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Sampling books on the new iPhone

July 15, 2008 |  3:34 pm


The 7.5 hours I spent on a Pasadena sidewalk on Friday were worth it— let's just start with that. I love my new iPhone. But after admiring its sleek styling and watching the GPS trace my Gold Line ride in real time, I wanted to get down to business. I heard you can read books on these things.

There are hundreds of new apps — they work on the first generation of iPhones, too — and I began my search assuming that I'd need to get an e-book reader and then go find some e-books.

But first I stumbled across the Harper Collins offering, which seemed like a good place to start. After pointing my iPhone's Web browser to the Harper Collins mobile page and selecting the iPhone option, I got a list of titles:

  • "Beyond the Body Farm" by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson
  • "The Case for the Real Jesus" by Lee Strobel
  • "Ike: An American Hero" by Michael Korda
  • "A Killer's Kiss" by William Lashner
  • "Life on the Refrigerator Door" by Alice Kuipers
  • "Love is a Many Trousered Thing" by Louise Rennison
  • "The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions" by Marcus J. Borg and N Wright
  • "Now and Forever" by Ray Bradbury
  • "Obama: From Promise to Power" by David Mendell
  • "Soul Catcher" by Michael C. White
  • "Sweet Revenge" by Diane Mott Davidson
  • "When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box" by John Ortberg
  • "Winning" by Jack Welch and Suzy Welch

I was hoping for a little more literary fiction — like Annie Dillard's "The Maytrees," which can be previewed on the publisher's Browse Inside page — but I knew where I wanted to begin. The book, and the reading experience, after the jump.

Clicking on "Beyond the Body Farm" brought up a crisp full-color version of the book's cover. (Hey, just because I like literary fiction doesn't mean I can't appreciate the lessons of a field full of decaying bodies in Tennessee.) Ooh, exciting.

But then it took several clicks — or as the iPhoners say, taps — to get to the content. The e-book opens like a traditional book, with several pages between the cover and the content. I tapped past the inside jacket flap, the dedication, the copyright page, eventually reaching the table of contents, which were too tiny to read.

Finally, at Page 1 of the introduction, I figured out how to zoom in. It took a little practice to zoom so the text filled the screen without overfilling it, forcing a left-right scroll, but before I knew it, I was reading about Bass' career in forensic anthropology and giggling at his grim puns ("a bone's throw" away). I hardly noticed that I was reading on a little bitty phone. I was just reading.

The biggest issue I had was that when I was "turning" from one page to the next, the old page reloads at full size before the new page loads, which feels like a big waste of time. Less of a drag, but also strange, is the initial title-selection page, which looks pretty but doesn't include the authors' names — so I had to go online with my laptop to learn that "Now and Forever" was not a romance novel but a book by science fiction legend Ray Bradbury.

Sadly, this was only a sample taste, because Harper Collins offers only the initial pages for free. But to get to the, um, meat of the matter, you've got to buy the e-book.

Carolyn Kellogg

Photo of iPhone in action by Carolyn Kellogg