My Dream iPad Book Application

Recently, Seth Godin blogged on his dream iPad app. I thought I would follow suit and talk about something near and dear to my heart: my ideal iPad book application.

Photo of iPad with iBooks Application Running

Personally, I was blown away by the iPad demo video. The hardware and the operating system are impressive. However, when I watched Steve Jobs’ full presentation and demo, I felt that the iBooks application, while beautiful, was missing some key features.

Perhaps Apple is planning to include more features than Steve was able to demonstrate. That is often the case. Nevertheless, I thought it would be fun to imagine my own dream book app. Here are some features I would like to see:

  • Highlighting or underlining. This is essential for me. I can’t read a book without marking it up. Thankfully, the Kindle has this feature, but it is really clunky. The iPad could make this second nature with it’s touch-screen technology. I’d love to be able to run my finger over a sentence and have it highlight—or underline—the text.
  • In-text annotations. As I mentioned in How to Read a Non-Fiction Book, I like take notes in the front of the book or in the margins. On the iPad, I’d like to be able to double-tap next to the text I want to annotate and type in my notes. Perhaps the notes could appear at the bottom of the page. Again, the Kindle has this feature, but it, too, is awkward to use.
  • Go to next chapter. I’d like to be able to skip from chapter to chapter, just like I can do in a musical album when I skip from song to song. I shouldn’t have to click through every page, no matter how fast the software is. I would also like the ability to go back to the table of contents at any point and navigate from there.
  • Built-in dictionary and web lookup. The Kindle has this, and it is well implemented. If I put the cursor under any word, it looks it up in the built-in dictionary. On the iPad it would be great if I could just single-tap a word and have the definition pop-up in a window. I’d also like to be able to select a term or a phrase and Google it via Safari.
  • Bookmarking and search. The features page for the iPad says that Spotlight search is built in to the iPad and that it will search across all applications. However, I am looking for something narrower here. I would like the ability to search within the book or across all my books. I would also like the ability to dog-ear a page (like in the Kindle) and return to it later.
  • Text-to-speech. Kindle has this feature now. It is a terrific idea. Unfortunately, I rarely use it. This is a case of the technology is quite there. The software needs to be smarter and inflect better. Of course, the perfect solution would be to have a real human read the text (i.e., audio book) and sync it with the actual text.
  • Social media integration. This is where the software could really shine. So far, I have just been asking that the iPad book app match and improve upon the Kindle. Here I am envisioning something that no current reader has, although the Sports Illustrated tablet will supposedly have it. I want to be able to highlight some text and then post to my blog or my various social media networks. I’d also love to see what my circle of friends are saying as they read the book. Imagine the potential for book clubs!
  • Share with a friend. As a publisher, I think the best way to sell books is to allow people to sample them. As a reader, I’d like to be able to email a chapter or two to a friend or loan them the entire book. If the book is good enough, they will want their own copy. The Barnes & Noble Nook has a similar feature.

I realize that most of these features are available now in the current version of the Kindle. If Apple is going to be successful an eBook platform, they will have to match these features, improve upon them, and add a few bells and whistles of their own. Knowing Apple, they probably have a few tricks up their sleeve that they don’t plan to reveal until the product is shipping.

What features would you like to see in the iPad book app?
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  • Dan Rockwell


    Thanks again for an interesting post. I'm sticking with my Kindle. And I want to underline with a pen or a stylus too. And why can't we use hand writting recognition instead of typing our notes?

    Have a great week,

    Leadership Freak
    Dan Rockwell
    My recent post A column for verbs

  • Daniel Decker

    I'd love it if they could create an app that just downloads the entire content into my brain, in an instant without me having to read it + giving me amplified ability to recall the content mentally. :) That would be nice. (Just kidding… sort of).

    • Michael Hyatt

      oh, it's coming. I have seen a prototype … just kidding.

  • joanna

    I totally agree with the syncing human read audio with text. Having the option to swap seamlessly between listening to well narrated audio and reading from an easy to read screen would be a big drawcard for me.
    My recent post Crazy Christian Clips gets a makeover!

