Why Are We Still in the Dark Ages of eBooks?


 “Jill…crawled into bed, slid the spool into the reading machine, lay back and scanned the words streaming across the ceiling.”
~ From Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

Scroll Question

There are a lot of people who say they can’t let go of traditional books because they enjoy the feeling of holding a book and turning the pages. Although I love reading, I’m not one of those people. For me, it’s eBooks all the way. I started reading eBooks just as soon as I had a capable device. Even the tiny screen of an iPod touch was preferable to me compared to reading standard books. I have since moved up to an iPad for reading.

Some of the things I enjoy and prefer about eBooks over traditional books are:

  • the ability to tap any word and instantly get the definition,
  • being able to increase the text size to something comfortable to my past-40 eyes,
  • the ability to highlight text and add notes to what I’m reading,
  • being able to copy snips and quotes to save and share,
  • being able to read comfortably in many positions without the book closing and losing my place,
  • not having to wonder what kind of bodily fluids are smeared on the pages of library books,
  • not having to turn pages.

Wait… what? Not turning pages?

Yes, you read it right. One of the best things about eBooks is that you are no longer restricted to “pages” in the traditional book sense. So why is it, then, that all the popular eBook readers (apps and dedicated readers, as far as I know) still tie us to a page-turning paradigm?

Autoscroll is where it’s at, baby!

If you’re not familiar with the concept of autoscroll, think about a tele-prompter. The text simply glides up the page as you read with no page break interruption and no need to reach out and tap to flip pages. The scrolling speed can be adjusted faster or slower to match your reading pace, and you can tap and drag the page to reposition if you get a bit ahead or behind. I know it sounds lazy, but if the technology is there, why shouldn’t you be able to fully immerse yourself in the reading experience this way?

“In front of him his morning newspaper…moved past his eyes at his optimum reading speed in a feedback executive scanner, custom-built by Sperry. The words would flow on as long as he looked in that direction; if he turned his head, the machine would note it and stop instantly.”
~ From Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

I was first introduced to autoscroll reading back in the PDA days on the Windows Mobile platform, with Bible software from Olive Tree. When I switched to iOS devices, I was disappointed in the lack of eBook reading apps with an autoscroll feature. Even my beloved Olive Tree software, which I was happy to see had been ported to iOS, does not have the autoscroll feature in its BibleReader for iOS.

But it wasn’t very long until I found iFlowReader for iOS. It had a few annoying quirks, but the autoscroll reading mode was a delight to use, so I put up with the quirks. Unfortunately, I must refer to it in the past tense because the company closed up shop due to Apple’s policies. Tauntingly, iFlow still lives on in the App Store, but there is no longer any way to get new books into it.

Today, if I search for “autoscroll” in the iTunes App Store, I get this:

Did you mean sunscroll?

Result of searching for “autoscroll” in the iTunes App Store. Seriously, Apple?

Searching for autoscroll in the App Store - Did you mean sunscroll?

Uncropped screen shot of my search for “autoscroll” in the App Store.

Despite Apple’s lousy search results, I have dug around enough to find a few other autoscroll capable eBook apps for iOS–Tomes (see my review), uBooks, and i2Reader. All of them are pretty bad. Tomes is the best of the lot as far as the overall reading experience, but still severely lacking in a lot of other areas. I can’t help but wonder why none of the popular eReader apps are doing autoscroll, and why Apple is hiding the few, albeit poor ones, that do exist.

As you can see from the quotes I have included in this article, Heinlein had the right idea about how we should be reading in the future he envisioned. If Heinlein was able to foresee this kind of reading back in 1961 when he wrote Stranger in a Strange Land, why are we still not there yet with this technology more than half a century later? The cynic in me wonders if Apple is sitting on a patent for autoscroll reading.

Do you know of any eBook reading device or app that does autoscroll reading well? Post a comment and let me know!

Related: Review of Tomes Auto-Scroll eReader App for iOS


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15 Responses to “Why Are We Still in the Dark Ages of eBooks?”

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  1. Shelley says:

    Bookmarking and highlighting with notes that I can share on Facebook or Twitter rock on my Kindle. I love being able to easily revisit bookmarks and stuff I highlighted with a search function, much better than flipping through pages to search for that stuff. I regret that when I recently joined a Bible study group, I didn’t tell the leader not to buy me the book we’re using – I’m missing being able to highlight nuggets of wisdom in the book electronically so I can easily refer back to it.

    • Sue says:

      I was reading an article yesterday about how publishers can track all that stuff like what you highlight, share, and bookmark. It doesn’t really bother me (actually most of the ebooks I read are DRM-free because I don’t like to support DRM), but a lot of people are calling it an invasion of privacy.

