Wanted from OverDrive and rivals: Smarter software for library e-books

The new version of the OverDrive library app, for e-books and audiobooks, has just appeared for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and the iPad III.

Compared to past incarnations, 2.4.2 should delight many a patron.

Users of Apple’s iOS operating system will enjoy “more control over text justification, line spacing, page margins, and font selection.”

And a just-released Android variant from OverDrive even offers double- and triple-column options in landscape mode, and serif, nonserif and typewriter-like monospaced styles in both regular and bold.

Might such marvels from OverDrive be on the way soon for my iPad?

I’ve long begged OverDrive for all-text bolding, and I thank the company for responding in at least one Android version. (And on another front, I also appreciate OverDrive’s working harder on APIs. Checking out e-books on nonKindles will be less Rube Goldbergish in the future and OverDrive e-books can more easily be part of format-neutral catalog searches.)

But the real point here is that we still need smarter library-related software for e-reading, with more features and fewer trade-offs. And I’m not merely talking about OverDrive, just one example. A few specifics:

In-book search functions

For now, in both iPad and Android versions of OverDrive, I still don’t see an in-book search function, not even within the chapter-oriented navigation menu. Is it there? If not, when will OverDrive add it?

My sharp-eyed wife, a heavy user of OverDrive software, can’t find this function, either. So even if it is there, which I doubt, OverDrive still isn’t doing what it should.

By contrast, Amazon’s Kindle software for hand-held devices not only lets me search within a book, but do so rather efficiently—by showing a number of results at once, at least on my iPad. So does the iPad version of Blio, which works with Baker & Taylor library systems.

All-text bolding–either directly or via font options

But then neither Blio nor the Kindle software has the wonderful bolding options that OverDrive has added to its Android version via the font variants and ideally will include on the iPad and other IOS devices, too.

Text to speech

At least the Kindle E Ink machines let you hear the books via text to speech when publishers allow this; same for Blio’s iPad version, as a paid option.

Why hasn’t OverDrive software caught up with TTS for platforms like the iPad and Android machines?

Shouldn’t libraries be especially respectful of the needs of the visually impaired?

Notes—not just book-marks

Kindle and Blio let you take notes. OverDrive’s own software doesn’t, at least not for Android and the iPad—even though schoolwork is among the major reasons why people use public libraries. No small number of recreational readers also want note-embedding capaiblities.

* * *

Perhaps the biggest fault of the most popular e-readering apps, for both retail use and libraries, is that they’re dumbed down compared to freeware and shareware alternatives that won’t work for DRM- or format-related reasons. Some of the best DRM-free programs such as Moon + Pro for Android will even let you zap lines between paragraphs while adding indentations. Not everyone wants to mess with Calibre-based customizations.

Vendors would argue, “But we’ve got to dumb down our products for the typical library patron.” No, you don’t. Just include one menu choice, “Advanced features,” and let that open up a whole range of customization options for serious e-book lovers. OverDrive could even offer a “revert to original settings” for people who feared they would do irreparable damage.

What do you think, readers? As you see it, what are the most important features missing from library software for e-reading on mobile devices like my iPad? Care to share your priorities, not just for apps from OverDrive and rivals but also for third-party products that work with their servers (such as Bluefire Reader, Aldiko and Mantano in OverDrive’s case and various version of the Nook reader for hardware and software—plus 3M-related products and those for Baker & Taylor and the rest).

Detail: The OverDrive-supplied screenshot, picked up from the App Store, might be from an iPhone or Touch rather than an iPad. The software runs on all three kinds of devices.

Update, May 30: API reference expanded slightly.

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