.apple.com/us/book/ "Steve Jobs"
When you click on a search result, you’ll go to a web preview of the iTunes page with book details.
If you want to search iBooks Store localized outside US, simply replace “us” with the two-letter code of your country. For example, the same search in the German iBooks Store will be:
site:itunes.apple.com/de/book/ "Steve Jobs"
This is a good way to check out whether the books you want to buy are offered in the iBooks Store, and what are their prices.
7. Use iBooks for Mac as a desktop epub reader
As iBooks app comes preloaded with every new Mac, the question is how to use it beyond the iBooks Store.
You can open and read pdf files with the iBooks app, and that’s something to keep in mind if you want to keep the pdfs in one place, and work with them (notes, highlights). There are, however, other apps that can handle pdf files, naming only Preview.
More and more ebooks are offered in the epub format – and it’s where iBooks comes very handy.
The sites with public domain ebooks offer all publications for free. There is a growing number of ebookstores that offer their books without the DRM, or with the DRM watermark. You can open these files in any epub reader.
You can download an epub file to your Mac computer and instantly open in the iBooks app. (iBooks is the default app to open epub files). There is no need to install an epub-reading browser extension or any other app from the Mac App Store.
I found iBooks for Mac particularly useful with handling free samples. I buy ebooks in a couple of ebookstores. They offer free samples, so I pick up the epub format and save it to the desktop.
As iBooks doesn’t sync sideloaded books, you can pack the Mac version with as many free samples as possible, without crowding the book library on the iPad.
8. iBooks Store is not compatible with other platforms
Apple is using the popular ebook format, epub. Pdf is also supported, but not recommended on the smaller screen of the iPhone, or even iPad Mini.
You can upload own books to iBooks. But you can’t read all your iBooks titles somewhere else.
Most files in the iBooks are protected with Apple’s own DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology called “Fair Play”.
How to check out if the file from iBooks Store has DRM
In the iTunes on your computer, select the book, and choose File ⇢ Get Info. The status of the Kind field says:
- “Book” – it’s the book you added yourself
- “Purchased Book” – downloaded from iBooks Store, but DRM-free
- “Protected Book” – book from the iBooks Store, with Fair Play DRM
While DRM-ed files bought on Kobo can be read on Nook, or vice versa (same DRM system from Adobe), this is not the case with iBooks. Fair Play is not being supported by any other ebook vendor. You’re stuck with the Apple.
9. iBooks Store is not available in all countries
The fact that you can buy iPad in your country, and set up iTunes account doesn’t mean you can shop iBooks Store.
While users from over 150 countries can sign up to their local iTunes Stores, iBooks Store is available only in about 50 countries.
iBooks Store country list
Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela.
You can use the iBooks app without the iBooks Store, but you’ll have only a rather symbolic selection of free ebooks. Therefore, you will have to rely on other sources of ebooks (and remember, they will have to be DRM-free).
10. You don’t have to download own books via iTunes
When browsing Apple site for tips on how to add own books to iBooks, you’ll learn you should connect the iPad/iPhone via cable to the computer and add books through iTunes.
Cables in times of cloud services are too obsolete and definitely not comfortable.
There are three more ways to upload own books to the iBooks app.
1. Open an email attachment in a Mail iOS app
The most common method is to send an email to yourself, with epub file as an attachment. Then open the email in a native Mail app on the iPhone/iPad.
You can also use Gmail or Inbox apps to open email attachments on your iOS device.
2. Use iOS cloud service app (Dropbox, Google Drive)
Download epub books in bulk to Google Drive or Dropbox on your computer and open them from within Google Drive or Dropbox app on your iOS device.
As neither Drive nor Dropbox can’t open the epub format, they will prompt you to pick up the relevant app from the list.
3. Use Safari to open a file from url address
Some sites (Project Gutenberg, Feedbooks) have clear url addresses of ebook files. When you tap on a link to the epub file (ending with .epub), you should be able to open it with iBooks.
11. You can gift a book from the iBooks Store
For a long time, there was no way to gift books from the iBooks Store. It has changed.
We can gift a book using the Mac – there is no such option in the iBooks app for the iPhone or iPad.
Also, on a Mac we don’t head to the iTunes app any longer. The book content was moved away from the iTunes, and is now available via iBooks for Mac application.
In the iBooks app, click on the iBooks Store button in the top left corner. Find the book you want to gift and go to its product page.
Under the book’s cover, click on a first button – the one with price followed with a text “Buy Book”. A drop-down menu will appear.
Select the first option in the list: “Gift This Book”. a dialog box will appear, where you should write the email address of the recipient, your name, and a short message for the giftee.
There are two very important things to remember:
- the email address of the person should be the same as the one she or he is using to sign to his Apple account,
- the giftee should be a user of the iBooks Store in the same country – you won’t be able to gift a book to the user in the U.S. Store, if you are signed in the U.K.
12. iBooks is not the only choice you have
Tablets and smartphones offer one wonderful thing: a choice. You can read ebooks not in one book app but many. You can pick up iBooks, or Kindle, or Kobo, or Marvin, or a combination of a few of these apps.
Be smart and don’t stop exploring ebooks in the iBooks app. Below, you’ll find a couple of alternatives, grouped in three categories: apps from ebookstores, independent apps, speed-reading apps.
iOS book apps from the main ebookstores
Buying a first ebook in the iBooks Store is a point of no return. Most probably, it will be very difficult – if not impossible – to move that book to your account in the other ebookstore if you decide to move.
Therefore, testing the ebookstores before making a first purchase is a wise thing to do. Apps for iOS can’t let you check out the stores, but you can still test their functionalities, using the sideloaded books.
- Kindle – besides X-Ray and Whispersync for Voice, you’ll have access to Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription, as well as have some useful features for studying,
- Google Play Books – All you need to access this app is your Gmail login. The app was recently updated with a Literata font,
- Kobo – Reading Life social reading, share ideas with Kobo Pulse, reading stats and awards,
- Nook – you can test the app before even signing in or signing up – it includes 3 books and 3 magazine issues.
iOS book apps from independent developers
If you want to take full control over your ebooks, and don’t rely on the ebook platform you buy books at, buying an independent app is a way to go.
- Marvin – book-reading app for advanced users – customized commands based on url schemes, sync via Dropbox, color themes, among others,
- Gerty – a combination of a book-reading and note-taking app,
- TotalReader Pro – this app can read both epub and mobi files.
Speed reading apps for iOS
Reading books in digital format can give you tools to be more focused, read faster, and with better understanding. There are a couple of apps in the iOS that can enhance your reading skills.
- Litz – the app uses a revolutionary Spritz technology, but it also offers guided reading algorithm,
- ReadQuick – you can read your saved Pocket, Instapaper and Readability articles – one word at a time,
- Acceleread – the app is specifically designed to train you to speed-read.
For a more detailed information, check out the links below:
- Introduction to iBooks – the essential information about iBooks and iBooks Store,
- iBooks FAQ – get started, buy & download, managing books,
- About iBooks – a different support page, where you’ll find also the info about how to download own books.
Images: Apple, own screenshots.
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