  2. Kate says:

    I love my Kindle! These are the things that make it buzz for me – I can read in bright sunshine, it holds more books than I can ever read, it holds it charge for an amazing amount of time. While my Kindle is great, I use my iPad for reading text books as the Kindle isn’t so good at presenting images.

    • Franny Syufy says:

      I love my Kindle(s) too! I’ve bought three of them, including the original (pre-ordered), the $79 3G and the Kindle Fire. Although none of them scroll, the Kindle Fire does scroll side-to-side to change the pages. Also, @Kate, the Fire displays color beautifully.

  3. Sue says:

    Sure wish Kindle would do auto-scroll. If anyone comes through on that front I would expect it to be Amazon–unless my suspicion is correct and Apple is sitting on a patent or blocking it in some other way. But I know they weren’t the first so, who knows. I wonder… are there any Android e-reading apps with auto-scroll? I didn’t use to like the Kindle iPad app, but it got a lot better with the last update.

    I will make sure my technophobic mother in law reads these comments–she was showing a slight interest in Kindle recently so maybe y’alls comments will push her over the edge!

  4. Robin says:

    I’m not sure I would like autoscroll. I’ll admit that I don’t even like scroll on my computer and I consider myself a top notch geek. I just like my bar on the side better. I have it turned on and try it but still resort to the bar. I think it would be the same with the text. I do prefer the page turn of the iPad to the tap of the Kindle, but I do prefer the kindle overall. (When you fall asleep reading with the book held up, it hurts less when it hits you in the head.)

    • Sue says:

      Falling asleep while reading is one of the problems with autoscroll. But the app I use (Tomes) breaks the book up into “chunks” which usually corresponds to chapters, so you still have to tap to advance to the next chunk. So if you do fall asleep it won’t scroll to the end of the book. That would be bad!

      I don’t have the problem of the device hitting me in the head since I usually read on my side with the iPad propped up on a pillow.

  5. Jenniferenn says:

    I go back and forth on autoscroll. I have used it and then fallen asleep, and when I woke up I’d finished the book. Um, not… Of course falling asleep while reading is one of the reasons I love my iPad – when I would fall asleep with a huge hardback book, such as Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, it would fall onto my head and wake me up. That book even gave me a black eye! I found it really hard to read because of that. But when I finally broke down and bought another copy for my Kindle app, I found it very very good. And yes, the iPad has fallen on me but it’s not as bruising as a hardback book. 🙂

  6. I’m with you….ebooks all the way! You can add these to your list: Never needing a bookmark but also being able to have as many bookmarks as I need. I like reading historical novels, so in addition to the Dictionary, I can jump from the book into Wikipedia to look up background information. Also, Never having to decide which book to take with you on a trip because you can take them all! No dust, mold or mildew…if there are any librarians out there reading this, you know what I mean!

  7. Pippy says:

    I got to your page because I was doing my periodic google sweep for ebook readers with autoscroll. I, also, am disappointed with the lack of autoscrool and with developers just saying that they will not even think of adding it to their programs. I knit a lot, and I like to autoscroll my books while my hands are busy. If you are willing to convert your books into txt files, goodreader is an excellent program with autoscrolling, but I simply can not find a program that will autoscroll my epubs!

  8. Oh, great I’ve found your article! Finally, I feel like it’s not wrong with me but with the others( actually, my friends don’t share my complaints on this)) I’ve got used to autoscroll since the days of Palm Os and Silo reader, then it was pocketPC and i couldn’t even imagine there will be problems on my new shiny(on that moment) iPhone 3GS. Currently I own iPhone 5 and the latest ios is installed, but overall problem persists – after more than 3 and a half years i still use i2reader, which is pretty annoying sometimes but lack of alternative keeps me on.
    I just really don’t get it, how could it be comfortable reading if you have to tap a screen of a small device several times per minute? It’s very distracting! Especially, when you don’t hold a phone in your hands. And It’s ok if you read from device with big screen like iPad, it’s like reading actual book, but smartphones? No,it’s not ok. I’m really frustrated about this.

  9. Sue says:

    Yep, yep, yep… I am surprised so many people are willing to put up with constant tapping for page turns. Even on the larger screen of the iPad, autoscroll allows you to do other things with your hands while reading. I like to read while blow drying my hair, and there’s a comment from someone who knits above.

    I’ve heard i2reader is not very good–you might be interested in my reviews of Tomes and uBooks. But something very exciting is coming… Marvin! Currently it’s only for iPad. I’m helping beta test it now and the developer will be adding auto-scroll soon, then he is going to start working on an iPhone version soon after that. Keep your eyes peeled… it’s going to be good! I probably would not pay for Tomes with Marvin coming along, but there is a free version of uBooks you might want to try.

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