    • @adamrshields

      I would love getting and an ebook to work together, but in all likelihood most publishers would want you to buy both separately. This is where Amazon needs to flex some will power and integrate their two properties.
      My recent post Sex, Lies and Religion by Randy Elrod

      • Michael Hyatt

        I think we would be open to bundling these. We do have an added expense in producing the audio.

        • @adamrshields

          I think it is completely reasonable to pay more for audio and ebook combined, but not as much as the cost of two full products. I also think that interesting that I can often find the audiobook (from Audible) cheaper than the DTB or the ebook. It would seem that the audiobook would have the highest production costs, but about half the time is the lowest format cost.

          • Michael Hyatt

            I agree with you on the bundled price.

            The audio has production costs, but is way less expensive to produce that the book. Usually, this is because of the author royalties which much higher on the books.

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  • Matt

    The only thing I would like to see is for Apple keep their prices down to $9.99 for best sellers like Amazon does with the Kindle pricing. If I understand correctly, Apple has already worked a deal with publishers which will put the pricing more at $14.99. While this might be good for the publisher, it is obviously going the wrong way for the consumer. More price increases will most likely just result in the same thing that is happening in music/movie sectors – increases in pirating. Only time will tell, but I still can’t see myself carrying around an iPad.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I have to disagree with you there. I think used content as loss-leader in order to drive hardware sales and boost market share. I don't know if this is what consumers demand or not. We will soon find out, and ten the industry will have to adjust accordingly.

      • Matt

        However they did it, they set a price point that should be the baseline. As a consumer, I will always be looking for the lowest cost. They also brought the eBook reader into the spotlight; while there had been readers available for some time before, it was a very small niche market.

    • Rick Meigs

      I'm afraid that Amazon (unfortunately) may have to raise their price point. They have already been forced to do so on books published by Macmillan. Are other publi8shers far behind?

      • Matt

        According to reports, they have already begun to capitulate – not so good news for the consumer, but great news to the publishers.

  • @adamrshields

    I think this shows again, that the kindle is for people that want to read and the ipad is for people that want to do stuff in addition to reading. People who have kindles love them.
    My recent post Sex, Lies and Religion by Randy Elrod

    • Michael Hyatt

      I love my Kindle, except I hate being locked into Amazon’s proprietary digital rights management system. In fact, I have stopped buying Amazon eBooks until this is resolved. I don't want to be locked into one supplier’s proprietary format.

      • @adamrshields

        As a publisher I am sure you are aware of the weaknesses of ebook DRM. I used to be concerned about being locked into Kindle, but I am not any more. Kindle DRM has been broken. I haven't tried it yet. But I have broken DRM from other formats when I purchased them and then either the hardware or software broke the reading experience. One store I bought from went out of business and I lost about a dozen books. Since then I always keep a backup on my computer of the books and know that I can break the DRM if I need to. So I haven't tried with Amazon, and I don't have a lot of fear that Amazon will go out of business. But should something happen I am prepared.

        My guess is that ebooks will go DRM free eventually, but not for 4 to 5 years. I actually think DRM like Amazon (or even better Audible) is fairly reasonable. But no DRM is foolproof, most of the time it only is a hinderence to people that are trying to follow the rules.
        My recent post Sex, Lies and Religion by Randy Elrod

  • Thomas Lee

    For books of fiction and for biographies and memoirs, it sure would be nice to be able to highlight a name and be taken to more information about that character or person. Just yesterday, I was reading "His Excellency: George Washington" by Joseph Ellis, and went looking for information about two persons who had an influence on Washington as a young Army major. It happens a lot to me.
    My recent post By the Numbers: Most People Have Been Laid Off at One Time

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yep. I'd love that. I loved that book on Washington, by the way. I read it the old-fashioned way: hardcover.

  • John Richardson

    Great article, Michael. For me, the dream app will have to include animation or video. Instead of static pictures, a full color video clip opens up and takes you instantly to the place described in the book. If it is a technical book, a step-by-step animation pops up and gives you the details of the project at hand.

