Some things every e-reader should be able to do. In this list I’m using the word “category” as the devices use list, category, shelf, and similar words.
- The device should tell me what books have not been put in any category. This is basic. My Sony Reader, my Original Nook, and Joan’s Kindle all provide this feature. My Nook Simple Touch does not, and neither does Aldiko (the reader on my tablet I use for reading PDFs). The Nook
and Kindle app son my phone and tablet don’tdoesn’t categorize at all.
- Each book should know–and show–the categories currently associated with the book. One way to say this is that the categories should be properties of the documents, not the other way around. Every device and app (including Aldiko) I use gets this right except the Simple Touch. (And the category-less Nook Android app, of course.)
- Adding or removing a book from a category should not involve paging through a long list of every book you own. If you think you need to go that way, add a search function. But it’s still bad design.
- The categories should be be stored both on the device and on the device’s micro-SD card in a way which facilitates both replacing/upgrading the card and moving the card to a new device. This failing is the reason I’m writing this rant today.
- Ideally, the categorization information should be stored in the user’s account on the device vendor’s servers. This is not simple, of course. On the other hand, the newest incarnation of iTunes manages to do this for my music, metadata, and playlists. It’s the right solution, and I expect it to be standard within my lifetime.
- Ideally, again, that stored-on-server index would include information about side-loaded books. I’m reasonably certain this could be implemented in ways that don’t compromise anyone’s intellectual property, but those IP concerns will likely delay implementation. I don’t expect to see this soon, and will necessarily live without if necessary.
- The categories–and categorizations–should be automatically transferred to the brand’s reader apps on portable devices, and to any new device you purchase from the vendor. I don’t know that any vendor does this, though Apple might.
- It should be possible to shelve a book on (in) more than one category. One reason is that most of us have an “Unread” category. Fortunately, every device and app I use gets this right.
Until all e-readers can do this, no one should consider this a mature technology. BN and Amazon both manage to track notes, bookmarks, and “last-read” pages for individual books. This is similarly important, and one would think the technical issues are similar. They’re certainly not insurmountable.
I upgraded the micro-SD card on my Nook Simple Touch last week. Although the books survived the move, the shelves are broken. I’m paging through 424 books for every shelf I’m trying to reconstruct. This is both boring and painful. (Of course, the problem could be operator ignorance, or error. But I don’t believe that to be true. It looks a lot like bad design.) And, regardless, the rest of the critique stands. The Simple Touch didn’t implement “shelves” well. To my knowledge, no one has done this right.
Revision 1/6/14: Changed the Aldiko mention in the first bullet point.
Revision 1/29/14: Changed to reflect that Amazon has added categorization features to their Kindle app for Android.
I’m (somewhat) pleased to note that the most recent update to Amazon’s Kindle app for Android devices implements categorization–and that it stores the data on its servers. It even recreates a category for some side-loaded books, though of course it doesn’t move ’em.
Come on, Barnes & Noble: You’re up!