e-reading apps

E-book stores tend to have their apps on multiple platforms: Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc. But the discerning e-book reader wants more features than those apps usually provide, so we start looking for third-party apps. And then we run into an issue.

Think about some of the better-regarded e-reading apps. Many of them are only on one platform. Marvin is only on iOS. Moon+ Reader, Mantano and Aldiko are only on Android. (Also, what’s with the letter “M” and e-reading apps?) It’s almost enough to make you want to buy multiple tablets. Oh wait, I do own multiple tablets…

I was curious, so I reached out to some of the app developers to ask them why. I doubt you’ll be surprised by the answers, but here they are.

Tiffany Wong from Aldiko was very helpful:

For us, the main reason is the challenge of multi-platform development that most developers face as different platforms have different code environments and UI frameworks … we are against uniform coding across platforms or simply “porting” an app to other platforms. Instead, we believe an app should be built for a particular platform from ground up and takes the maximum advantage of the tools of that platform. As we started with Android and Android has been growing tremendously in the past years, we currently focus on Android. However, we hope to bring the Aldiko Book Reader to other platforms in the future.

When I asked why they started with Android, she responded with:

Android is an open operating system, different device manufacturers can make devices based on Android, therefore, focusing on Android enables us to target a wider varieties of devices from different device manufacturers, hence potentially bigger audience.

Looking only at the smartphone space, they have a point. When they started, tablets hadn’t taken off yet, and personally I have to wonder why they haven’t made a bigger push toward the iPad, especially now that the Mini is out.

What about Marvin? Here’s what Kristian Guillaumier had to say:

A version for Android is something I’m actively looking at. However, in the short term, I’ll be releasing a version for iPhone. I’ve been getting a phenomenal amount of requests for it and I think it is an obvious next step. As a reader, I come from an eInk reader background (hence the warmth and tint controls) and underestimated how many people are interested on reading on phone-sized screens.

I think this highlights one of the issues with developers. Companies like Amazon have the resources to throw at multiple platforms for their apps. But like many big companies, they think about what’s good and easy for them. Listening to customers isn’t always a priority. The smaller developers need to listen to their customers to stay competitive. But they don’t have the resources to move to other platforms.

Which brings it back to the consumer. Support your favorite app developers so they can move to other platforms.

Or just buy lots of different phones and tablets so you’ll always have the one you need!


  1. What makes one eReader better than another? What are the most relevant criteria for such a determination? These would probably be very different if you were deciding on your personal eReader as opposed to an author or teacher targeting a specific audience. Yesterday, Apple’s iBooks app was upgraded to support Asian languages. I suppose that’s in further support of version three of the ePub standard. It might make a difference to some of us but probably not to all of us.

  2. @Frank, I used as my criteria user reviews and mentions in blogs and other places.

    By the way, I didn’t mean to imply that these were the only good reader apps. I just found it curious that many of the ones I see frequently mentioned were only on one platform.

    @Tom, I tried Txtr once and it didn’t appeal to me. Which is why I’m glad there are lots of reader apps out there. There’s likely to be one to appeal to almost everyone.

  3. It’s really amazing how many reader apps are out for Android. I tried to catalog them once and still think I missed some…

    I keep hearing about how great Marvin is. Not having an iPad I haven’t had a hands on with it yet so I’m looking forward to Kristian’s iPhone version.

    It does seem like there would be a few more that were cross platform, but even looking at the ones that are it’d be nice if they had matching feature sets on both sides.

  4. Amazon’s Kindle app/s made the most important leap forward IMHO – making sure that your *library* was identically accessible across platforms, regardless of which one you used. On Android at least, the bare Kindle app itself still misses many features that competing apps have, but the library aspect outweighs them all. And this isn’t just a question of making purchases accessible – the same applies for DRM-free out-of-copyright stuff. I’m sure the massive success of Calibre is partly down to the problems with ebook library/bookshelf management. You shouldn’t need a separate library management app if your ereader app is already doing its job, IMHO. Of course there may always be format issues, but most ereader apps are now multi-format too, so once again, differentiation doesn’t come down to format. Maybe the library management aspect wasn’t such an issue in previous years before the pervasive cloud, but now it’s where developers are really going to have to work to maintain their edge. And that automatically applies across platforms.

  5. @Brian, I think you have three questions:
    1. “support modern format”; Isilo supports Windows 8, RT, 7, all prior. IOS (even iphone 5), Blackberry playbook (newest version), WebOS, Palm, Ipads, more I can’t remember. So, is there some “modern format” that has just made the aforementioned OS’s obsolete already!? Man, I’m screwed with this 1 month old computer running Windows 8, 64 bit, etc.

    2. Publishers; Now, that is true in that the publishers that are in bed with Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the like do not support Isilo. But if you take the time to go to Isilo.com you will see all the things you can do with it.

    3. Why pay $10 for it? Well, that’s a personal decision of course. For me, I use and have used for 12 years, Isilo for reading web articles and websites at my leisure, annotate the articles, read a gazillion ( exaggeration for sure) books from fictionwise (still have the books, still can read them, not been screwed by DRM), manybooks.net, research and theological writings converted from web or MS Word docs, and more.


    I don’t know where you got the idea Isilo was dead or that it only handles .txt with not other value. Check out isilo.com for yourself. These ios, android or whatever app devices may not let you try it first but Windows does that I know of.

    I do think it a shame that ios for example won’t let you try first before you buy.


  6. @Steve – I think you mised the distinction between platform and format. “Windows 8, RT, 7, all prior. IOS (even iphone 5), Blackberry playbook (newest version), WebOS, Palm, Ipads” are all platforms. Epub and mobi are formats, more or less modern, and neither of them are readable by iSilo programs; at least, they are not mentioned on your information page.

    So I would tend to agree with Juli. It might as well be dead. It’s certainly useless for my purposes.

  7. @Steve, all right. I went and looked at isilo.com, including browsing the user manual. “Epub is supported indirectly” isn’t helpful at all. There’s no instruction in the manual or on the site for how to view an epub. My assumption is that you’d covert an epub to html and then sync to iSilo. If I am incorrect, then there needs to be some instruction on the site. If I am correct then why would I purchase a $9.99 app for the privilege of converting to one format and then to another when there are many native epub readers that are free or lower priced?

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