    The iPad is large enough to have open on your workbench or hobby table so you can see exactly what is required to complete your task. If it is voice activated, you won't have to take your hands off your project to flip the page. This would be huge for woodworking projects or preparing meals for dinner. Imagine interactive recipe books, with Rachael Ray giving you step by step guidance. Ready to turn the page… just say "next" and the page turns and Rachel has you slice the onions… without having to wash your hands to touch the screen… Brilliant!

    How many times have you tried to follow along in an on-screen tutorial for a computer program like Photoshop with literally hundreds of steps. I always have to print the instructions, instead of flipping back and forth on the screen. With the iPad with voice command sitting next to my main computer, the problem is solved… next page please.

    I hope Steve Jobs and his leagues of developers are listening. This thing is going to be BIG!
    My recent post Can You Get Fired Via Twitter?

  • Timothy Fish

    I want the ability to display interactive content to illustrate the concepts covered in the text. I would also love to be able to connect ambient noise to the text in a novel. If a scene is in a restaraunt, I want the noise of people eating. If it is on the street, I want to hear cars. If it is a dark and stormy night, I want thunder rumbling.

    Any chance that Thomas Nelson will be spending the money to develop their own app?
    My recent post Direct My Steps

    • @musicgirl77

      Great thoughts. I won't be abandoning my Kindle for an iPad. I think alot of people are expecting it to be more of a complete e-reader, as the Kindle, than it was originally made to be. It is my understanding that the iPad is more of a laptop replacement than a complete e-reader. I know in time, it may become more of a complete e-reader, but at this point, they are hoping it comes across as a "be all things to everyone" device and its just not.

      • Michael Hyatt

        I actually think the shipping version of the iBook reader will surprise us. I am not a big fan of the e-ink technology. It's great if you want to read outdoors, but that is about once a year for me. I find it hard on my eyes, unless the room is well-lit. Maybe it's an age thing! ;-)

    • Michael Hyatt

      The ambient noise thing will really be a content option, rather than a software one. In other words, assuming the eBook software can play back audio, it would be up to the publisher to include it.

      Personally, I would not like this for novels. I want to use my imagination.

      • Timothy Fish

        I haven't seen any information yet about what kind of file format we're looking at in terms of eBooks on the device, so I don't know if it is a safe assumption or not. If not, then it is a software issue.

        I've heard the "I want to use my imagination" argument on many things, but usually related to whether a picture of the protagonist should be included on the cover. This is the first time I've heard it for mixing audio with books. For all I know, you could be right, but how do we know unless we try it? People used to think that the talkies would never catch on. Why would anyone need to hear the actors speak? As many authors as I know of who use music to set the mood when they write a scene, I think there might be something to using it to set the mood when readers read the scene.

    • Josh

      I am totally with you on this one. I want the page color to fade subtly, say, if I am reading a scene during a sunset. I would love for a book to have a score that will very subtly fade in. There would possibly need to be some way of getting feedback from the reader that clues in the program where in the page the reader is.

      There definitely needs to be a directed effort at expanding the sensory experience of a book to mimic something more cinematic. It would have to be subtle and tasteful, otherwise you just end up making a powerpoint presentation.

      I'm really hoping that I don't have to learn programming to get the sort of classy enhancement that I'd like to see and create.

  • Marla Taviano

    My husband @Godsmac "designed" a personalized iPad just for me, the book-lover.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That is very cute.

  • Theresa Lode

    I’m with you on the marking up. My reading spot is always stocked with highlighters, pens and stickies.

    And a direct cable to sync with my brain like Daniel suggests would be lovely too.

    And since we’re dreaming…how about an application that allows you to read several books at the same time provide coffee refills. Oh, Raptures!

  • Susan Lewis

    Great ideas, Michael. To the first two – highlighting and annotations – I'd add a feature that builds a file when you finish the book to collect everything you highlighted and wrote. Include the page number for each and you've got a quick reference for a review or term paper or an article or a book. Easier than trying to "flip" back through the book to get what you put into it.
    My recent post Balance is overrated

    • Michael Hyatt

      Now THAT is a great idea.

