The Bookmark App: Audiobooks finally done right

The Bookmark app [iTunes Link] has solved a number of problems I've always suffered while listening to audiobooks on an iPhone. It isn't pefect yet, but what is currently in the app store is the best implementation of digital audiobook listening I've found. It's earned a place on my home page and that alone is quite a recommendation. I'll get to a play-by-play in a bit, but first a bit of context is in order.

I have always been a fan of audiobooks. Long before the inception of the iPod, I was a constant Books on Tape customer. I'd choose a book and in a few days, receive a sizable box filled with anywhere from two to over forty cassette tapes. It was worth it to me to go through all the hassle of keeping the tapes in order and carrying a stack of them with me to play on a portable cassette player when I wasn't listening in my car.

When the iPod came out, I found and life became much easier. I always carried at least a dozen books with me on my iPod Classic. The books usually downloaded in one or two big files making a book easy to manage. A few years later, started embedding chapter markers in their books so jumping to a particular chapter was a snap, but I always had a problem with the iPod losing my place in a book. It could have been due to syncing, or being knocked around, but it was constant and always annoying.

When I bought my iPhone, I found the way the iPod module handled audiobooks had changed. Instead of downloading a few big files, what wound up in the library was a separate file for each chapter. So, for example, Fool by Christopher Moore, which my iPod Classic saw as one file with twenty-six chapters, appeared to be twenty-six files on the iPhone. That would have been fine, except for the fact that the iPhone was no better than my iPod Classic in losing my place seemingly at random. Worse, I never knew which file I was on when my place got lost.

Read on to see how Bookmark has solved this dilemma for me.

The Bookmark app solves this problem and does a whole lot more. For the very reasonable price of $2.99 any iPhone or iPod touch running iPhone OS 3.0 or better can get a full and multi-featured audiobook subsystem, and although it still needs some features, it's wonderful.

Instead of showing a bunch of chapter files, it brings back the long files downloaded from The app is meant to work with Audible or Librivox .aa or .m4a files. Librivox provides free public domain audiobooks.

Bookmark does many things, but to me the best part is setting it up to remember the farthest that you've reached in a book when exiting the app. When you restart, you are back in the same place. No more lost places. That alone is worth my $3.00, but that's just the start.

At any place in a book you can add a bookmark which will get you back to wherever you set it. The bookmark allows you to type information into it, acting as a reminder, and even email the bookmark to yourself (the default) or to anyone else, containing the name of the file and start time as well as any personal information you typed in. This is useful if, like me, you listen to books on a variety of devices; Mac, iPod Classic and iPhone. You can have as many bookmarks as you like per audio file. Free form notes can also be written and retrieved within the app. Additionally there is a time ribbon that lets you jump backward or forward in the file in increments of thirty seconds, or one, five, fifteen or thirty minutes.

Online is a complete tutorial showing you how everything works, from acquiring books to running all the features, but I found an undocumented treasure. If you're using Bookmark, and exit the app then go to iTunes to listen to some music on your iPhone, the next time you run Bookmark, regardless of what you were listening to in iTunes, you are back in your book at exactly the right place. It gets better. If you are listening to two or three books at a time, it remembers where you were in each book individually. With all this functionality getting lost in a book or a number of books is a thing of the past.

But for all the goodness there are a few problems. It handles each file separately, so at the end of a file, it stops. This is workable if you have a book with two seven hour files, but if you ripped an .mp3 with a ton of smaller files, every few minutes you'll have to go in and choose a new file making the app just about useless. Luckily, the developer is working on this and has indicated that soon all little files with the same book name will somehow get joined. Vague? Yes, but it's a known problem and will be solved in a revision coming in October or November. For now it's suggested that you use a program like Audiobook Builder for Macs or Audiobook Converter for Windows to convert groups of small files into one big file.

Bookmark doesn't work in the background, so you can't listen to a book while running another app. This is a major disadvantage, but not being a developer I don't know if it's possible to fix. Bookmark also ignores embedded bookmarks within the file, preventing you from being able to skip to the next chapter.

Even with these limitations, I can't recommend this app highly enough. It's as if the developer read my mind and gave me exactly what I wanted. That, for me, is a first. If you listen to audiobooks frequently, or have an subscription, this is one app that you need. You can forget about the technology and just enjoy listening to a good book, and If that's not worth $2.99, I don't know what is.

Here's a video demonstrating the features of Bookmark.