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Sorry Google Books, I'm sticking with iBooks


Apple's iBooks e-reading app is a flawed, early generation application with GUI and organization issues that fail to match the way that I read books. It has no folders (yet), no way of marking "I've finished reading this book so put it away" (a la the Kindle with its archive feature). Its store is understocked and overpriced. Those are hardly unique criticisms, though -- these flaws permeate throughout the new and under-developed book reader world.

So when push comes to shove, I'm sticking with iBooks. Because for me, I want a reader that integrates seamlessly with iTunes. And only iBooks does that right now.

I tend to read public domain or buy books from smaller PDF-based vendors like I've bought a few books from the iBooks store, but I haven't found them a particularly good value. Their DRM limits me to on-device reading; I can't read them from my Mac, even in iTunes. That's a big fail as far as I'm concerned. TUAW's Victor Agreda prefers to buy through Amazon and use the Kindle app. This choice allows him to read across all his devices, including (and especially) on his Macintosh. Amazon offers an unparalleled eBook collection.

Now Google has jumped into the eBooks arena. As TUAW posted earlier, Google will be offering a cross device solution that includes Web and iPhone/iPad readers. Google claims to offer the world's largest eBook selection as well as "unlimited storage in the digital cloud."

Pricewise, the ebookstore seems to run in line with both Amazon's Kindle store and the iBook store. I had a list of several books that my family asked me to pick up at the library. Here's how they priced out at Amazon, iBooks and the ebookstore. Notice the limits after each item, indicating their download compatibility. It looks like backlisted items are occasionally more competitively priced (namely "Thirteen" by Lauren Myracle) but they lack the ability to be downloaded.

  • Wereling by Stephen Cole - Amazon: $5.99, iBooks: not available, ebookstore: $5.99. "No download files included"
  • Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs - Amazon: $9.99, iBooks: $9.99, ebookstore: $9.99, No limit listed
  • Thirteen by Lauren Myracle - Amazon: $6.99, iBooks: $5.99, ebookstore $5.99, "No download files included"
  • Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones - Amazon: $9.99, iBooks: $9.99, ebookstore: $9.99, No limit listed
  • I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett - Amazon: $9.99, iBooks: $9.99, ebookstore: $9.99, No limit listed (Curiously, the hardback is just $8.97, eligible for both Supersaver and Amazon Prime)
  • Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn - Amazon: $6.99, iBooks: $6.99, ebookstore: $6.99, No limit listed
  • Soulless by Gail Carriger, Amazon: $7.99, iBooks, $7.99, ebookstore: $7.99, No limit listed
Google states that you can download your Google eBooks in PDF or ePub formats (the latter using Adobe Digital Editions acsm file links), but in practice I found that free books were available in unencrypted PDF and that purchased books offered the DRM'ed acsm option. Note that you cannot use acsm links in iBooks or with any Kindle solution, hardware or software.

These files are not full eBooks. Instead, they provide authorized links to material you have bought through compatible applications like Google's new books app, and Copia and Bluefire Reader, a couple of free universal applications that (theoretically) support acsm. On the Macintosh, you can use Adobe's free Digital Editions software to load and read these ePub products.

Since Google's app still has yet to go live, I gave both Copia and Bluefire Reader's iPad apps a spin with acsm ePub books downloaded from the Google ebookstore and from my local library's extremely limited e-lending collection.

After extensive time spent creating accounts, logging into my Adobe identity, and so forth (it was a surreally Microsoft-esque experience), I remained unable to read the acsm ePubs I had purchased and borrowed using either application, although they worked fine in my OS X desktop Digital Editions software. I used iTunes' Application tab to drop the acsm files into each app. In neither case were the files recognized or readable.

The iPad hassle was, at least in my case, insurmountable.

In the end? Sorry, Google ebookstore. I'm sticking with iBooks. If I have to choose between iBooks' no-Mac limitation and the hassles of Google's Adobe authorizations, even though solutions exist for both Mac and iPad, I'm going with the former for now.

Will Google's new app win me over? Probably not. Although I own both Kindle and Nook apps on my iPad, and even have several books in each one's library, I just haven't had the motivation to move away from iBooks, which remains my eBook workhorse due to its convenience, its PDF support, and its in-app store with simple Apple ID integration. Google is a latecomer into this market, and I'm not convinced there's a compelling reason to hop into yet another app and another format war.

What about you? Will you be jumping into Google Books? Or are you a Kindle or Nook user? Let us know in the comments.

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