    • Fr. John

      The Kindle does do this already, and it's a really handy thing!

  • Curtis

    Actually, most of the features you desire for the ipad are already available for the iphone except for text-to-speech(disabled), social media integration, and sharing. I know the features are available with the ereader and stanza apps but I’m not sure about the kindle for iphone since I haven’t used it in a long time.

    Thus, those apps should still be available for the ipad but of course I think apple will up the ante and add a more feature-rich book reading app that will blow us away!!

    • Michael Hyatt

      I am hoping that is true. Thanks.

  • Mike W.

    I think a copy feature would be important/essential, for the purpose of enabling me to quote the author.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yep, that's one I missed but assumed would be there.

  • Ed Eubanks

    Good thoughts, Michael– and like you, I feel certain that Apple will include features that weren't mentioned in the announcement. Hopefully it will include some or all of the features you list.

    One note: on the text-to-speech point, I'm fairly certain it will be there. iPad will function much like a larger iPhone, and the iPhone 3GS came fully-equipped with Apple's VoiceOver technology, which includes (but isn't limited to) text-to-speech. I'd be surprised to find it absent on the iPad, since there's little reason NOT to include it and many reasons to commend it.
    My recent post Random technology thoughts…

    • Michael Hyatt

      I'll have to check that out on the iPhone. Can't believe I missed that one.

  • Dan Lynch

    Hey Mike…. I agree with you that these will be musts and I'd add to the list the integration of audiobook content rather than just text-to-speech like the Kindle and Video integration for added content. I like you am betting Apple has many tricks up their sleeves (some it wouldn't surprise me that would ship with the ipad). They will likely do an update at their next big conference to impact fall sales. That said it appears from one latest release on txt books (see below link) that at least for now some of these features may come to the ipad through another vendor like Scrollmotion. This is who Publishers including McGraw-Hill

  • Jayce Tohline

    Handwriting recognition… Like Michael, I love to take notes while reading… but want the ability to write handwritten notes that are converted automatically to digital text… like I used to do with my PocketPC 10 years ago.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I agree. That would be nice. In fact, I would love the ability to use a stylus if I chose.

  • Will Entrekin

    Is it just me, or is your dream iPad basically a Kindle? Besides the social media interaction, doesn't Kindle do all those things?
    My recent post What Writers Can Learn from Superbowl Ads

    • Michael Hyatt

      In the last paragraph I said, “I realize that most of these features are available now in the current version of the Kindle. If Apple is going to be successful an eBook platform, they will have to match these features, improve upon them, and add a few bells and whistles of their own.”

      The key is all the stuff that the iPad will do that Kindle doesn’t do—email, calendar, browser, etc.

  • @JoshuaSandefur

    Thank you for your post. All this new technology can be a bit intimidating, but you have provided information to show just how tame this beast really is. I am thankful for the insight that you and Kevin S Kaiser have given on this new product. I'm leaning towards getting one, but I'm going to wait. If I learned anything from the iPod, its that this technology will update and quickly. I will look for future posts about how this new technology is specifically affecting the publishing world. Thanks again.

  • David Alexander

    Totally agree on all of the features you listed, but I was hoping that many of those would be a part of the iBook app already. I know they weren't featured in the keynote, but possibly cut for the sake of time? I can't imagine them launching without such basic functions which the Kindle already has… like highlighting, taking notes, dictionary…

    If not, hopefully that would be available in an update soon. Love the thoughts.
    My recent post Prayers for Charlene

    • Michael Hyatt

      I’m like you. I can’t imagine that these won’t be built-in. Apple must at least match the capabilities of the Kindle. It’s what they do beyond that will make this device truly interesting.

