iBooks 3.0 fixes two major gripes — mostly

Shout it from the rooftops, iBooks 3.0 is a gift from the Apple gods.

I use, in this order, iBooks, the Kindle app, Files Pro (for PDFs, but iBooks may be taking on that role), and Stanza (not so much anymore). I prefer iBooks over Kindle for a few reasons: 

  • The store integration is much better. In the Kindle app it’s non-existent, instead you have to go to Amazon’s web site. This has gotten better, but for some time it was far too easy to find the print edition of a book and not be able to find a way to purchase the Kindle edition. Worse (at least the last time I bought something) your purchases went into a funky folder in the Kindle app, and every. single. time. I would forget where it was, and have to hunt around to find the thing I’d just bought.
  • The mechanics of flipping pages is cleaner, and in particular I am able to make it so tapping either side of the page goes to the next page (going back requires a swipe, but that’s the much less common use case).
  • The overall look is nicer. One specific example of this is the highlighting: iBooks’s highlighting is more variable, and looks more organic. Kindle’s looks more programmatic.

But iBooks had two glaring, annoying, really-frustrating flaws:

  • Highlighting across page boundaries was nearly impossible. There were two ways to do it, one of them unreliable, the other a slow pain in the ass. 
    • The unreliable way is to drag the end of the selection to the bottom right of the page and then hunt around. At a certain spot, the highlight extends a little bit, as if to indicate that it has gone on to the next page without you (which it has). This is neither exact, nor consistent. Sometimes it highlights just the first line of the next page, which is preferred, albeit inefficient, because you then have to go to the next page and open the highlight for manipulation and extend it. Sometimes, though, it highlights the whole next page, and this is not undo-able. The only solution at that point is to start over.
    • The pain in the ass way is to highlight up to the end of the page, then redefine the font size. This changes the page breaks, possibly making it so you can highlight more text. This is a pain in the ass because each time you change the font size, the entire book re-paginates, which takes (on my iPhone 4S) anywhere up to about twenty seconds, and then has to be re-done of course when you switch back. You can ignore that it is happening, but until it’s done navigation is a bit wonky.
  • There was no way to copy even a small portion of a book to send to a friend, share, or just to note separately from iBooks.

Fortunately, both of these issues are (mostly) history as of iBooks 3.0.

With the new continuous scrolling in iBooks 3.0, you can easily highlight whatever range of text you want. Unfortunately, it appears that performance (again, on an iPhone 4S) is abysmal when in continuous scrolling mode. I mean unusable. I mean Apple Maps bad — swipe the screen to move the text, and wait for five seconds before *anything* happens. This seems to go away after a few minutes, perhaps once iBooks has done whatever it needs to do to prepare for you scrolling through the book, but until then you should just read the same paragraph over and over, because you’re not going to the next screen.

NOTE: If you don’t like continuous scrolling, then tough: the situation has gotten even worse for you. It appears that the unreliable method listed above for extending a highlight from one page to the next no longer works. That leaves the “change the font size and hope for the best” method listed above.

Now, when you select text in a book, you have the option to send through any of the usual suspects, including Message or Mail, or you can simply copy it, and do whatever you like with it. The selection is quoted and cited, with a link back to the iBooks store for the book in question. I don’t begrudge this at all; you can delete it if you like, and it’s a useful feature to give whomever you send it to a link to get the full source.

In summary

If you like continuous scrolling, this update is full of awesome. Highlights finally work in a reasonable way, and sharing/copying is now possible. If you prefer pagination, then this is a two-steps-forward, one-step-back situation. The ability to copy is oh so nice, but the highlighting in paginated texts appears to be even worse than before.

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