“Breaking the Page (Preview Edition)” by Peter Meyers; O’Reilly Media

As an author and usability person I was keen to read this book about ‘transforming books and the reading experience’, a subject that has been a professional interest of mine for several years. This version of the book is the Review version, so it is not entirely complete and polished. The book discusses ideas and examples of how electronic books can or have been designed to transform the way that people read and learn compared to paper based books.

The first chapter in the review version discusses strategies for introducing users to the contents of an electronic book. The chapter discusses how the traditional ‘table of contents’ is a poor substitute compared to flicking through a book to get to grips with the contents. The chapter gives a variety of ideas on more exciting ways of enticing users with the contents of the book. The following chapter deals with the benefits of providing a good index and a variety of methods for searching for specific content within books. The final chapter in the review version of the book extends the discussion from chapter one on navigation within books, including how the user knows where they are, how much is left to go, and how to get back to where they have been.

Pete has a chatty and informal style, and his writing demonstrates his enthusiasm for producing compelling books and educational material for mobile. The book contains some interesting ideas around user interface design for accessing and locating information within books and mobile applications. I found it particularly valuable when the ideas were illustrated with the use of real-world examples that I could actually go and take a look at, for example I was introduced to some interesting mobile apps that I had not seen before. Not all of the ideas are illustrated with examples, even where a real-world example is discussed. The book itself talks about a picture being worth a thousand words and for those ideas without a picture to explain them yet I’d like to see those added (chapter one seems incomplete in this regard).

A problem I did have with this version is the blurry line between eBook, book reader, mobile app, and web interface. The book gives ideas about how the experience of using an eBook can be improved through changes to interface design, but sometimes it is unclear whether this can be done in eBook format, whether you need to make a mobile app to do it, or whether the change needs to be made at the level of the eBook reader. I’m left wanting to know more, not programmatically how to create some of these features, but whether I can do them in eBook format or I have to write an app. I’m left not being sure who the book is written for, is it for authors of books, application developers, publishers, or eBook reader developers? The book seems part design advice and part wishlist! Also, the book is ‘just’ a normal book, I had hoped it might demonstrate some of the whizzy ideas suggested!

Saying all that, there are some good ideas and sound principles in the book that will be of interest to folks involved in authoring, publishing, and developing applications for mobile devices.

Find out more from the product page at O’Reilly Media

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