  • Lisa DeSpain

    What about the $30/month connect fee that iPad has compared to Kindle's whispernet? That already makes it more expensive on an ongoing basis. Plus with Kindle opening up the API for apps developers, doesn't that mean that Amazon has a fighting chance to compete against Apple? What if – owned by and with fabulous selection and professional narration, did actually provide the synced-up audio to the ebook text? With audiobooks running $14 on average, they already have a pretty good perceived value…add ebook text for long-term reference and publishers can offer a premium package and experience for some of their best new titles. Perhaps links out to an author website with additional "insider" information… Kind of exciting to think about!
    My recent post

  • Lisa DeSpain

    What about the $30/month connect fee that iPad has compared to Kindle's whispernet? That already makes it more expensive on an ongoing basis. Plus with Kindle opening up the API for apps developers, doesn't that mean that Amazon has a fighting chance to compete against Apple? What if – owned by and with fabulous selection and professional narration, did actually provide the synced-up audio to the ebook text? With audiobooks running $14 on average, they already have a pretty good perceived value…add ebook text for long-term reference and publishers can offer a premium package and experience for some of their best new titles. Perhaps links out to an author website with additional "insider" information… Kind of exciting to think about!
    My recent post

    • Michael Hyatt

      From my perspective, the more competition the better!

  • Rick Meigs

    Good points, Michael. Love the idea of a go to next chapter feature. I'll stay with my Kindle DX for now, but I sure wish it was touch screen.

    Worried about the long term readability with the iPad screen. The e-Ink screen technology use in the Kindle and other readers is so pleasant that I can read for hours with no eye fatigue. Also, I read a lot outside of the best sellers list on non-mainstream topics. Amazon is the only bookstore that I can consistently find titles of interest. I had a Sony Reader for years and it was rare for them to have titles of interest to me.

  • @jackalopekid

    I'm with you on the text to speech part. that would be awesomeness
    My recent post follow

  • Bailish

    The thing I hate most about the Kindle and the iPod is their size. They're too big to fit in my shirt pocket, but small enough that I'm likely to forget it somewhere. Sorry, but I think the Blackberry still wins.

    • Matt

      Not when you’re talking about reading a book; I’ve got a Blackberry and there is no way I would ever consider reading a full length book on its screen. Not to mention battery life and eye strain.

  • Robin Capper

    Ink, as in recognised hand written text

  • KarlaAkins

    Excellent information. I have included it in my article: "Is iPad too cool for your homeschool?" URL:

    Thanks for the great info!

  • http://www.mills-scofield.comj Deb Mills-Scofield

    I'd like the highlighting, notes, annotations etc. with the ability (in the kindle) to copy to my laptop either as a word or pdf or other format; I'd also like the ability to easily see how much 'farther' til the end of a chapter – I find when I'm reading I always see how many more pages to the end of a chapter (a good stopping point if I need it). While I love my kindle, and I want an e-reader, I do find, when using my kindle, that there are times I'd like to forward a quote, do a quick email on a thought from the book to someone and not have to change devices to do it.

  • Christianne

    Wow. You just described everything I have ever wanted to experience in an eBook reader if I ever were to purchase one. I have never come close to purchasing a Kindle because it feels entirely too clunky. Too much like a PC. When the iPad was revealed, I knew it immediately would be something for me, and for so many reasons beyond being a new way to read books. What you described above really would put the clincher on finally convincing me to read books electronically. Thank you for creating clarity from what have been intuitive (but not clear) thoughts in my own mind on the matter!

  • daveanthold

    I love to right notes in the margins of the book as well as notes in the front of the book for quick recall & thoughts. I think being able to classify a note would be great (i.e. quote, thought, vision, etc)
    My recent post Seeing God in the Rain

  • KeithO

    I completely agree Michael. That's why I use the Kindle iPad reader application instead of ibooks. It already does most of what you've described here. And the dictionary is coming.

  • Violetb69

    I am very surprised apple has not come out with a special blog app specifically for book blog Ning site. It is my favorite blog site. And I know quite a Lott of people that feel the same way. I am an avid reader, I do book reviews, and also in the process of writing a book myself. It makes me very sad that most apps that are available for blogs are not very good. And I am so attached to my IPad and always on the go, so a great app for us boogers would be very beneficial.

    Thank you Violet B….

  • Roy D

    So has anyone come across an audiobook player that allows the person to take notes, create margins and/or expand for features such as dictionary, reference, etc..??? If so please post here. Thx