The first time I saw a digital page-turn simulation, I thought, “That’s neat.” The first time I actually tried reading an ebook that way, I thought, “That’s annoying.” While an e-ink device’s screen refreshes to get to the next page, many desktop platforms, apps, and LED devices come with multiple options for getting from page A to page B. For example, my Kobo iPhone app has five: scroll, fade, slide, curl, and flip. Fade is the winner; it’s a gentle but speedy refresh. Scroll always seems to make me skim over parts (probably the phone’s uber-responsive touch screen combined with a habit born from extended Internet surfing), and the remaining options that mimic page turns feel clunky to me. They’re actually quite fast and elegant, but something about those movements doesn’t feel right as I’m reading.
Whether or not to imitate a paper reading experience on a digital platform is a topic that seems to polarize people. It can be a useful gimmick to help those new to e-reading bridge the gap between print and digital, but will we look back on the faux-bookshelf browsers and fluttering digital pages in five years and laugh?
Here’s an extreme case of “my-ebook-should-act-exactly-like-a-paper-book” silliness (from Ars Technica):
Three iPad users claim that because the iPad will shut itself off after remaining in direct sunlight for long enough, it fails to meet the promises Apple made about using the iPad as an e-book reader. The group has filed a federal class-action lawsuit in the Northern California district to “redress and end this pattern of unlawful conduct.” […] The plaintiffs seem to take particular issue with Apple claiming that “reading on the iPad is just like reading a book.”
I find this so baffling that I don’t really know how to respond. But Chris Walters from The Consumerist deserves a big high-five for this retort:
If the plaintiffs win, I think Apple should also be forced to install a wind sensor so that pages flip automatically when you’re outdoors in a strong breeze. Then the company could sell an “iPadWeight” wireless accessory ($69) that you would have to put on top of the screen to “hold down” the pages. A wireless “iMark” ($29) that would function as a bookmark wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.
I’m looking forward to how e-reading interfaces develop, but hopefully they get over the growing pains and creepy nostalgia for how “real books” work (anyone playing the ebook drinking game, that one’s for you). The benefits of ebooks: they’re portable, immediate, searchable (should be, anyway), and relatively inexpensive. It doesn’t really make sense to display them on an imitation shelf, especially when the UI possibilities are so much greater.
Why not experiment with cover flow, colour coordination, a tag cloud-esque jumble that groups related authors together, dimming titles you’ve read recently, and lighting up ones you’ve marked as “to read”? The possibilities are endless. Bottom line: ereading software shouldn’t limit reading and browsing by pretending ebooks are made out of paper. Give us the option to explore text and ebook catalogues in ways that take advantage of the device, or platform, at hand.