A top notch mobile e-books reader… better than Google Books

One of my tasks at work was to prototype and then create a quality e-books reader for all mobile platforms. I must say that the end result is even better than I thought. Generally, a great challenge in an e-books reader, which is not obvious at first glance, is to provide the smoothest experience possible. There are many functionalities, which seem initially trivial, but are definitely complex if we want to keep the smooth experience. Such functionalities are pages browsing (especially on a chapter edge), changing the font size or changing the device orientation. It is the best if a user doesn’t even notice them. It is definitely bad if a progress bar appears for many seconds when a user increases the font size or accidentally switches the device orientation. It is even worse if a user looses a context within the book (e.g. the first sentence of a page disappears or moves to the bottom of a page) by changing orientation or font. We can group readers by how well they preserve a context during such operations.

Most reader apps are based on an internal mobile device browser for rendering chapters and pages (e.g. UIWebView for Apple and WebView for Android). The least precise readers (e.g. Monocle and probably Google Books) would move the first sentence of a page around. Those readers are usually based on CSS3 multi-column layout. Although it is the easiest way, it introduces many problems such as the delay (even few seconds) imposed by columnizing all content within a chapter whenever the orientation or the font changes.

The more advanced readers (I think Kindle app does that) would most likely render an entire chapter as a one big vertical page and then scroll to a y position of the beginning of a current page. They would also clip a content on the bottom of a page that does not fit entirely on the page. This approach should be faster since CSS3 multi-column is quite slow. Those readers have a single line accuracy which means that the first word of a page should still be visible in the first line of the page after the orientation or the font changes. The drawback of this approach is that special algorithms which compute where the page begins or ends must be implemented.

The most advanced solution (e.g. our solution and also Kindle on some devices) would always keep the first word of a page preserved whenever the font or the orientation changes. This way the user doesn’t get confused and has the best experience. However this requires implementing additional algorithms for accurate pages displaying. The big advantage of such fine grain control over pages rendering is that the performance of such reader is stunning. I think that we have managed to create one of the best and fastest readers in the market. You can see screencast from the app below (with comparison to Google Books):

or you can try using it yourself by installing Audioteka app.