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How do I dislike iBooks for OS X? Let me count the ways...

Erica Sadun, @ericasadun
January 7, 2014
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I banged the drums for OS X iBooks for years. Now, finally, Apple delivered. OS X Mavericks includes a desktop version of Apple's signature e-book-reading app. And after finally getting the iBooks I asked for, I've discovered that it's sadly not the iBooks I wanted.

If anything, the desktop iBooks feels like an afterthought rather than a destination. It's slow and laggy, with awkward interaction and unsatisfying preferences. There's nothing there that feels like it adds to the reading experience, and a lot that detracts. Between clunky interface choices and poor rendering results, iBooks for OS X has been a huge letdown.

Take interaction, for example. Unlike with Adobe Digital Editions, I cannot use my keyboard's Page Up and Page Down keys to navigate through books. iBooks assumes you want to navigate "bookishly" rather than "appishly," so left and right arrow keys are the shortcuts Apple has designed in.

I've ended up using Keyboard Maestro, a key-remapping program, to restore my expected interaction styles rather than retraining my fingers. I know it doesn't make as much sense for a "book" metaphor to use page up/down, but this is the way I've grown used to and I'd rather the app do what I expect rather than adhere to metaphorical correctness.

Worse, I cannot use the scroll wheel on my mouse in iBooks the way I can in Digital Editions. This is hugely frustrating when reading reference books -- especially if there's a bit of code I need to examine. I don't want to have it cross between pages.

Some interaction is incomprehensibly fussy. Consider what it takes to turn a page. When tapping on my iPad, I can hit just about anywhere near the right or left margin and the page will turn according to my wishes. OS X iBooks is far less flexible

Only about half the width of these margins causes the next page indicator (a circled chevron) to appear, enabling you to move on by clicking. Consider these two examples. The first shows a cursor position that allows me to click forward. In the second, the cursor is just slightly too far to the left. A click here does nothing at all. So frustrating!

With iBooks, a lot of the text rendering can get downright unreliable when you adjust or reshape the page. This happens particularly when viewing material that goes beyond simple headlines and paragraphs. While the following sample renders perfectly in Digital Editions, no matter how I reshape the page, it takes just a few window tweaks to get iBooks to screw up.

Until OS X iBooks debuted, most of my on-Mac reading was done using Preview for PDFs and a variety of e-book readers like Adobe Digital Editions for other formats like EPUB. Since none of these could handle Apple's DRM scheme, when it came to purchased items, I tended to limit my selections to the Amazon Kindle store.

A few months with iBooks on OS X Mavericks has reinforced that rule of buying Kindle-only. Digital Editions may be ugly and unrefined, but it gets the job done and it currently does it a lot better than iBooks. I would never have expected to view that software abomination with anything approaching affection. How surprising it is, then, that I now do.

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