Above, page one of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the first story in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as seen in Stanza, a free reader for iPad and iPhone. Stanza has a simple interface for finding, buying (and downloading free) e-books.
Stanza lets you control font size and choose from a number of templates offering a useful variety of foreground and background color and contrast. As the screenshot shows, it also lets you set text ragged right, which is the most legible setting for onscreen text.
Below, the same page in iBooks, the reader that comes with iPad. As one would expect from the company that brought us iTunes, the iBooks application has a slick interface for buying (and downloading free) e-books. But as a reader, it is currently less feature-rich, and thus less usable and less pleasing, than Stanza.
In iBooks, one cannot turn off full justification. While full justification is lovely in carefully produced printed books, it has a long history of bad aesthetics and poor usability on the screen. Given a sufficiently wide measure, full justification can be used onscreen for short passages, but it is inappropriate for anything beyond a paragraph or two.
Combine full justification with a single high-contrast template, and you have a reader that is better to look at than to read. Indeed, the 1.0 version of iBooks seems more like a flashy demo intended to wow potential iPad purchasers in the store than an application designed to provide book lovers with a viable alternative to print.
One suspects that future upgrades of iBooks will address these concerns. Meanwhile, if you intend to do serious reading on your iPad (or iPhone/Touch), download Stanza for free from the iTunes store.
Addendum: One wonders what will become of Stanza given Amazon’s ownership of the parent company. More here. Best scenario: the Kindle reader incorporates excellent Stanza features, while Stanza continues to operate as an alternative to Kindle, iBooks, et al.