5 tips for reading books in iBooks on the iPad

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I’ve been reading like crazy lately, thanks in large part to iBooks, Apple’s e-reader software for the iPad. In the past few weeks I’ve read four books in total (three on the iPad), which is not typical for me–so I think there’s something to be said about the iPad making books more accessible.

I’ve written a brief comparison of iBooks versus Amazon’s Kindle software, as well as shared a messy little video to show off how some built-in iPad features could help struggling readers, but today I want to share five ways I’ve tweaked my iPad and iBooks to make reading on the device a little more pleasant.

1. Move iBooks to the Dock

As you likely know, you can rearrange your iPad apps on each page, just like you can on an iPhone. You can also add (or remove) items from the Dock, so that they’re available on every page of apps. The iPad’s default Dock consists of four apps, but it can hold a maximum of six. I’ve adjusted my Dock with the apps I use most frequently, and have iBooks in the bottom-right corner for quick, consistent access:

iPad dock with iBooks added

To move an app to your Dock, follow this tutorial (which just so happens to use iBooks as an example).

2. Adjust the settings

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You can adjust the font size, font face, and screen brightness in iBooks. I’ve found that some books just read a little better in a different font. Don’t settle on the defaults–experiment with the font settings to find what works best for you. You may also want to adjust the screen brightness depending on your current location (a brighter screen, say, when you’re enjoying a book on the beach; dimmer when you’re reading in bed).

3. Take notes

iBooks annotation features are a bit lacking right now, but I’ll mention them anyway because I do make use of them. It’s very easy to highlight text in a book–Apple calls these “bookmarks.” To highlight, tap your finger twice in the general area you want to highlight, then adjust either end of the text selection to specify what you want to highlight, then tap the Bookmark button. To review your highlights, go to the book’s table of contents and tap Bookmarks. You can jump directly to that highlighted text within the book.

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Now here’s what I don’t like about iBooks’ annotation features. First, there’s no way that I’ve found to transfer everything I’ve highlighted to a standalone text file, as you can do with annotations on a Kindle-based book (the hardware Kindle, anyway). You also can’t copy all of your bookmarks in bulk and paste them into another document (in fact, if the book is protected by digital rights management, such as most books for sale in Apple’s iBookstore, you can’t copy text from it at all). However, as I’ve said before, these are issues I would think can be fixed with a software update down the road.

4. Add your own books

Although the iBookstore has thousands of books for sale (and more for free, as we’ll talk about in a minute), it’s not the only source of electronic books in the ePub format (in other words, readable in iBooks). Some publishers–particularly technical publishers like O’Reilly, but also from publishing services like Lulu and epubBooks. Once you’ve downloaded your book, drag it to iTunes, then sync your iPad to transfer them into iBooks.

5. Get the classics for free

If you’re a fan of the classics, you may be familiar with Project Gutenberg, a long-standing attempt to make electronic versions of public domain texts freely available online. Apple has included more than 30,000 titles from Project Gutenberg in the iBookstore. The downside is I haven’t found an easy way to browse through these free titles, but if you tap Top Charts, then skim the list of top free books, you’ll note that almost all of these are from the Gutenberg collection.

Looking for more iPad information? Check out our iPad archives for thoughts on the iPad in general and its potential uses in education.

Photo: MorBCN on Flickr. iBooks screen shots by me.

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  3. Built-in reading supports in iBooks, the iPad e-book reader
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  5. Updates to iPad reading software address early criticisms

Aaron Sumner

Aaron Sumner is the Director of Technology for Research and Development at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. He has worked in web development and instructional technology since 1994.