Marco Arment, developer of the Instapaper offline webpage reading iPhone app, has posted a blog entry about his decision to implement page-turning in addition to scrolling in the latest version of Instapaper.
He uses two Macintosh calculator programs—the traditional one (left) and a different one called Soulver—as an example to explain why it is a bad idea to try to make computer interfaces resemble the physical item they are impersonating.
The traditional app is essentially a virtual pocket calculator, complete with rows and rows of clickable little buttons—which are entirely redundant given that you have a full physical keyboard in front of you—and only a single line on which to display numbers. Soulver, on the other hand, is just a display window with room for multiple lines of equations—and as a result can be much more useful for extended operations.
Arment explains that Instapaper’s paging is not a slide-animation but a simple crossfade, because the crossfade is faster and less distracting—and because the point was to improve the reading experience, not to imitate an arbitrary physical object.
DVD players don’t make fake whirring noises for five minutes before letting you eject a disc to simulate rewinding. Similarly, nobody should need to perform a full-width swipe gesture and wait two seconds for their fake page to turn in their fake book, and nobody should need to click the fake Clear button and start their calculation over because their fake calculator only has a one-line, non-editable fake LCD.
This is a lesson that it would be nice if more e-book app programmers would remember. We don’t need fancy imitation pages, ribbon bookmarks, and page-flipping animations with sound effects that look and sound just like you’re turning a page in a “real” book. Just give us the text in a readable font. We don’t need a wooden shelf with book icons displayed in rows. Just give us lists of titles and authors.
It’s sort of an “uncanny valley” effect: the more you make an e-book “look like” a paper book, the less it seems like one—and the harder it is to read without distraction.
Of course, judging from the screenshots so far, iBooks is probably going to be a disappointment in that regard.