Table of Contents formatting Stephen Coles at The FontFeed has an article about what the iPad is missing. As you might guess from the name of the website, it is about the iPad’s typography and font selections.

Coles dislikes the way that iBooks uses full justification with no hyphenation, causing wide gaps and “rivers” in text displays on-screen, and lacks proper handling of widows, orphans, and line breaks. (Liz Castro of the “Pigs, Gourds and Wikis” blog has an article about formatting problems with a number of books in iBooks, from which Cole took one of his screenshots.)

I definitely have to agree that such things are not fun to look at. I always cringe at fully-justified texts, and set my Calibre options by default to create the unjustified kind I prefer.

He goes on to question Apple’s choices of bundled system fonts, pointing out how unsuited most of them are for on-screen reading, and gets into other areas where the iPad’s font handling is insufficient (such as the way that the Notes application still forces the use of Marker Felt).

While some of it goes right over my head, one thing I do agree about is that font handling can be very important to readability. I’ve gotten in the habit of using the Readability bookmarklet to reformat most web articles (including Coles’s) for easier screen reading with a larger, serif font rather than the sans serif most use. (Though with Cole’s it was largely out of habit; I must admit he uses a decent enough serif font in his article.)

A few months ago, Jeff Kirvin wrote a blog entry going into considerable detail about how to configure iPhone reading applications (most notably Stanza, which offers the most configuration ability) for the best possible readability. It’s a good reminder that there is a lot more to reading than just what program you use.


  1. I agree with the FontFeed article. I’d hope the typographical-aware Apple and Steve Jobs of the mid-1980s were still alive and active at Apple. I like the iPad, but I’ve been sorely disappointed by that aspect of it. It’s all buttons and swipes now, an attractive and powerful UI that’s a pretty shell over an ebook reader whose display is downright ugly, no better than the free ebook apps on my iPod touch.

    Keep in mind something that the FontFeed article mentions. Typography is like the seats in a car. Most people are only subliminally aware of the difference between well-designed seating and badly designed. After all, we get into a car to go somewhere, much like we read a book to acquire its content. But a well-designed book, like a well-designed car, is much less tiring. You breeze along, absorbing the book’s message without having your subconscious mind burdened with cleaning up badly formatted text.

    The sad thing is that the best way to create attractive books for the iPad is to release them as Pages documents. Because Pages is intended to create high-quality print documents, what it displays looks much better than the dismal quality that’s the best that most ebook formats can do. (I’m looking at you ePub.) The exception, PDF, merely proves that. PDF is a print document distilled into something digital.

    Ebooks won’t really have arrived until you can do everything with them you can do with printed books and more. In that respect, the iPad is a major disappointment.

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